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Osaka Vacuum Chemical’s path to global prosperity: Insights from a leader in surface treatment

Interview - December 27, 2023

Osaka Vacuum Chemicals, a prominent Japanese company specializing in surface treatments, as they share their perspective on Japan's economic landscape, international expansion strategies, and cutting-edge surface treatment technologies. Explore their unique approach to partnerships and R&D, and learn about their ambitious goals for a greener and more innovative future in global markets.

KENGO ADACHI, PRESIDENT OF OSAKA VACUUM CHEMICALS CO., LTD.
KENGO ADACHI | PRESIDENT OF OSAKA VACUUM CHEMICALS CO., LTD.

The current economic landscape in Japan, marked by supply chain disruptions, US-China decoupling, and a historically low Japanese yen, is seen as a unique opportunity for Japanese industries on the international market. Do you share this perspective, and what are the specific advantages that Japanese firms possess in the current macroeconomic environment?

I share this perspective, as the current value of the Japanese yen is relatively low. Due to the ongoing decline in population, the domestic market is also shrinking. To sustain and potentially increase our sales volume, it is important for us to swiftly explore and tap into international markets.

We are currently in the process of overhauling our website, and our Malaysian factory also has its dedicated webpage. Our website allows us to monitor the countries that visit it, and we have observed visitors from countries like India and the Philippines. However, we currently lack the tools to analyze the data from these countries. Looking ahead, our objective is to delve deeper into the analysis of countries displaying interest in our technology. We aim to identify the countries with the highest website traffic and evaluate the potential of participating in exhibitions in these nations. Our target is to have the website renewal project finalized by the end of this year.

 

Establishing strong partnerships is crucial when venturing into new markets, as they can offer valuable insights, especially during the initial stages of market exploration. In 1998, your company secured an exclusive import source contract for IVOND processing technology with BOLTA Corporation in Germany. Could you elaborate on the role that partnerships play within your business model, and are you currently in the process of actively seeking new partnerships to assist in your entry into new markets?

At present, we are not proactively seeking partnerships. Nevertheless, if a specific project necessitates a technology or expertise that we do not possess in-house, we are open to expediting the process by partnering with those who have those technologies. Given the fast-paced evolution of the business landscape, adaptability is essential. To effectively implement DX, it may be vital to engage in partnerships. When contemplating such collaborations, we carefully evaluate the compatibility of the country and culture involved.

The decision to partner with trading companies is contingent on the specific circumstances. There are instances when we actively seek partners, and there are times when trading companies approach us for potential collaborations. Additionally, our capacity to make full investments, whether it's a 100% stake or not, is subject to the regulations and requirements of the individual countries involved in the partnership.

 

Plating on plastic has a diverse range of applications, and your company caters to various sectors, including automotive, electronics, cosmetics, and others, with prestigious clients such as Cadillac, Toyota, Sony, and MEC. Among these industries, which do you consider to have the greatest growth potential? Furthermore, are there any new business sectors or fields in which you plan to introduce your products?

It's evident that various markets tend to follow distinct trends over time. In the past, Japanese manufacturing companies were heavily involved in the production of audio and video tapes before moving their operations overseas. The subsequent trend centered around mobile phones, which also saw a shift in manufacturing to foreign locations. The automotive industry then emerged as a significant market for us, but it is currently undergoing profound changes.

Even major players in the automotive sector, such as Toyota, are confronting uncertainties regarding their future direction. While they possess substantial financial resources, influence, and a large workforce to adapt to shifting market dynamics, smaller automotive companies with limited resources face a considerable challenge in determining where to focus their efforts.

Our primary focus is on applications for high-volume products, and the automotive sector aligns with this interest owing to its vast potential market. As an illustration, Tesla's approach, characterized by minimalist design with a prominent monitor screen, has caught our attention. Consequently, we are actively exploring opportunities to provide functional components for automobiles in addition to decorative elements.

The automotive industry is presently in the process of transitioning towards autonomous driving technology. This transition necessitates advanced technology for monitoring both people and tools, improvements in reflection efficiency through LED lighting, and enhanced light-receiving technology. Notably, we have achieved success in applying our aluminum reparation plating technology to plastic materials.

The EV industry is actively seeking specialized materials, which extend beyond aluminum to include hybrid alternatives. Plastic materials are being extensively investigated to reduce weight, simplify production processes, and facilitate more innovative designs. Reinforcing the materials and introducing shielding properties are essential considerations. However, surface treatment on these new materials has not been extensively undertaken at this point.

Traditionally, we utilized ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic for electroplating. However, contemporary customer preferences have shifted towards such as PBT (Polybutylene terephthalate) and PPS (Poly Phenylene Sulfide). In response to these evolving demands, we are proactively investigating innovative etching processes. Adapting to these changes could enable us to better cater to customer requirements and expand our presence within the growing EV industry trend.



The increasing demands from customers are largely attributed to the competitive landscape among numerous manufacturers in your field. There are numerous plating manufacturers both in Japan and worldwide. In this context, what sets your company apart from your competitors, and what makes you stand out as unique or special?

To maintain our commitment to high-quality products, it's crucial for us to have an in-depth understanding of the making tooling process and the injection molding process. Many of our competitors don't provide such comprehensive services. Instead, they focus solely on handling raw parts and performing surface treatments. In contrast, our company offers a wide range of services, including managing plastic, metal parts, and various other materials to deliver a more holistic solution to our customers.

 

Your company's focus is on providing services from design to the delivery of finished products. Plating on plastic and using vacuum metallization technology come with numerous advantages. However, there are challenges like ensuring surface cleanliness, addressing porosity, and dealing with microscopic defects that can impact coating adherence, application, or plastic density. Additionally, when plating is employed for electrical conductivity, an additional conductive layer of film is often required. How do you effectively tackle these challenges to deliver the best plating solutions for your customers?

We employ two primary processes: electroplating and vacuum metalizing. The electroplating process includes an etching step that efficiently removes handprints and ensures thorough cleaning. In contrast, the vacuum metalizing process is more time-consuming to clean. It's essential to maintain the tooling properly because if the injection mold parts aren't adequately maintained, cleaning becomes challenging. To address this, we have implemented several cleaning processes within our production line. We utilize a continuous production machine and a plasma cleaning machine, which includes a step for plasma cleaning to enhance the stability of vacuum metalization and simplify the cleaning process afterward.

 

Japan is renowned for its innovation and the ability to create highly practical products for everyday life and society. Your company has developed various plating processes, including Cr6 plating (hexavalent chrome), Cr3 plating (trivalent chrome), and pearl bright nickel plating, which imparts a shiny and luxurious finish to products. Could you shed light on your current focus in terms of R&D strategy? Are there any new products or processes that you are able to share with us at this time?

The emergence of new environmentally friendly plastic materials has caught our attention, and our customers are now asking us to perform surface treatments using these innovative materials. To meet these requests, we must actively study and test these new materials by procuring them. However, the surface treatment industry doesn't have many opportunities for cross-industry collaboration. As a result, when we attend exhibitions in various industries, many companies are unfamiliar with our work. In the future, we aim to establish a cross-industry network to expand market applications and foster greater industry collaboration.

 

While your primary focus has traditionally been on the domestic market, you expanded to China, Singapore, and Malaysia in 2010. Looking ahead, which regions or countries are you interested in for continuing your international expansion? And what specific strategies, such as M&A, joint ventures, or establishing subsidiaries, are you considering to facilitate this expansion?

Countries like India and various African nations have large populations, making them attractive markets for our products. Population size is a significant factor, but equally important is our ability to meet the specific needs of our customers in these regions.

 

As your company celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, envisioning your 65th anniversary five years from now, what are your dreams and ambitions for the company during that time frame? What specific goals do you hope to have accomplished by then, and how do you aspire for your company to be perceived in the eyes of the international market?

I discussed various strategic plans, and my goal is to see one of them realized within the next five years. As we're nearing the end of October, we experienced an exceptionally hot summer. Although we're a small company, we aspire to make a positive environmental impact through our business.

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