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Misuzu Seiko’s Vision for a Sustainable Future amidst Global Challenges

Interview - February 8, 2024

Amidst global challenges and opportunities, Misuzu Eco-Energy pioneers Japanese innovation, striving to become a 100-year-old company with a vision to transcend its strainer-specialist identity and evolve into a powerhouse in the energy sector.

NOBUHARU SATO, REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR AND PRESIDENT OF MISUZU SEIKO CO., LTD.
NOBUHARU SATO | REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR AND PRESIDENT OF MISUZU SEIKO CO., LTD.

Now is a pivotal time for the Japanese industry. Over the last three years, we have seen severe supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and the US-China decoupling situation. As a result, many corporate groups are looking to diversify their suppliers for reliability. Known for their reliability and advanced technologies, Japanese firms are in an interesting position. Coupled with a weak Japanese yen, many observers argue that this is a unique opportunity. Do you agree with this sentiment, and what are the advantages of Japanese firms in this current macro environment?

Thanks to the weakened Japanese yen, consumers outside Japan can now purchase Japanese products at more affordable prices. I am pleased to see an increase in international customers choosing Japanese products. One of the key competitive advantages of Japanese companies lies in their ability to consistently deliver high-quality products, especially in industries like nuclear power plants where stringent quality control is crucial. Another significant factor is the resolute commitment of Japanese firms to ensure timely deliveries.

Apart from the two key items of quality and delivery time, we naturally recognize that cost is also important. In the past, when the Japanese yen was strong, major domestic companies used to rely on components manufactured in other countries. However, the current trend, driven by the weakened yen, shows a notable shift toward Japanese components and equipment. Unlike suppliers in other countries where delivery problems are a concern, Japanese companies stand out for their punctuality. Therefore, an increasing number of companies are now seeking and incorporating made-in-Japan components and equipment into their operations.

 

In 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, Japan had around 54 nuclear reactors, and only 10 have been restarted by the end of 2022, with 21 being decommissioned. However, despite this, the Japanese government plans on having nuclear form 20% of Japan's energy mix going forward. As Japan's nuclear energy mix is set to increase, what opportunities does this present to your firm?

We have three plants in Osaka, Nagano, and Aomori prefecture. At these plants, we conduct the following tasks. One of which is to deal with the restart of Nuclear Power Plants with Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) that have ceased operation after the great earthquake in 2011. In response, we strategically decided to increase equipment supply to support the reactivation of these Nuclear Power Plants. Our innovative approach was to develop a specialized filter to prevent volcanic ash from entering the building to protect the equipment used within the Nuclear Power Plant. To ensure the optimum performance of this filter, we have conducted extensive testing and have collaborated with the customer to obtain a patent for this technology. By the way, the Nuclear Power Plants we are focusing on supporting come in two types: Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) and Boiling Water Reactors (BWR). Our commitment revolves around supplying products to facilitate the reactivation of these types of nuclear reactors.

The energy source for Nuclear Power Plant is Uranium. A system for extracting reusable uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel from Nuclear Power Plants, known as 'reprocessing.' This reprocessing plant is under construction in Aomori Prefecture. We have already supplied components and equipment, including filters. This processing plant is based on the EDF (Électricité de France) reprocessing plant in France, and we also made unique developments for the components based on their technology.

While the processing plant in Aomori is not operational yet, we are delivering high-quality, specialized products for future operations. We will continue to actively support the plant to get it up and running as soon as possible. Note that we are one of several Japanese companies officially recognized by EDF as a supplier of reprocessing plants.

Quote from the JNFL website.

 

In the nuclear energy field, your R&D department is developing products necessary for the processing of spent nuclear fuel. Can you tell us more about your current R&D focus?

At present, the focus of R&D is on products for the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which has decommissioned due to damage caused by the significant earthquake of 2011. The ensuing meltdown within the reactor resulted in a substantial volume of contaminated water. To address this challenge, the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) was introduced to treat the contaminated water, utilizing ceramic filters. We are currently involved in a project to develop a high-performance filter, which will be delivered to Fukushima Daiichi in mid-2024, and operational in ALPS.

In addition, we are tackling the formidable task of debris removal within the reactor. This is one of the key challenges for the Fukushima Daiichi Decommissioning Project, which needs to develop equipment for effective debris extraction. We are currently concentrating on the development of this equipment. Most of our research and development is focused on addressing the challenges of the Fukushima decommissioning project.



Are you also looking to partner with overseas companies to develop new and innovative products?

To be honest, we do not have any plans for partnerships with overseas companies. However, we maintain an open stance toward collaboration and co-development. While we currently do not have specific partnerships in place, we can explore collaborative opportunities with customers or companies that express interest in our technologies and products.

 

Besides nuclear, your products are also used in other applications, such as thermal power plants, the chemical industry and even hydraulics. Some of these environments can have high pressures and temperatures and even handle highly corrosive materials. These can cause erosion, wear and even corrosion, reducing overall effectiveness and functionality. How are you able to ensure that your products are able to operate in these harsh environments?

As an example, special equipment for treating contaminated water installed in ALPS is described. Numerous types of equipment and devices are used in ALPS installations, and we have developed a backwashing apparatus for some of these equipment (named a back pulse pot. abbreviated BBP). To ensure that the product met the required standard of durability, we conducted thousands of repetitive and rigorous tests to confirm the product's durability before delivering it.

Considering the harsh environment that could easily corrode equipment, we meticulously selected the most suitable materials for the development of our products. Our business extends beyond mere production; we prioritize thorough quality assurance processes before delivering any product to ensure it meets the requisite standards. Our extensive experience of approximately 75 years in developing conventional products such as strainers or valves has endowed us with a wealth of technology and expertise. This accumulated knowledge allows us to confidently deliver our products to our customers without having to conduct multiple tests on existing products.

 

Given Japan’s demographic situation of being the oldest society in the world with a rapidly shrinking population, maintaining your know-how will be difficult, as there is a smaller pool of talented, young graduates coming through to replace all the workers and pass on their knowledge to the next generation. There is also a shrinking domestic market. What challenges has this demographic shift presented to your firm, and how have you been reacting to it?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep recruiting young students to maintain the high technical standards held by the company. Our goal is to bring in several new engineers every year, to pass on our valuable skills to the younger generation and to further develop them. Ideally, we would like to recruit more, but the process is becoming more difficult. Our quality control team, as well as our design department, comprises around 20 dedicated individuals. Fortunately, we have several dedicated and skilled professionals, and we trust their abilities and efforts.

The issue of human resources is undoubtedly a perennial challenge for our businesses. We recognize that there is a shortage of suitable staff, and in response, we are actively recruiting new university graduates in the humanities as well as the sciences. We then provide them with training in engineering fundamentals to cultivate their skills and help them transition into effective engineers.

 

You have been in China since 2012, but moving forward, are there any other countries or regions you have identified for further expansion? What strategies will you employ to do that?

We have contemplated the prospect of expanding our operations overseas. An opportunity arose when Mitsubishi Heavy Industries planned to construct a nuclear power plant in Vietnam, and we approached to support the project as a supplier. We even considered establishing a factory in Vietnam. However, the project was later suspended, leading us to reconsider our entry into that market. The idea of expanding abroad is not at the forefront of our plans; perhaps the next generation will explore such opportunities.

We are concentrating on projects within the domestic market, particularly those aimed at reactivating existing Nuclear Power Plants and constructing next-generation nuclear reactors. We have established a collaborative partnership with a factory in China, driven by the goal of optimizing production costs. While our emphasis remains on domestic projects, we acknowledge that future generations within the company may contemplate venturing into international markets.

 

This year, you are celebrating your 75th anniversary. What is your dream for your company, and is there a specific goal you would like to accomplish in the coming years?

Our goal is to become a 100-year-old company, and to achieve this, we plan to diligently focus on current projects and manufacturing. We also would like to pursue new things with new people. At the core of our business philosophy is to collaborate closely with our customers to provide innovative products and solutions to their challenges. In our R&D, we emphasize the safety and quality of our products to deliver value to our customers.

As a third-generation leader, I have confidence in the potential of the next generation to achieve even more. My dream is for the company to become more global and to continue to meet the demands of our customers, which is at the heart of our corporate philosophy. We manufacture superior components for the energy sector. Based on these technologies, we strive to prioritize our customers' satisfaction and our employees' happiness. In addition, we are constantly striving to contribute to society by making regular donations through the Japanese Red Cross Society.

 

When the time comes that you will be taking over the position of president, do you have any specific goals in mind that you want to accomplish as the next generation president?

Misuzu has built a long-standing reputation as a strainer manufacturer, shaping how customers perceive our company. Looking ahead, we aspire to broaden our horizons into the energy sector. Although it is a niche field, we aim to position ourselves as a specialized company in the energy sector. Our vision is to evolve into 'Misuzu Eco-Energy,' transcending the boundaries of our strainer-specialist identity.

We seek to expand our presence within Japan's energy sector and establish Misuzu as a perpetually growing company.

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