Morita has been pioneering fire-fighting technology for more than 110 years and is currently developing a groundbreaking fire-truck which can extinguish fire without using water. Speaking with The Worldfolio Masahiro Nakajima explains how some of the company’s most important innovations have come about from lessons learned in the wake of Japan’s biggest natural disasters.
What are the competitive advantages of the 'Made in Japan' brand? Why should the average consumer put the extra dollar into buying a Japanese product?
The philosophy of monozukuri has spread to Asia and has provided Japan’s competitors with an edge, which raises the question about what is so great about Japanese monozukuri. As the leader of Morita Group, I cannot take the responsibility for answering on behalf of Japanese monozukuri. My personal opinion cannot account for all of Japan's miraculous production.
Another reason why I cannot take such responsibility is due to historical factors. 150 years ago, the country experienced a period of seclusion. Gradually, our borders started to open to the outside world. Everything that was happening in terms of technological development in other developed countries was practically adopted and copied by Japanese delegates that went abroad.
In Europe, these delegates studied and observed the technologies before importing them to Japan. It just so happens to be in the national character of the Japanese people themselves. They tend to have a deep interest, not just in making things, but also in preserving them in a proper state and developing them at a higher level of quality. That is what distinguishes Japanese people as a nation. What is happening now in countries such as Korea, Taiwan and China is similar to what happened in Japan. Technologies that have been accumulated throughout all this time are getting mass-produced at a cheaper price due to low labour cost.
If we are in this era where your products can be copied at a cheaper price, what can you do to survive and help your company thrive?
We started by manufacturing fire pumps here in Japan. In days past, Korean and Chinese manufacturers used a similar design andreplicated our vehicles. While there were companies that could imitate the overall structure of our products perfectly, the essence of the fire truck itself could not compare to ours. What allows our company to thrive is the accumulation of know-how we have gathered since inception.
To some extent, we feel that we are standing on a boxing ring with several rival organizations coming to attack us. But the outcome will ultimately be that we will stand as the lone survivor because we have the confidence and the certainty that the users will decide what the best products are. It happened with us and it happened with large companies. After all, those companies also struggled when they tried to capture outside markets. Once users began purchasing products and technologies made by other companies, they recognised the quality of Japanese products and went back. In the long run, the end-user is the ultimate judge.
You were founded in 1907. Would you mind running us through what you believe are the key milestones of the company as well as the corporate philosophy that's in your company.
Our slogan is "Protecting Human Life and Mother Earth", our philosophy is to create a society where we can all live in safety. To answer how we can reach that level of safety, we must first address a major problem that Morita Group is facing. There have been many steps in the company's evolution. Throughout those different stages, we created products that have been widely received by customers in Japan and around the world. But this is not the end of the company's development.
In recent years, Japan has faced problems that were not present before. Japan’s shrinking population is pushing Morita to think outside the box, cross new borders, and create products adapted to Japan’s ageing society. We have been very flexible in that matter. No matter what we manufacture and no matter where we expand, our final objective remains the same: We want to bring safety to society.
What is the importance of innovation and what new products are you currently developing?
The first point to consider is not what new product we should make, but what innovation can contribute to society as a whole. The vehicles we released, such as the Miracle CAFS Car, are part of an overall process. In 1995, in the Hanshin and Awaji area in western Japan, one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded hit Japan, taking the lives of many people.
The damage done wasn't due to the earthquake only, but to the aftermath, which caused a number of fires and required several units of fire trucks to come and eliminate the source of danger. We witnessed what happened and realised that the fire trucks could not cover the full scale of the fire. The fire hydrants were broken at the time, and vehicles only had a limited amount of water in their reservoirs.
They could not get a new source of water in a timely fashion. While people were willing to help save others’ lives, they were not able to do so because they could not get a supply of water. That was one of the most tragic points of that event. The company took that as a lesson and returned to the R&D office to research further preventive measures against natural disasters. Shortly after, we created a vehicle, which can carry out effective fire control with less water in areas with poor access to water resources.
But then another earthquake happened in 2011, and the aftermath of that earthquake was due to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station collapsing. Because of the tsunami, it was impossible to use water. The company took that as a lesson and went back to the R&D office to create new solutions such as the MiracleN7, which was introduced throughout Japan. This vehicle removes the oxygen from the air and continually discharges nitrogen-enriched air to extinguish fire. The MiracleN7 is used in Aomori, which has nuclear power-related facilities. Throughout all these episodes, our company has adapted to the needs and necessities that can occur from unforeseen events, whether they are natural or artificial.
Another example is the MVF21, a product we created in partnership with a Finnish company, Bront Skylift. With Japan’s shrinking demographic and ageing society, we wanted to manufacture a vehicle that requires less manpower to manoeuvre. Previously, four to five people were needed to use similar devices. We have successfully reduced that number to one or two for the same task.
Morita Group pays special attention to what is happening. We want to feel the pulse of society to determine what could be the next step for the company's future.
You're the perfect example of a company that expanded outside Japan. You have a president in Hong Kong and China, and of course, you sell your products around the world. Could you tell us more about your international strategy and what countries or regions you feel have the most potential?
We are currently focusing on countries within the South East Asian region. Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia are countries we have identified with high internal expansion potential. Once we joined with the Bront Skylift which had already achieved results in Africa, we can successfully go into those markets as well.
Are you looking for any other activities, ventures or partners?
If the possibility to start a successful partnership presents itself, we will be happy to do so.
If we were to come back in 10 years and have this interview with you, what would you like to see for Morita Group and what are your dreams for the company?
In 10 years, I might no longer be here, but Morita will still be flourishing. My vision is to go beyond manufacturing and provide “solution packages” for customers. In the future, I would like us to fulfil the role of consultants, providing best-use solutions towards the creation of a safe and comfortable society.