Kiso-Jiban Consultants is the world’s leading geo-technical consulting firm, which has been involved in more than 6,000 overseas projects specializing in foundation engineering and soil mechanics. The green projects that Kiso- Jiban Consultants are currently working on include offshore wind and geothermal power generation, surveys and conservation studies of flora and fauna, and the creation of green infrastructure. In this interview, president, Yoshiyuki Yagiura, explains that the company aims to contribute to the development of Asian countries by linking best-practice sustainability with the development of conventional engineering.
In recent years we have seen that the construction industry has been affected in three ways: the rapid urbanization where people go to Tokyo, Fukuoka, and Osaka which has led to the construction of increasing amounts of high-rise buildings; increased maintenance in the construction due to aging infrastructure; and lastly, due to Japan’s decreasing population there has been fewer construction projects. Can you give us your assessment on the Japanese construction industry and how do you foresee it in the future?
About twenty percent of the world’s earthquakes occur in Japan and typhoons cause floods and landslides every year. In such a severe natural environment, an infrastructure development project always requires considering earthquakes, heavy rainfall, etc. In particular, the infrastructure development must take into account liquefaction of sandy ground and landslides caused by earthquakes, as well as flooding and landslide disasters caused by heavy rainfall. As most of the cities such as Tokyo, Fukuoka and Osaka are built on soft ground, high-rise buildings require not only earthquake-resistant design for the superstructure, but also liquefaction countermeasures at the foundations. Every time we experience a major earthquake, construction codes are revised and existing buildings have been reinforced. In a ground condition that is largely affected by natural disasters, the maintenance of infrastructure is a major challenge, which we are working through geological risk assessment. Although population decline may appear to be a "negative" factor, we think it is an opportunity to improve our productivity.
The geological structure of Japan is more complex than that of Europe and the United States, due to numerous faults and volcanic activity in the region. As a result, the Japanese construction industry has struggled with complex geology to complete their construction projects. For example, the Channel Tunnel was constructed through chalk layers that are weak and homogeneous. However, in the Seikan Tunnel, which is of the same scale as the Channel Tunnel, it was necessary to excavate the tunnel with overcoming intermittent hard and soft rock formations, fracture zones due to faulting, and sudden water inflow.
Since construction projects are decreasing in Japan, many construction companies and consultants attempt to expand their business abroad. The geological condition in Southeast Asian countries is similar to Japan’s in terms of complex geology and frequent natural disasters, therefore, the technology that we have developed here in Japan is applicable to these areas in Southeast Asia. That can be an advantage for the Japanese construction industry to expand their business to Asian countries.
The soil in Southeast Asia, Japan, and the countries along the Pacific Ring of Fire are different from Europe and America like you say. You mentioned that your technology can be applied to areas in Southeast Asia that are prone to earthquakes, please tell us more about your technology and how it can be applied overseas?
For geotechnical investigation in Japan, we usually conduct drilling work and extract samples of soil from the underground, and then we observe the samples and perform testing on them to evaluate the ground condition. Kiso-Jiban Consultants developed a sampling technology, so-called GP Sampler, to obtain high-quality samples by using polymer gel for evaluation of liquefaction for sandy and gravelly soils. We are now exporting this technology abroad, e.g. APAC and Europe. We are also currently developing a small-scale freeze-sampling technique by means of partially freezing sandy ground.
Recently, offshore wind farm projects have been on the rise here in Japan due to the disaster of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima during the earthquake on March 11, 2011. Since then Japan has been accelerating its efforts to develop renewable energy and alternative energy resources. Though Japan is a bit delayed when it comes to offshore wind power harvesting compared to the West and the United States, one of the reasons is, as I mentioned above, the geological condition is complex and natural disasters frequently occur in Japan, which is completely different from those in the West and the United States. Therefore, we have to carefully evaluate the ground condition and should optimize methods of soil investigation, design, construction and maintenance to fit the circumstances in Japan.
For example, we are involved in the risk management of submarine geohazards at the site of a proposed offshore wind farm, from investigation, through to design, construction and maintenance. Our aim is to export this management technology to Southeast Asia, where the conditions of geological structure and natural disasters are similar to those of Japan. We have been involved in the Japanese offshore wind sector at the early phase of the business and today Kiso-Jiban Consultants represents one of the leading companies in this kind of field.
What strategies are you going to implement to take your technology overseas? Which specific countries are you looking to contribute your technology to?
In the future, we would like to expand our business to the Asian countries by developing new technologies in geotechnical investigations, such as GP sampling, small-scale freeze-sampling and submarine geotechnical risk management, which can contribute to the development of infrastructure around Asia.
The Japanese construction industry has been highly criticized for being slow in adopting technologies such as IoT, AI, Big Data, and Cloud Technology. In your specific case you have your Kiso Cloud, could you please tell us how you are implementing your innovative technologies into your services to offer better solutions to your customers?
We are currently using a 3D geological model created by us to determine where geological risks exist and where the additional investigation should be conducted to obtain detailed geotechnical information. As an example, in a project in Singapore, we produced a 3D geological model up to a depth of 500m below ground level to identify the geological risks for future infrastructure development.
According to the experts, the global construction industry will experience growth amounting to about $11 trillion with Asia accounting for half of that. How are you going to take advantage of this growth?
I believe that for Japan, other than constructing new infrastructures, it is important to maintain the infrastructures already built, including reinforcement and repair. I also believe that this is something that other Asian countries will be in the same situation in the next twenty to thirty years. At that time, we hope that the technology currently being developed in Japan will be utilized.
Could you please give us a brief overview of your international services and your main competitive advantages?
We did major projects in Singapore: for Marina Bay Sands we carried out the soil investigation to obtain high-quality soil test results which allow safe and economical geotechnical design of the integrated resort; we provided services of geotechnical design for Esplanade The Theater on the Bay; we provided a full set of geotechnical information services for ION Orchard and The Orchard Residences; and many more projects.
Kiso-Jiban Consultants was involved in the planning of the geotechnical investigation program and supervision of site works followed by analysis and design of foundation for the creation of Al Mada Towers in Saudi Arabia.
With our project on Signature Towers in Indonesia, the investigation employed the special sampling tools enabling the retrieval of high-quality undisturbed soil samples from all kinds of soil formations encountered in the investigation and thus providing seamless geotechnical information throughout the exploratory depths.
We provided geotechnical services in KLIA 2 in Malaysia which included supervision of detailed site investigation, soil profile interpretation and determination of soil parameters for analysis. We also performed pile analysis, slope and excavation stability studies.
Kiso-Jiban Consultants have more than 50 years of experience and a proven track record in dealing with the severe natural environment and complex geological conditions of Asia. As the most reliable geotechnical consultant in the Asia region, we would like to continue our business locally and take on the challenge of large-scale projects in Asia.
How are you able to find these projects that you have just mentioned above? How do your clients come to you?
When Japanese construction consultant companies conduct their business abroad, it is usually through Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding. Unlike that, Kiso-Jiban Consultants is locally incorporated and acts as a local consultant in order to provide localized services. Therefore, our competitors are not Japanese but Chinese, Korean and European companies. Our consulting services are quite expensive but our clients still choose us because we can provide the technology to respond to their needs. We have been doing this kind of work in that way for over fifty years now in the Southeast Asian region, that track record is the reason why we have been engaged for large-scale projects overseas.
We have seen several Japanese construction companies shifting overseas to find partners in terms of co-creation and joint development to penetrate new markets and to introduce new technology. What role do co-creation or partnership play in your company in order to capture a new market?
When it comes to offshore wind farms, European companies are ahead of us and have a lot of technology. We partnered with the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI), a world-famous geotechnical consultant, and we will jointly provide geotechnical information services for offshore wind farms. We are also considering working with many partners to improve our technology and to capture new markets.
Looking ahead into the future, what would be your midterm strategies to continue your corporate growth?
Right now, our target is to double our sales within the next ten years. In order to achieve this goal, we will establish a holding company, “People, Dreams and Technologies Group Co., Ltd.” in October 2021, and work together with group companies.
Your company has been involved in many projects here in Japan and overseas, do you have any specific projects that you are most proud of?
Five years ago, there was a huge landslide caused by an earthquake named the Kumamoto earthquakes, and lots of infrastructures including bridges, railroads, national highways, rivers, etc. were destroyed. Soon after the disaster happened, we sent a total of three thousand engineers to the site to conduct ground investigation and designs for recovery and reconstruction, and completed the recovery work in March of this year.
Another thing we are proud of is that we created a 3D geological model in Singapore with the assistance of the British Geological Survey. This project was a very precious experience for us because it gave us an opportunity to acquire wisdom and know-how that we previously did not have. We have applied this newly acquired knowledge and skills here in Japan.
Imagine we come back to interview you again in five years, what would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company and what would you like to have accomplished by then?
We just started recently developing a technology that can utilize satellites to predict where landslide disasters could occur across the world. With this technology, we can begin to see which areas are going to be more vulnerable to disasters after an earthquake and heavy rain has occurred. Five years from now, I hope this technology that we are working on will be beneficial to society.
We would also like to play a central role in the field of Green Projects. For several years, we have been working on the development of offshore wind and geothermal power generation related to renewable energy, surveys and conservation studies of flora and fauna related to the Ramsar Convention, and the creation of green infrastructure and a regional recycling-based society related to carbon-neutral. We hope to contribute to the development of Asian countries by linking the above experiences with the development of conventional infrastructure.