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Ensuring top vehicle sound control for the emerging EV era

Interview - August 7, 2023

With the end users’ expectations in mind, Sekiso supplies high-quality products offering the best cost-performance through the overall optimization system, SSMS.

MASAYA YAMADA, PRESIDENT OF SEKISO CO, LTD
MASAYA YAMADA | PRESIDENT OF SEKISO CO, LTD

What is your take on the so-called ‘rise and fall’ of Japanese manufacturers, and where do you believe their competitiveness comes from today?

First of all, I would like to thank you for choosing us as your interviewee. Sekiso is a dedicated company in monozukuri. Monozukuri means Production or Manufacturing, but when we use the word at Sekiso, it includes philosophy of the growth of human resource, the teamwork of all Sekiso members and the collaboration with customers to supply the best products to end users. Many Japanese manufacturers have similar ideas in their corporate philosophy, and it is the strength of Japanese manufacturers. Some rise and some fall. I think it depends on how deeply the company dedicates the energy in the philosophy.

When I go overseas, I notice that the strength of Japanese monozukuri lies in its borderless culture between the production floor and the management office. In contrast, in many other countries, there is a significant gap between these groups. At Sekiso, people work together collaboratively, with a shared goal of creating high-quality products in an efficient manner, while making the best use of resources. This has been a driving force behind the success of Japanese monozukuri. Within our company, we also work together on activities such as Lean Production System, Total Productive Maintenance(TPM) and Total Quality Management (TQM) to continuously improve our processes and products by all members of SEKISO.

Another unique aspect and strength of Japanese monozukuri lies in the collaborative spirit, not just within our company but also with external companies such as our main customers. We are grateful for our close partnership with them, and when we develop or manufacture new products, the customer is always involved.

At Sekiso, we develop products not only with the customer’s request, but also with end users’ expectations in mind. By developing with the end users’ expectations in our mind from the product development stage, we can support our customers to make better vehicles.

 

I want to ask you a little more about this collaborative spirit of working with companies like Toyota, for example, here in Japan, but also with the Korean Technology Institute or with EU firms for technological exchange. I'd like to know first, how you got involved in collaborating with some of these foreign parties, and are you actively looking to form these new kinds of partnerships, like the one you have with the Korean Institute?

To encourage our people to grow, we highly value every idea of people regardless of the difficulty. We say, “Don’t sit down with the idea, but move with some trials.” The collaboration with the UK and Korea is one of the fruits of this philosophy.

When Sekiso was developing our special products, porous air ducts, we needed simulation technology to improve the developing speed. However there was no such software in the market. The chief engineer proposed that we should make it by ourselves, and we encouraged him. He searched technical papers in the libraries for many days, and found there were three professors in the world who had written papers of the simulation technology for the material. One professor was in the USA and another two were in the UK. He visited the professors in the USA and UK, and had discussions. With his suggestion, Sekiso decided to start collaborating research with the university in the UK.  Then he found that a lot of data from a number of experiments were required, and searched for professors internationally who would want to join the project. We found the professor in Korea, and he joined the team. The team successfully developed the special simulation software that was the first invention in the world after 3 years.

We are always seeking new partnerships and welcome new collaborations. In fact, we recently had discussions with a European system provider about collaboration, and we are still gathering information.

 

I’m interested in the theme of collaboration with various clients, including car makers and part makers. As we all know, the automotive sector has been a historically strong point for Japan. However, this industry is currently experiencing significant transformation and change, especially with the shift towards electric vehicles (EVs). This shift has significant consequences for your field, as the EV motor is incredibly quiet. This places a greater emphasis on managing the noise of the car. I am very curious to know how this shift towards the next generation of automobiles is impacting your business and what opportunities and challenges you see arising from this change.

As I explained, working closely with our customers for whom we provide products is one of the core philosophies of Sekiso’s Monozukuri. We are building collaboration with major EV producers in the USA and trying to create collaboration with Chinese EV producers. In addition, we are currently in discussions with a Turkish local EV manufacturer. We have already proposed a partnership. We are always open to exploring new opportunities for collaboration and growth.

EVs actually represent a significant opportunity for our business. Currently, we are conducting an intensive study on some EVs by disassembling cars. These cars are well-built, and by replacing their engines with motors, sounds that were previously masked become more noticeable.

Our goal is to reduce and eliminate these uncomfortable sounds and make comfortable sounds. In EV, you can hear the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) sound more clearly without conventional engine noise, and HVAC  ducts should have sound control performance.

For example, on the left is a conventional plastic automotive HVAC duct, and on the right is our original product. You can hear that the sound is even more pronounced when using plastic, but with our product, the sound becomes reduced and comfortable.

We also need to consider different sound preferences depending on the countries. For example, Japanese people usually are not too concerned with high pitched sound, but English speakers are. There is a theory that English is a more high-pitched language, meaning it uses a lot of consonants, resulting in a higher frequency. On the other hand, Japanese is a vowel-heavy language, so it tends to have a lower pitch, or frequency. Therefore, if there is a high-pitched noise, it would be more distracting for English speakers and they would become more aware of it, feeling it as a nuisance.

The Sekiso Sound Management System (SSMS) takes care of the sound integrally, so it's not only the volume and pitch of sound, but it's how the people feel about it, including the comfort of people's senses. That is what we provide.

The biggest challenge is that that sound is something that can't be fully conveyed with words or numbers. We use CAE and various technologies for development. But in the end, we need to confirm that our products give the best sound by applying the prototype products in the actual car and feeling the sound. Then we bring the car with the prototype products to the customer and get the feedback.



We're really curious to learn more about some of the other new applications that you're exploring for this Sekiso Sound Management System,  and this sound control technology. We read in our research that you produced a splash reduction cover used in hand dryers in public bathrooms, which are usually very noisy, that both dampen the noise and also help reduce the number of droplets in the air, which is very important in times like covid. I was hoping you could tell us more about this project, and what other kinds of use cases or applications you are exploring for your sound control technology?

Generally speaking, if you reduce the air flow by reducing the diameter of the air duct, the sound is actually dampened. However in this case, the air flow volume is reduced and it is not acceptable for automobile applications as it spoils the performance. We have been conducting intensive research to control the air flow and design the best air duct that assures comfortable sound without much compromise in the performance. When the covid pandemic hit, we wanted to find how we could contribute to society with our technology in the very difficult period, and the hand dryer cover was one of them.

In Japan, most hand dryers were shut down during the covid pandemic due to the concern about spreading the virus with the water splashes. Some provided paper towels as an alternative, and most required the use of a handkerchief. However, the use of paper towels creates waste and exposes cleaners to the risk of covid. Also, using a handkerchief can spread bacteria, so why not use the existing assets in the restroom? By putting a cover on the hand dryer, we can reduce noise and splashing. It also reduces the risk for children who are at a low height and may face the hand dryer. This was the reason Sekiso started to sell the retrofit duct kits for the existing hand dryers. However, there are many types of hand dryers in the market, making it difficult to conduct sales and expand the product efficiently. We now think it would be best to collaborate with the hand dryer producers and make better new hand dryers with Sekiso designed air flow systems.

Having said that, there are so many other applications that we can explore. Currently,  while Sekiso Japan's focus is on automotives, since it's such a big change in the transportation industry, our French company has been developing air flow sound control devices and acoustic sound-dampening interior products for housing applications, and the products are well-received in Europe.

 

We're also very curious to know about your vision for new markets for your international development and expansion. I think it's safe to say that in recent years you've taken some big steps, both in terms of collaborating with international institutions or companies, but also in terms of physically going out overseas and establishing bases in Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey in the 90s, and the United States as well. Can you tell us a little more about your vision for your continued global expansion?

Our overseas expansion started in 1995, when Toyota US operation desired to locally procure the components that we were supplying in Japan. We collaborated with Toyota and set up a local production facility in a nearby compound. Since then, we have expanded to six different countries and eight locations, including in the US. With our new clients such as BYD, we aim to leverage our expertise and facilities to cater to their needs.

However, working with new customers, we are still exploring how to cater to them and open new sales channels. Our main objective is not to make our company bigger or to expand, but rather to provide our unique products to any client who recognizes our value proposition.

We have and will continue to treasure our DNA and our spirit, and we are open to collaborating with companies who are willing to recognize our strengths, while also recognizing theirs. By doing so, we can create collaborative and synergistic effects.

 

Your company is in a very exciting stage with a lot of new projects. Imagine we come back in exactly five years and interview you again. What dreams and goals would you like to have achieved for the company by then that you would like to tell us about in that new interview?

It’s a difficult question. In five years, when you come back, Sekiso won't look bigger in size. Our goal is to be the most reliable sound system maker that customers firstly contact when he/she has a problem in sound.  I want to continue to treasure the company spirit that we have maintained. As someone with an engineering background from the technical field, I emphasize not only the growth of human resources, but also of technology. These two pillars have given us strength as a company, and we need to focus on those.

First, training human resources is an asset of our company, and thanks to my colleagues here and other members, we have been able to grow together, so I will continue to put emphasis on the growth of human resources.

As for technology and the SSMS, there is huge potential in this integrated sound system, so what we want to do is continue to improve our technology and conduct our research and development, and cater to many different types of next generation mobility, including EVs, autonomous driving and even personal mobility.

Each type of mobility has different types of sounds and new ways to dampen or control that sound. Being a sound system maker, we can take total care of both the origin of the sound and the transportation of the sound to the end users, improving how they feel about the sound. This total sound management proposal is what we are trying to be as a company.

We place a huge emphasis on the environmental aspect also, such as the recycling economy and carbon neutrality. Our company name actually originates from our history in paper manufacturing. Although we now use plastic to make parts, we now think it’s time to revisit our original business and develop new products to contribute to society. We are now developing the technology to extract fiber from weeds, and use the fiber as a material for automotive parts. Societies are having trouble with the disposal of weeds from houses and public areas.

Additionally, if we could use the weeds as a material for our products, the weed won't be burned, so CO2 can be fixed in the product we make, making it environmentally friendly. Our environmental motto is to borrow resources from the Earth and return them back in a cleaner manner. We are always concerned about being environmentally conscious and making efforts to reduce our impact on the planet.

There are so many things we will do, and I can’t give you a clear picture of where we will be, but I believe we could give you several interesting stories when you come back to us 5 years from now.

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