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Raising Innovation with Problem Solving Skills the World Can Rely On

Interview - March 23, 2022

With a well-established reputation and more than 60 years of experience, Takasago Electric is now a specialized manufacturer of miniature chemically inert valves and pumps with a worldwide reach that has designed over 10,000 valves. We sat down with Representative Director & Chairman Naoya Asai to learn more about how they are able to achieve their core competencies of customization, miniaturization, and integration, as well las their most recent R&D projects including research related to developing artificial organs with The University of Tokyo and their unique products like the Zero-Internal-Volume valve which can reduce dead volumes in fluidic channels in testing instruments.

 

NAOYA ASAI, REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR & CHAIRMAN OF TAKASAGO ELECTRIC, INC.
NAOYA ASAI | REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR & CHAIRMAN OF TAKASAGO ELECTRIC, INC.

Takasago, a company with over 60 years of history, is a specialised manufacturer of miniature inert valves and pumps and has developed over 10,000 different products. What, in your view, is the essence of Japanese monozukuri?

Countries like South Korea, China, and Taiwan are catching up or even surpassing Japan; therefore, we need to be different. Our vision is to support innovation at the very early stages of a product’s lifecycle.



China and Taiwan are performing extremely well at later stages, when it comes to mass producing goods. We do not want to compete against them at this stage because they dominate in manufacturing vast amounts of products to be sold at the lowest possible cost. However, in the initial development stage, the requirement is to create something unique and new to be sold at a relatively higher cost, and that is our strength. Our company’s underlying principle is to support innovation. 

 

Your company develops the world’s smallest class of products handling fluid volumes in the microlitre order. Why are Japanese companies such as yours shining in the fields of medical and research-based technologies?

One of the reasons is our long history of monozukuri as well as our ability to always create something new – except for in Information Technology perhaps. Monozukuri applied to hardware requires a significant amount of experience and history: in our over 60 years of experience, we have encountered numerous failures that have enabled and inspired us to innovate further. In my opinion, countries such as Taiwan and South Korea do not have such a long history and experience, but they are very good at identifying trends and reacting to them quickly. Although that is not our strength, our long-term perspective and long history allow us to move slowly but steadily.

 

Your company is a precision control device manufacturer for gas and liquid media used in analytical instruments, environmental analysis, and clinical diagnostics. Can you explain how you approach your product development? 

Our company was selected as one of the 100 New Global Niche Top Companies by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry in 2020 because of our niche products and business. “Global” is one of the keywords because niche markets are scattered all over the world. In order to seize the beginning of a new product lifecycle, which is to some degree difficult for SMEs such as ours, we optimise our web-marketing system because it is most cost-effective to spread information globally.

In addition, our motto is to never say no to our clients. By responding to a wide range of inquiries that we receive from all over the world, we have accumulated the technologies and skills needed for our customised products and solutions. As a result, we have a high-mix-low-volume product range, and we have developed unique products for each of our series. This wide product range is the foundation of our next development. Additionally, we know from experience that at a certain rate some of these small inquiries have the potential to grow larger in the future.

Our core competencies are in customisation and miniaturisation, and our integrated in-house manufacturing system allows for a high degree of customisation. Salespeople have easy access to manufacturing processes so that they can respond to the unique inquiries that emerge. Managers and workers communicate daily; therefore, we have a better understanding of how easy or difficult it is to develop something and can respond to clients more promptly.

To summarise, we globally display our wide and unique range of products online to collect new inquiries from innovators around the world. By responding to these inquires without compromise basically through customisation, which is enabled by our integrated in-house manufacturing system, we approach our next new product development.

 

What is your R&D currently focused on, and what challenges are you looking into?

Rather than identify and follow industry’s mainstream trends as most companies do, we operate by communicating with our customers. Anyone who sends an inquiry is a potential customer, and our development is solely for that customer, rather than for a wider trend. Sometimes, during this process we also encounter a specific trend, but we mostly engage in individualised and customised solutions.

The market for micropumps that can deliver liquids in the microlitre order is of great interest to us because there are only a handful of companies that can supply such products. Micropumps can be used for drug delivery such as insulin, or provide culture media to cells at very low flow rate, similar to blood flowing through our tissue. One of our ongoing projects with The University of Tokyo is related to research into developing artificial organs.

 

Your SBP Series Syringe Pump is being used for kidney regeneration research, and you are also involved in researching the effects of microgravity on regenerative medicine, as well as LCD screens, in the International Space Station. Could you highlight some of the unique technologies that you have developed? 

I lost my mother to cancer, so our project with The University of Tokyo is of personal interest to me. Culturing artificial organs allows us to test new drugs and determine whether they are effective and harmless. I believe that artificial organs that utilise our micropumps are helpful to overcoming cancer by opening the way to creating new drugs.


SBP Series Syringe Pump used in kidney regeneration research


We have the Zero-Internal-Volume valve, which can reduce so-called dead volumes in fluidic channels in testing instruments. This feature is also crucial to Microsoft’s development of DNA data storage system, which can store memory for a very long time. While electronic memory devices usually last only decades, DNA maintains a stable molecular order for thousands of years. Therefore, Microsoft is developing fabricated DNA memory to store information for a very long time – for periods beyond the scope of my imagination, in fact.


Zero-Internal-Volume Valve


In addition, we have several other unique products, but I think these belong to the past. Our real capability is ceaselessly developing something new. Of course, we are glad if a customer is satisfied with our existing products, but our unique selling point is our ability to create something that is not yet available on the market.

 

As a result of Japan’s ageing society, the medical industry is increasingly adopting a prevention rather than a treatment-based healthcare model, including increasing reliance on home medical devices. What opportunities does this medical device market present?

Digital medical devices will grow in so-called greying countries such as Japan and the UK as they will need more advanced healthcare technologies or devices in the future. Even though our main source of income are our valves, we want to focus more on our micropumps because they are unique compared to other pump products. My interest is in artificial organs, but, in fact, there are more business opportunities in digital healthcare products such as intelligent toilets. Our micropump technology is used to collect samples and has tremendous potential, for example, due to its ability to deliver insulin at a low and accurate flow around the clock. 


Micropump used for insulin delivery


You mentioned your collaborations with universities and research institutions. What type of co-creation partners are you looking for in overseas markets? 

In certain limited areas we are actively looking for business partners. A noteworthy example of collaboration in the aerospace field is our evaluation model valves that we provide to a heavy-industry company for their rocket thrusters. However, our basic approach is to showcase our range of products online, and those who are interested can send us an inquiry.

Losing our bigger accounts like Hitachi or Shimadzu would put us in a very difficult situation, but I would say that these are not our typical customers. Our core customers are universities and R&D-type start-ups. These are smaller in scale, and the sales are limited, but they need us, and we predict that demand from these types of organisations will grow. Every day we receive inquiries from universities around the world. Some of these universities are very highly ranked, and are among the world's top 10 universities, including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT in the United States. They are interested in our capabilities and in collaborating with us. 

 

In October 2020, Takasago was transformed into a holding company with two Japanese subsidiaries, Fluid Control Systems Company headed by President Koichi Kojima, and Future Creation Company headed by President Haruyuki Hiratani. What are the benefits of this reorganisation?

Michael Tushman, a professor at Harvard Business School, has advocated and emphasised the importance of ambidextrous company management, which is one of the purposes of our new company structure. This translates into the skilful use of both hands of the company, where one hand earns profit from existing areas, while the other looks for new areas to grow. Most company management structures find it easier to earn profit from existing areas, leading to their reluctance to use the other hand. Our Fluid Control Systems Company is oriented towards generating revenue, while the Future Creation Company is set up to seek new business opportunities.


Koichi Kojima, president of Fluid Control Systems Company

Haruyuki Hiratani, president of Future Creation Company


Overseas you are present in Suzhou, China, and Massachusetts, in the US. Are you looking to open offices or production facilities in new international markets?

We are trying to expand our business internationally, and our current focus is on Europe and India. We have been incredibly successful in China, and I believe that India offers the potential for the same kind of success that we have had in China because of its rapid growth, particularly in the medical sector. In China and the US, we have our 100% owned direct subsidiary and branch. Looking towards the European and Indian markets, perhaps we will find business partners through joint ventures. 

 

Imagine we were to come back and interview you again on your last day as chairman of Takasago. What dreams or goals would you like to have achieved by then?

Admittedly, I am not a very diligent person, so the toughest day for me is coming back to work at the start of the new year after the long winter holiday. Looking to the future, I want to shift my attention to enjoyable jobs that I am passionate about such as opening a craft beer brewery, developing technology to brew beer in space, as well as projects related to aerospace and artificial organs.

On my last day, I would like to say: “Thank you, everyone. I have greatly enjoyed my career with the continued support of my colleagues”.

COMPANY DATABASESee all Database >

SHIRAI TECH LIMITED

Manufacturing, Japan

KAWASAKI KIKO CO., LTD.

Manufacturing, Japan
LEADER DATABASESee all Database >

Yosuke Kawasaki

President
KAWASAKI KIKO CO., LTD.

Yasuhiro Tochimoto

President and CEO
Kawasaki Geological Engineering Co., Ltd.

NAOTO KOMATSU

President
KOMATSU KAIHATSU Corp.

Toshikazu YAGUCHI

President
ATOX Co., Ltd.

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