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Combining tradition and innovation to develop high-precision dental equipment

Interview - January 13, 2021

With 100 years of experience, Morita has long been at the forefront of dentistry by providing state-of-the-art equipment aimed at improving the lives of patient and dentists. Having built a reputation for developing cutting-edge technology in dentistry, Morita has more recently branched out into the general medical field by leveraging on its technological expertise in diagnostic and imaging equipment. In this interview, president Haruo Morita gives more insight into Morita’s rich history and tradition in innovation, explains more about some of the company’s main products, and discusses plans for international expansion.


Competitors like China, Taiwan, South Korea are replicating the Japanese monozukuri process, but at a cheaper price. But Japan still reigns supreme in the high technology fields. Why do you think this is so and what role has monozukuri played in this?

Japan has a great attitude towards precision and putting their best techniques and practices into what is being made. The high quality of Japanese products has become traditional and been demanded by consumers and therefore carried on by producers. But sometimes Japanese quality can be described as ‘over quality’ as it exceeds the consumers expectation and is made with probably too much effort and resources.

Japanese monozukuri has always had quality control. This is what ensures quality and cannot be replicated in other countries. But, the Japanese are a very humble people. They are not great about boasting about themselves or their products. Often times, they want to let their well-made product speak for itself so they don’t advertise their product widely. This means that they end up settling for selling the product at a reasonable price, instead of having the guts to sell it for a higher price.


What should Japan do to overcome Galápagos syndrome?

This syndrome actually has both negatives and positives. One positive is that Japanese companies can focuses on the domestic market and produce for the market they know best. They produce things that people will buy at prices people are accustomed to. But, this also means that Japan is closed off to the rest of the world, and focusing on the small area of Japan. This makes it hard for foreign companies to enter the Japanese market, meaning less competition going into a market that already lacks motivation. Convincing Japanese companies of the necessity of going global is a way to fix this problem because it’ll expose Japanese companies to a type of competition they’ve never had before.


How do you plan to take advantage of the growth set to hit your industry?

For a long time we have been going after overseas expansion. We are currently working through a balancing act of wanting to produce good Japan grade quality products for the global market but be able to sell them at a reasonable price. We are also trying to introduce new technology to our productions. This includes new trends to tailor monozukuri to the needs of the foreign market.


What is and has been your main competitive advantage that has made you to the go-to company in the dental industry?

Our company resembles a very family business style. Our roots are very deeply tied to family and that is our strength. And of course, in the past 100 years we’ve evolved greatly to look different from that family structure, with all our action with companies both in Japan and abroad, but this only means we need to refer back to our family roots even more. We want to do this because it keeps us loyal to our customers and defines our strength, cements our credibility and among us. Our philosophy and DNA is also important to mention. Our roots keep us conservative and dedicated but we strive to be innovative, and we aim to unify these ideas. We were established in Kyoto and that’s why our company has the traditional and historical culture, but at the same time, we take any new technology and integrate it into our business.


What is the role of R&D in your company?

We have a long history of co-development, which sometimes actually happens unintentionally. At first, we started as an import trading company, and then it became a company that comprehensively handles various things. In it, some material manufacturers have introduced us to new technologies and we have worked with them on products that solve the problems of the dental industry. One example is dental adhesives, which is a very important product in history, and it was a manufacturer unrelated to dentistry who first considered the adhesive. This technology has revolutionized dentistry. We think it’s essential to develop ideas with others and build off of what is already available to create a better, more useful product. We are quite strong in initial visualization of a product and understanding the final application of that product.


Are you looking for partners for co-creation to create the latest products?

Our latest effort at this was with the Japan agency for medical research and development (AMED). When a new theme is created at university, there is a high probability that they will talk to us. Recently, there are many AMED projects, and we also prioritize them and accept them because they have synergies with other projects. In order to keep up with the speed of change, we are looking for various partnerships.


Can you tell us about your two business segments?

We have the dental and the regular medical segments. In the dental industry, our main products were dental chairs, we’ve been committed to eliminating the fear that surrounds going to the dentist; we believe in making visiting the dentist pleasant. Now a medical imaging technique is our strength. Medical CT images a large area, but dental CT is like a microscope. We are proud to be one of the pioneers of cone beam computed tomography ( CBCT ) development in the dental and medical fields.


What strategies are you implementing to expand overseas?

We try to balance quality and price. We also are always trying to stay in close touch with current dental teachings and practices so that we can stay modern and relevant. Both of these are important to making a finished product that ticks all the boxes. Our collaboration with industry professional bodies is essential to having accurate information and reputable products, as is our work with educational facilities. In both Japan and abroad, we use a distributer to sell out products. For us, direct sales are less common.

High-quality equipment is sold mainly in developed countries such as Europe and the United States. In many Asian countries, dentistry is not yet widespread. Since there are many places where the number of dentists will increase from here on in, we would like to focus on our products together with horizontal position treatment system. It's not low quality but Japan quality.


How is Morita supporting the medical field by going into other fields, like plastic surgery and ENT?

We have developed a product that can accurately image very fine anatomical structures in the head and neck, such as the temporal bone, paranasal sinus, eye sockets, jaw and skull base. This has become the best-selling product in the field of otolaryngology for us. But this is a very different field and sales route when compared to that of our dental fields.

Medical is not such a big business for us yet, and we expect growth in the future.

Recently, oral health and overall health have become very linked and important.

So collaboration between medical and dental fields is very important.


Looking towards the future, what is your midterm strategy to continue your growth?

The dental industry has had a huge influx of new products, development and innovation. We believe that there needs to be a unified platform that can keep track of and compile all these accomplishments to make it easier for our customers to use what they need. In addition, we are working to integrate more technology into dentistry. We think this will contribute to our future growth.


Are you looking at M&As?

More than M&As we prefer and see more open partnerships. This means being open to and welcoming any companies that are in the process of producing anything new and innovative in dentistry. We are not closed to anyone or anything and we are friendly to whoever is producing anything amazing.


If we return in two years, what would you like to tell us; what would like to have accomplished by then?

We want to be a more global company. We have so many products and solutions that are incredibly exciting. Two years’ time could be our chance to unify all our products to be more understandable, digitalized and more functional for our customers and patients. This can create a better chance for us to grow in the market.