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Japan’s expertise in infrastructure maintenance and seismic strengthening

Interview - May 14, 2021

Established in 1958, leading infrastructure maintenance company SHO-BOND’s first major challenge came when it was tasked with supporting the reconstruction of bridges following a devastating earthquake in 1964. Since then, SHO-BOND has played an essential role in infrastructure maintenance and seismic strengthening in Japan, during which time its unrivalled technology, solutions and products (which include injection adhesive fillings, seismic resistant devices, pipe-fitting products and anti-seismic synthetic resin materials) have continued to evolve. In this interview, president, Tatsuya Kishimoto, discusses how the company’s proven track record in successfully applying its technologies to all types of infrastructures – regardless of size, weight and location – have ensured it remains the leader in its field. 


Japan is the global leader in ageing not only in its society but also in its infrastructure, however, companies such as yours have been able to develop technology that maintains and repairs your infrastructures here in Japan and overseas. Such ageing infrastructures are also seen in the US, France, Germany, and also in the Asia-Pacific region. How can you bring your expertise to the overseas market and what can you teach others when it comes to the maintenance of their technology?

The keyword, sustainability, that you mentioned actually is something that unites not only Japan but also foreign countries. The infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels that were built many years ago, for example fifty years ago, during the economic boom in Japan has now significantly decreased in quality. It’s a matter of how you maintain and extend the lifespan of this infrastructure. The keyword here is “preventative maintenance.” Getting ahead of time to prevent any foreseen damages of our infrastructures is very essential. Our main job here is not building infrastructure but maintaining and sustaining them and making sure that they remain in good shape and form.


You mentioned that your company is ahead in the prevention of damages to infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels. What kind of innovative technologies are you using to prevent such damages?

We were officially established in 1958, the symbolic time was in 1964 when a catastrophic earthquake hit Japan. In this slide you can see the bridge was not rebuilt but only repaired and was brought back to its original state. You see several pictures of collapsed bridges. We brought them back to the surface away from the riverside, fixed the problematic and malfunctioning parts and maintained them. We applied our special Sho-Bond adhesives, which is the technology that we originated from, in the cracks of the concrete structures and increased their strength. This case in 1964 turned out to be the point of origin event for us to become a technology-oriented company that combines chemical and civil engineering technologies for structural maintenance.  There are numerous other cases including the ones in the event of the devastating Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in 1995, where our steel plate reinforcement technology sustained the infrastructure. Sustaining and keeping already built infrastructure in a good condition to pass on to the next generation is what our company is envisioning.


Your company’s slogan is: “Construction company that doesn’t construct”. Having been founded in 1958, the company’s mission has always been to repair. What makes you number one when it comes to maintenance?

The number one strength that defines our company is we strengthen already existing infrastructure, and as I said previously that has been what we are known for. In comparison to other construction companies, their essence is to build, to construct, we on the other hand propose in such a way that we have an investigation, diagnosis and design team composed of experts that go to the construction area and thoroughly evaluate all the scope of work that can be done. 


How were you able to develop a comprehensive maintenance system, from investigation, diagnosis, technology development, design, construction and manufacturing? How are you able to create synergies between those five areas?

If you visit our company’s website at https://www.sho-bondhd.jp/english/business/, you will see the highlights of our comprehensive maintenance system in different areas. Our approach is to provide proper solutions to our maintenance sites.  From such on-site-centered-approach we perform our investigation, diagnosis, technology development, design, construction and manufacturing.  Our own project sites create synergies and enable us to develop a comprehensive maintenance system. For example, we have a software called Electron Probe Micro Analyzer (EPMA), it analyzes the concrete slab and gives us a visual understanding of how much and where adjustments have to be made. Using this software, we are able to obtain much more accurate diagnosis as compared to a mere inspection by the human eye. Another best aspect of our system is being open to innovations with our partners who are willing to work with us to come up with better solutions and proposals for the customers.


You have mentioned to us what defines the essence of your company. Do you have any upcoming projects or projects that you’ve done that you’d like to share with us? 

A project in the past which you might find interesting is a bridge located in Shizuoka prefecture. Although with this one it was quite hard to implement the reinforcement because it’s a form of a loop but we managed to do so with the bars on the bridge. We apply different kinds of materials and technology to different kinds of bridges regardless of their size, weight and location. What gives us the edge over our competitors is we are able to perform our best practices to repair any kinds of infrastructure. We have proven this over and over in our track record.

As a company that doesn’t construct, how are you able to find all your projects?

There are two fundamental projects in Japan. One is large-scale renewal plans of express highway companies and the other is the National Resilience Initiative by the Japanese government. Projects are listed up from these backgrounds. We analyze those lists in detail and establish strategies to win them.


Japan experiences a tremendous number of natural disasters. The ring of fire has been active for the last number of decades. As a company that has unique anti-seismic technology, are you looking to introduce your technology overseas? 

The estimated figures of the annual demand in the maintenance market overseas in total are around ¥200 trillion. Aging of infrastructure is becoming a global social issue and sustainability and resilience of the infrastructure is coming under the spotlight.  So it is expected that the overseas high demand for preventive maintenance works and service life extension works will continue growing. We believe that our technology has a global competitive edge due to a lot of experience, repairing in Japan’s diverse climate, harsh natural environment such as earthquakes, and fatigue damage beyond what was expected at the time of construction.

We are laying a foundation for possible business partners overseas to create synergies, for example, to implement better practices. No matter how much knowledge and skills Sho-Bond may have here, there’s not a lot of people who could implement our practices out there. We’re actually exploring right now, we’re trying to find companies located in countries who are looking to sustain and bring resilience to their countries’ infrastructure.


Speaking of overseas, your company has a partnership with Mitsui & Co. Ltd.,  please tell us more about it and what’s the goal behind this partnership?

We are promoting the business of infrastructure maintenance through a joint venture company, leveraging the global network of a broad range of overseas customers and partner companies of Mitsui. The joint venture is intended to make a valuable contribution to maintenance of global infrastructure with SHO-BOND’s technology developed in our country that is advanced in the field of maintenance.  We are also intending to contribute to establishing a good standard for infrastructure maintenance overseas. We are trying to leverage our academic network as well to thrive standardization of infrastructure maintenance practices.


What potential opportunities do you have for your company to penetrate the markets in Europe and America? 

Our infrastructural activities in Southeast Asia have been escalating, our company is already in the process of going to the other parts of the world such as Europe and America, and we can see a big potential there.


Please tell us a list of your most saleable products as well as the products that define your company?

We manufacture and sell synthetic resin materials such as injection adhesive fillings, seismic resistant devices, and pipe-fitting products. We also have Polymer Cement mortar for concrete repair. There are many other products lined up from simple materials to some complex, advanced products. Our technology development is derived from our on-site-centered-approach. New ideas for improvement and innovations are fed back to our Technical Research Institute where competent chemical and civil engineers are combining their knowledge together.

In terms of volume, the products that we have the most sales are the ones related to anti-seismic synthetic resin materials. For bridges, expansion joints and prevention devices for bridge fall are some of the products that we have sold the most. The sales of our pipe-fitting products are also steadily increasing.


Imagine we come back to interview you again in three years, what would you like to tell us? What are your professional ambitions, dreams for the company, and what would you like to accomplish?

With the aging of society and aging of infrastructure, we definitely feel the necessity to be growing rapidly at this point. We expect that this necessity for preventative maintenance to infrastructure will be growing even more in the near future. For that reason, Sho-Bond as a group company will always be there to support not only the infrastructure but also the society using the best practices that we have. To extend life expectancy is part of our mission as a company. In this world that we share together it’s very crucial for a company such as Sho-bond to be by our side to sustain the infrastructure that we constantly use. This is something that we share as a common will in our corporate philosophy.