A manufacturer and a vendor of over 1,000 types of wood adhesives and general construction materials, Oshika Corporation is a company of international standing that can draw on over 100 years of industry experience since its foundation.
For the last 25-30 years, Japan has been famous for developing products that are world leading. Recently, however, we see regional competitors emerging in Korea, Taiwan and China, replicating the Japanese model of success but often at much cheaper labor costs. What impact have these regional competitors had on your business? What differentiates Japanese manufacturing from its competitors today still?
Japan traditionally has had a strong history in fields such as semiconductors and the automotive sector and traditionally dominated the global market. Though still having a large worldwide market share in the automotive sector, it is now facing an uphill task to regain its share in fields such as semiconductors and household appliances, as many competing countries are working hard to strengthen in those fields. With regard to corporate policy making, Japan has struggled a lot as it has been quite isolated. Japan needs to overcome its Galapagos syndrome and strive to develop a more de-facto standard with regards to the global market. Our company’s corporate management style has been to aim to become a niche top company within the adhesive industry and promote the sense of “Oshikaism” to our clients. This will enable us to remain viable within the changing trends of the market. Oshikaism not only concerns selling or supplying our products to our clients, but also working together with them to manufacture products and providing specific guidance and instruction, as well as listening to their ideas. In a sense we are providing them information on how best to utilize our adhesives. This is what I would consider Oshikaism to be.
Japan’s population is undergoing a major shift as we speak. Not only is it falling since 2008, but the low fertility rate means that there will be less than 100 million people in Japan by mid-century. For firms here this has made it harder to recruit and resulted in a shrinking domestic market to sell products to. How is Oshika reacting to these population challenges?
This has been a great struggle for everyone involved in the housing industry. We are all going to take a direct hit as a result of this demographic decline. To help alleviate this issue, we are looking at ways to expand our business into non-housing industries, such as by supplying our adhesives to the construction of sports gymnasiums. As an example, we constructed a wooden storehouse at our Osaka office which features a pillarless space and has an open feel. Furthermore, we are looking into offering our adhesives to wooden constructions which can be used for international exhibitions or events. That will help us to promote our range of products.
With regards to the housing industry, on the other hand, it is something that is very culturally specific. At the same time, depending on the country's policy, the ways in which they operate are completely different. However, we are looking to expand in the housing industries of countries that utilize wood as a central material. We want to promote our adhesives in these overseas housing markets which have such government policies
We have a very steady track record in expanding products and technologies related to adhesives in both the housing and non-housing industry. Now, the industry is experiencing a turning point. Oshika is willing to spread our products and technologies more and more.
The construction industry is responsible for 40% of carbon emissions worldwide. As we see urbanization increase rapidly, Africa and Asia will see 2.5 billion people moving to cities in the next 30 years. However, 60% of the homes to house this influx of people are yet to be built. What do you envision as the most sustainable model for the construction industry when it comes to reducing carbon emissions while accommodating this growing worldwide construction demand?
The move towards carbon neutrality is a global trend, and something that we must all consider seriously when it comes to our business. We believe in the regeneration of wood itself and using more and more wooden material is a very eco-friendly step. In addition to this, we also use adhesive material that is environmentally sustainable, such as Lignin which is a natural by-product itself.
The scale of the regeneration of wood and the utilization in this industry is still quite small. However, we do believe that as a flagship company, there is a role for us to play when it comes to utilizing wooden based materials in construction, and we want to continue to promote its spread worldwide.
The effort towards a sustainable world is something that cannot be achieved by one company working in isolation. Rather it can only be achieved by working in solidarity with our partners, co-producers, customers, and suppliers. We need to work together to make it a reality.
In order to make that a reality, you have set up a business model where you combine two different main divisions: your chemical division and your building materials department. Can you outline the synergies that you are able to leverage on between those two divisions? What are some of the key products that you are able to offer through your co-creation with your clients?
The fact that we have both a chemical division which produces our adhesives and other such materials, as well as our construction materials division is actually quite a rare model. Our model allows for an accelerated rolling out of different products into the market. For example, within our group, when it comes to Lignin phenol resin, we are able to manufacture it and then apply it to our plywood. This allows us to create a model for selling and marketing it in-house. We can also carry out all the inspections and testing required to meet the various policies and standards that are in place within the industry. This enables us to streamline the process and introduce our products to the market more quickly.
Our employees in our construction materials department are in constant contact with people in the housing materials industry. They have very solid channels of communication. This means that we are always aware of the latest trends within the market and can work at the relevant pace. It also allows for quick decision making.
Your company specializes in wood and connecting it through adhesives and propriety joining techniques. Looking back to the 1960s when Japan’s construction boom occurred, most houses post World War 2 were wooden. Most of those have since fallen into disrepair and the ones that are still maintained don’t meet environmental or anti-seismic building regulations. Wood based technology has certainly moved on a lot since then, what would be some of the key points you would argue for in favor of the use of wood?
Right now, the Japanese government is widely promoting the use of wooden materials. Japan, in its long history, has utilized wood in an effective way. However, disasters in the modern ages marked a turning point for the trajectory of the market to be non-wood. It was not until 2010 that the government began again to recognize the usage of wooden material as a viable resource. They have been able to change the different policies and standards in order to introduce wood as a viable construction material for public facilities and infrastructure. In a sense, Japan is now finally trying to catch up to the world’s standards in incorporating such materials.
In my own personal opinion, there are cultural and regional familiarities. In Europe for example, Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) has been utilized for quite a long time. They expand the possibility of CLT use, such as through construction of high-rises by effectively copying the nature of wood itself. CLT is attracting a lot of attention in Japan as well these days. At a time when wood started to be recognized again as a sustainable material, CLT shows great promise for the future.
Regarding adhesives, we know that some adhesives contain a very toxic ingredient called formaldehyde. If inhaled or contracted by the human body, it can cause toxic poisoning. Your company provides a range of products, such as catcher agents, which allow for the suppression of formaldehyde in your products. Worldwide though, the standards and regulations set by each region vary drastically when it comes to catcher agents and formaldehyde use. As an international company, can you explain how you are complying with those different regulations that we see worldwide?
In Japan we have the VOC emissions standards that we have to meet in order to roll out our products. The government has made these standards and requirements quite transparent. It is our policy to incorporate and install the same testing devices that the government utilizes and conduct the tests in-house before sending our products out for the government agencies to test. That way, we are able to fully assure that we can meet the standards that are in place. However, in other countries, there are different types of standards. For example, Europe has the EN standards, and there are separate departments and agencies that carry out the testing, like Japan has. Therefore, we make use of external support and assistance in order to make sure that they are met. Our general policy is to conduct the same tests and inspections that are conducted by governmental and other agencies by ourselves first, then we apply for an official test at a certain third party to ensure our products meet all of their requirements.
With regards to each regional testing institution, there are different standards that are in place in accordance with the kind of adhesive and the required performance, beside formaldehyde emission. There are the GLTAA and the GOST, for example. In order to meet these global standards, we make sure to combine and utilize the support of these different testing institutions. This ensures that we are up to date with the standards and requirements. Oshika is proactively acquiring overseas certificates and promoting our products to the regions where those certificates work.
When using adhesives for wooden materials, 95% of a tree’s entire material can be used, while conventionally only 60% of a tree can be used. Engineered wood products are a perfect example as they make full use of almost an entire trees’ components by binding them together with adhesives. Can you tell us about your engineered wood product and explain to our readers how this is a much more sustainable form of construction?
Wood naturally has a carbon storage effect. Utilizing wood into building materials such as plywood and engineered wood itself contributes to a sustainable society. Besides that, engineered wood such as CLT and glued laminated timber can be manufactured using non-formaldehyde adhesives which do not use formaldehyde as a raw material. One of the examples of non-formaldehyde adhesive is “Emulsion Polymer Isocyanate (water-based polymer isocyanate)” adhesives. Besides this type of adhesives, even if wood products are manufactured using adhesives containing formaldehyde, it can be turned to be harmless to humans by applying a formaldehyde catcher that can suppress the formaldehyde emissions. We offer customers the most appropriate products, like EPI adhesives and formaldehyde catchers, for their best manufacturing conditions and required performance from our wide range of those products.
I actually used to work for a chemical company, and I was in charge of their chemical sales department. Obviously, the use of chemicals overall is not necessarily the best. However, I knew that from my previous history. I believe that it is the role of those dealing with chemicals, while fully understanding their nature characters, to still find a way of being able to utilize these chemicals in business. That is the approach that I have taken.
Lignin which, has traditionally been a by-product of paper-making processes and used as fuel. How did your industry discover Lignin Phenol resin’s utility as an adhesive for construction? What business opportunities does this resin present for Oshika?
The lignin which we use as a raw material is called kraft lignin. It was, as you mentioned, originally a by-product emitted during a paper-making process of paper-making companies. It had no real use so was used mainly as fuel. Around ten years ago we began to deal with lignin phenol resin to which kraft resin was applied. We conducted R&D for ways to develop and expand the uses of this product. It was initially considered quite difficult to utilize due to the unstable nature of lignin’s quality and it was not advancing as steadily as we had hoped. We then began to work together with a large Western company, and this enabled us to procure Lignin with a steady quality. This allowed us to increase our R&D efforts. By having this steady supply of lignin, we were able to work on developing lignin phenol resin for building materials (plywood) over a period of 3-4 years and were finally able to come up with a viable product in terms of both cost and quality.
When we first began to promote our lignin phenol resin, our clients were confused, as lignin itself was little known at that time. It is now becoming more widely recognized by the government to the extent that there are now public institutes researching ways to further develop the usage of lignin. The lignin that they are developing is called PEG lignin which is extracted separately from the paper-making process and is mostly used in polymer-based applications. They are researching ways for it to be utilized and marketed for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries as well as an alternative molding material to FRP. They have even established a company named LignoMateria that is focused on developing ways for this chemical agent to be more widely used. Right now, lignin is gaining a lot of traction, and is in fact developed nationwide.
Your company has been an international one since 1995, when you began operations in Indonesia and in 2002, when you began operations in Jiangsu, China. You subsequently closed down in Jiangsu, but you still maintain an office in Dalian, China. We know that Indonesia is a big part of your international expansion. Could you explain to us a little more about your project in Indonesia, and how you are looking to further grow your international business?
When it comes to China, we do have a stronghold there. The Chinese market is considered a large market for housing materials. However, the use of wood is not very popular there.
With regard to our business in Indonesia, in 1995 we established PT. PolyOshika, a joint venture with PT. Polychemie Asia Pacific Permai, an Indonesian adhesive manufacturer, and in 2013 we established PT.Oshika Indonesia, a sales company. Since the start of technology licensing, the company has maintained the top share in the Indonesian market, especially in the field of emulsion polymer isocyanate (water-based polymer isocyanate) adhesives, by widely marketing high-quality adhesives in Indonesia that are on par with those produced in Japan. Through our recent doubling of production capacity, we are looking to be able to respond to the local demand and overseas demand centring on Japan. From there, we would also like to expand into the neighboring Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Vietnam, where the usage of wood in various industries is quite high.
We started our business in Indonesia working with the Japanese based Nikkei companies that were operating there. Our clients centered around such companies. However, we now have clients in the local Indonesian market, and there is a high demand for our adhesive products there. Manufactured adhesives are sold to local customers via companies such as PT. Oshika Indonesia and through a partner, technical support is also provided to customers. Oshika has established an integrated system from manufacturing to after-sales service in Indonesia. A lot of our business in Indonesia is centered in the east in Surabaya. So we decided with our partner to establish a mini-laboratory in Surabaya. This enables us to accelerate our response time even more to our clients in Surabaya area by reinforcing our sales and technical support
Your company is this year celebrating its 118 year anniversary since its foundation. Imagine that we come back in seven years from now for your 125-year anniversary as a company and have this interview all over again. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for this company, and what goals would you like to have accomplished by then?
Given the times that we are living in today, it is hard to see seven years into the future. However, it is clear that the housing industry is undergoing a time for change. Expanding into non-housing industries is also very important, especially at this time. With regard to the housing industry itself, we are focused on maintaining a solid position within the Japanese market. On the other hand, we want to expand abroad proactively.
When it comes to the global market, up until now, our raw materials procurement was centered within Japan. However, there are many opportunities abroad for the future. Given the current global circumstances that we find ourselves in today, with the situation in China and the risk that it represents, as well as the crisis with energy and the situation in Ukraine, it is really important when it comes to BCP, to expand our procurement channels. This is especially true when we consider the great risk that China represents. Therefore, we want to expand our supply-chain for raw materials overseas as we need to be able to mitigate this risk through alternative channels of supply.
It is also very important to increase our connections and develop partnerships. It is my goal to expand our network globally, especially with partners who feel empathy toward Oshikaism. I want us to have a broad network of people that we can consider friends. I want to have that network solidly in place by our 125-year anniversary since foundation. I also want to expand Oshikaism overseas. They are my goals for the future.