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SOC: Fuse leader targets electric vehicles

Interview - August 12, 2021

Products that provide safety must be reliable above all else, and SOC has fostered trust in its products through 63 years of developing the world’s leading fuses for a wide range of applications. From the development of the world’s first then de facto standard wound-wire element fuse to the MCF3 (middle on the right), the world’s smallest low interrupt rating fuse in its specification category, the company always strives for innovation. In an interview with the Worldfolio, president, Kayoko Arikawa, gives more insight into SOC’s innovative history, discusses its product development and explains how the company will continue to meet the latest customer and industry needs, like, for example, supplying next-gen fuses for the nascent electric vehicles market.


Traditionally Japanese manufacturing or monozukuri involves this relentless pursuit of perfection in production processes, however, nowadays the modern version of monozukuri has evolved to be about responding to customers’ requests and providing added value to the final products delivered to customers. How do you define monozukuri and what is the essence behind it?

Our company started as a manufacturer of electrical components for safety, namely fuses. Fuses are interesting products because they do not work when a safe amount of current is flowing. They are only activated with irregular currents. Due to the fact that a fuse holds two juxtaposing and contradictory functions within it, it is difficult to understand unless you see the product itself and understand the specifications. The founder of this company left us with these words: What we are really striving for is not to sell our products to our customers but rather to get their trust in us. We protect our customers from potential dangers through our products, therefore quality is given the utmost importance because our concern here is safety. Throughout the long history of SOC Corporation this has been our main focus. To ensure the safety of our clients we provide solid training to our employees, and make them understand the idea that our clients come first. Lastly, we encourage them to do their very best.


Your company was founded in 1958, and in the early ‘60s we saw the adoption of color TVs and your company came along with a solution which was a fuse element that would not blow under surge capacity which was a common problem at that time. This is just one among the many achievements of your company. Could you tell us the most important technical milestones in your company?

Cartridge fuse with wound-wire elements

The oldest fuses that we had produced used single-wire elements. At that time when you turned on the TV there was a rush in current and then the fuse blew up. When I was a kid there was always a spare fuse at the back of the TVs. The first thing that we were able to do was to remove the need for a spare fuse through the development of the world’s first wound-wire element fuse, where a single element was wounded by another wire. To establish this technology, we had tested various combinations of element materials and designs. Eventually, this type became a world de facto standard.


Another major technical development that we had was our SMT (Surface-Mount Technology) and THT (Through-hole Technology) fuses called the SSFC and SSFR respectively. They were the first of their kind. The wound-wire elements were converted to SMT/THT and through the course of time this type of product became much smaller.


The MCF3 is the smallest in the world among low interrupt rating fuses employing a wire element with rated current down to 28mA. This is something I am very proud of. Inside an enclosed hollow structure, there is a four-to-five-micron wire that goes through. In the course of various changes occurred in the Japanese manufacturing sector and over time, we found  ourselves exposed to a steep price competition with our competitors who were able to produce the same fuses at a cheaper cost. Inevitably, we shifted our business strategy and started producing fuses tailor-made for our customers with stringent specifications as well as fuses for much higher-pressure usages and higher voltage and current.

PT4065 DC800V400A

Accordingly, we developed the DC500V with a rated current of 500A, then the DC800V with a rated current of 400A. Looking back, more than two decades ago, we expected that electric vehicles (EVs) would become a huge trend in the future and started developing fuses for the EV market. An early milestone in this regard was marked with Mitsubishi Motors, one of the pioneers in the mass production of EVs, their i-MiEV series. Our products, the BL1030 fuse and BT3050, are parts of that component. Slowly but steadily, and currently very rapidly, these markets are getting bigger and even more competitive. 


Your company supplies a huge range of fuses such as fuse clips and holders to a number of industries such as automotive, energy, security and medical. Which of your fuses are the bestselling and which industry are you focusing most of your efforts into?

11 CT

In terms of the volume, the 11CT would be the best selling product widely used across various sectors. The area that we are currently putting most of our efforts into is the EV sector. However, as a business strategy to mitigate risks and not to be greatly affected by economic changes, we are striving to create a more balanced portfolio by catering to different sectors. This is the reason why our company has a diverse range of products. Since our main focus is developing and manufacturing fuses, not doing anything else, we aim to continuously deepen and expand our presence in the different sectors. 


With the automobile sector huge changes are imminent and we saw last October the Japanese government mandated that all cars must be EV-based by 2035. EV cars are subject to much higher voltages and therefore new innovative fuses will be needed. We know that your company has been collaborating with the car industry in creating these new types of fuses. Please tell us more about those fuses and your contribution to the next generation of vehicles.

Right from the beginning, as an example, our engineers have been working closely with the engineers of our clients in the automotive sector starting from the initial phase which is to develop the best type of fuse design. It is interesting that some of our clients in Europe prefer standardized products to specialized ones. Accordingly, at the moment, our biggest goal is to create standardized products that are not too customized while fulfilling the demands of our domestic clients. This is very important to mitigate the risks in this competitive business.


Traditionally, lead, silver, copper, aluminium and different alloys are used for the fuse elements. In the automotive industry we see a huge number of semiconductors, up to 6000 would be in place for the very sensitive electronic pieces of equipment that would need protection using your fuses. Those semiconductors that were traditionally made with silicon are now being made with silicon carbide and as such new fuses will need to be developed from new materials. Can you tell us how you are adapting to this new material change in automotive semiconductors and the new materials you are integrating into your fuses?

Actually, it changes over time and from product to product. We started using silver as elements and glass as tubes. When we developed miniature fuses, we utilized ceramic materials as casing. In terms of the electric characteristics of the fuse, the kind of current that flows through determines the materials suitable for the fuse. We now test and employ various materials when their characteristics are preferable. As for bonding between elements and caps, we firstly adopted soldering then shifted to welding to meet the lead-free requirements. Some smallest types of fuse require a high-pressure injection moulding technology. Arc extinguisher is important and interesting, and we have researched new materials for this. However, a fuse is essentially simple; it is made of the element, the caps, the tube, the arc extinguisher, and the bonds, so material innovation alone may not always be a remedy. Hence, it is critical not only to find and apply new materials but also to research and develop new technologies, designs and assembly processes, and we have been focusing on both.


A fuse is a very simple device and yet it is a very important and critical component to protect other sensitive electrical components inside devices. In terms of R&D there are many variables to look at, whether it is delay in the fuse’s reaction or a pre-emptive action, then there is the design and whether it needs to be compact or otherwise. Could you tell us your R&D strategy and what you are focusing on? Do you have any particular products that you would like to showcase?

One thing that we really put an effort into our R&D is the testing facility. When it comes to developing fuses with larger capacity, we used to rely on external testing facilities. However, this was really expensive and the amount that we could test was naturally limited. The delay in development leads to the delay in competition. For this reason, we put a lot of emphasis on creating a solid testing facility in house to facilitate R&D activities. The automotive sector is the market we are looking to strengthen and put a lot of effort into specifically the fuses for the protection of main batteries. Obviously the automotive sector requires fuses ready for high current and high voltage. We are trying to make fuses as small as possible while sufficing the specification requirements. To allow an ample space for passengers in a car, there is fierce competition to make the components as small as possible to the extent that even one millimetre difference seriously matters. In order to maintain a competitive advantage, we either maintain the same specifications of the fuse but smaller in size or add more functionalities to the fuse but not necessarily make them smaller in size. It is one way or the other. As for showcasing, we do have some best xEV fuses of high voltage and current with a tiny body. Although we cannot show this at this time, they are about to debut and we are confident about their performance for their size.


You mentioned that the EV market is the focus and miniaturization is something that will affect your business plan moving forward. If you look at the EV market you see that co-creation is very important, we see big companies such as Toyota collaborating with Panasonic for the solid-state batteries with other companies still supplying battery separating materials. In the case of your company are you looking for co-creation partners?

At the moment we are not conducting any co-creation activities in our R&D but that does not mean that we are against the idea. However, since our company is only dealing with fuses, a relatively small world, it is hard to foresee what kinds of trends and needs there will be in the future. For example, speaking of supplying our fuses for the batteries at high currents and voltages, it really comes to the functions and capacities of these batteries and, with these, we will determine the direction of our R&D efforts to adapt to the trends and needs.


You have standard fuses and customized fuses and you are working very closely with your customers in your research and testing. Kindly tell us about your unique business model you have adopted whereby you can do testing for customers such as overload operation tests or environmental mechanical stress tests for your fuses. How does this benefit your business and make you the go-to partner when it comes to fuses?

I am not sure whether or not we could consider this our great strength, but it enables our clients to utilize our testing facilities for their products, thus providing them with some added value. Our fuses offer protective measures against potentially dangerous current. Because they hold a critical role for safety, testing is not just a strength of ours but rather a necessity to be relevant and active in this sector. With regards to our testing facility, we constantly renovate and upgrade by keeping an eye on the needs of our clients on top of our developmental needs, therefore we have to continue strengthening our facilities. 


Your products conform to many different international certifications. You obviously comply with the PSE Mark here in Japan but there is also the UL 248 standard for America and Canada or the BSI standard for the UK. You have met these different requirements around the world. Can you tell us more about this ability to meet different requirements? How does this benefit your business?

In the electric and electronics sector, you cannot sell your products unless you are certified. If a product catches fire and it does not have the UL (Underwriter Laboratories) mark it could not be covered by insurance. Having this certification is advantageous because it implies that the product is insurable. Also, through the process of regular renewals of those certifications, we double-check our manufacturing process and product quality. In a way, these certifications are a license to sell in the global market.


In 1975 you opened up in New York, in 1990 you established an office in Singapore and in the Netherlands. Kindly tell us the benefits of having these international locations and what they brought into your business?

We believe that the US holds the world’s leading-edge technologies. Having our presence in the US, although not an easy market by any standard, is the stimulus of our technological drive. Our office in Singapore was originally set up for the purpose of responding to the needs of our Japanese clients that have expanded throughout Asia, the fastest growing market in the world. Now, the client base has expanded way beyond Japan-related companies. Our office in the Netherlands covers the European market, having huge potential for further development harnessing world-class technologies. These global offices are playing a critical role in serving customers and grasping quickly changing market trends.


What strategies are you going to use to further expand your business internationally, will it be an M&A, joint-venture, or establish another sales office? What regions or locations are you looking to tackle for your expansion?

Originally when we expanded overseas, we thought it would be appropriate to set up manufacturing facilities, and so we did so in the US and Brazil.  However, in responding and adjusting to changing market and social environments, we have withdrawn from manufacturing abroad and decided to go for sales offices only.

Another feature of our company’s internationalization strategies is, paradoxically, our commitment to domestic production. While many companies have their production bases in China and elsewhere, we compete in the global market only with domestic manufacturing. We conduct R&D and manufacturing at home fully under our control. If I may use big words, this is a kind of security strategy for a medium-sized company like us. Japan-based production may be more costly, but it earns the strong trust of customers and drives our need and desire for advanced R&D. As mentioned above, customer’s trust has always been our most important value.


Imagine we come back to interview you again in two or three years, what would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company and what would you like to have accomplished by then?

I would like to develop a product where we have no competitors. I fully understand this is very challenging. However, we have done it several times as I mentioned before. It might not be within two or three years, but we are an R & D oriented company and will make it happen. Before long, some of our best high voltage xEV fuses will debut, and we are looking forward to sharing customer’s feedback of trust.