Monozukuri – the Japanese manufacturing philosophy centered around craftsmanship, innovation and pursuit of the highest quality – lends itself greatly to the creation of high-precision equipment for the medical device industry. For this reason, many medical professionals depend on the expertise and technological know-how of Japanese medical device manufacturers like Nemoto, whose highprecision contrast injectors for CT, MRI and Angiography are used in medical facilities in Japan, the US, Europe and throughout the world. We speak with president Shigeru Nemoto to learn more about the company, its products and its quest to perfect image technology for better medical diagnosis.
In the past 25 years, we’ve seen the rise of cheaper competitors such as China, South Korea, or Taiwan who by replicating the Japanese monozukuri process can overcome Japan, but when it comes to high technology production Japan remains supreme. What is the essence of monozukuri and how has it helped Japan in the medical field?
All medical products require and are expected to have a very high degree of precision. This combined with the fact that medical devices are never front and center, and the final use or user of a certain device is never exactly clear makes the medical industry different from other industries. Furthermore, medical devices are difficult as they have to be fit for use for every human body, where there exist an immense number of variables. Development and production of such precision device requires enormous resource which can be managed by large corporations, but it is very hard for small medical device companies.
What solutions and competitive advantages are offered through R&D to customers?
Our R&D philosophy, which is our advantage, is to listen to physicians and other medical professionals and to hear each minute detail they share regarding our products. Through years of experience, we have gained the know-how of injector technology and contrast delivery, but up-to-date collaboration with medical professionals is crucial in the medical field not only to assure the required and expected device precision, but it also creates a significant trust by customers using our products since they know it is driven by their direct feedback.
Are you currently looking for co-creation partners?
We are continuously involved in many co-research activities as this is key in strengthening and expanding our relationships with radiologist and physicians. This is also our primary source of information not only for product development but also for product improvements. Medical facilities are the true battlefield for our products, so collaborating with those “on the ground”, so to speak, gives us the most authentic feedback. Even though we are small compared to our competition, we have observed larger companies failing at a task in which we have succeeded, because we have kept to our strategic view like, speaking with physicians first. This gives us a huge advantage.
How do you plan to capture more of the global market share to match your market share in Japan?
Our goal is to release products that are exactly aligned with the needs of medical professionals to the point where our products are the only product that meets their demands, then the product will “sell itself”. We shall continue with our plan to capture more of the global market, which is to continue to provide the highest quality and reliable products that we can. We do not redesign or remodel our products much, as we do not want to harm what is working well already.
The key question for an injector is how to make it lighter and easy for all to use while maximizing the medical efficacy as much as possible. Continuing our strategy “speaking with physicians first” will also poise us to expand our global markets as this will lead us to have the right products in the market.
How do you plan to take advantage of the growth set to hit the medical device industry and what specific effects will this have on Nemoto?
Japan is the ideal place, as the birthplace of monozukuri, to produce medical devices. With each medical device, we like to try to understand how far monozukuri can work in the production of that device. Even through the industry’s expansion, we have not claimed a drastically larger share of the market. During the earlier years, there was not a big push to expand into the global markets, which has put us into the domestic position we are in today. This also makes it more difficult to create space for ourselves when we want to enter a market. But on the flip side, our history has led us to be very firmly placed in the domestic market, with a very strong foothold in the market.
Can you share with us your best-selling products?
We sell all our injectors overseas and our newest product is an angiographic injector. For this new product, we have zero competition in the USA and only one competitor in Europe. Our new product encompasses our strategies, making it aligned with the user’s needs, but also making it a premium product which may not be suitable for all markets. Today, it is mainly purchased by the top hospitals in the West. We have a direct office in the US to support our clients, and operate through trained distribution channels in other markets, including Europe. We’ve been selling these angiographic injectors in Japan for 10 years prior to selling them abroad a year and half ago, therefore we have accumulated the know-how around the use and improvement of this device.
Can you share your midterm strategy with us?
We are currently working on an injector for heart catheterization that has yet to be released, which is a large part of our midterm strategy. We have to have a clinical trial for the device which takes significant time and requires several parts of the device and the project to come together. The device is in clinical trial phase and there is a lot to consider with the device moving forward. This device is not only a big part of our midterm strategy, but also marks a major milestone for us as it is a new technology for us to venture into.
Are there any new fields that you would like to introduce your products to?
Our injector technology, although specifically related for the injection of contrast media, could be utilized for other media delivery into a patient. For example, the delivery of anti-cancer drugs could be managed and controlled by our products. We also have developed in collaboration with leading universities in Japan technologies for mixing of media during the delivery as well as the ability to detect leakage of media during the delivery process, which may be very beneficial for other applications as well.
What do you believe COVID-19 has done and been for the medical device industry?
This year we, and every company, is depending on any profit we can get during with COVID. However, our attitude towards our products have not changes during COVID, the essence of monozukuri is still very important to us. Speaking of all companies in Japan, monozukuri is a philosophy that guides us to where we and our products are headed and without an understanding of this, surviving COVID or any other tough times will be extremely difficult.
What is your international strategy and how do you plan to increase your sales overseas?
Our products are not targeted to a certain market, but to user needs, thus we sell our products to every market. We have our hands very full in the domestic market and we base our sales activity on what is needed by physicians. We believe our products enhance the process of surgery and are necessary for any market.
If we return in two years, what would you like to tell us, what are your dreams for the company and what would you have accomplished by then?
We were the first company to introduce a cerebral angiography contrast injector in Japan. Our long-term goal is to continuously drive towards creating the perfect image, which is very difficult as imaging technology is continuously evolving. We continuously work with key opinion leaders, such as Dr. Jean-Louis Sablayrolles at Centre Cardiologique du Nord who is using the latest CT technology from GE Healthcare, and with leading industrial partners e.g. Siemens Healthineers, to understand what and how we can improve our products to maximize all the technological elements of the imaging process to achieve as near a perfect image as possible. We are planning to be the pioneer once again with our newest angiography injector through our partnership with Siemens Healthineers in the USA.