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TDC: Exploring new possibilities of diamonds

Interview - April 3, 2023

Since pioneering the production of artificial diamonds for industrial use in 1961, Tomei Diamond Corporation (TDC) has excelled in the processing of diamonds for polishing, grinding and cutting. The company’s ultra-precision materials are indispensable to manufacturers in the semiconductor, automotive and construction industries.

HIROMI ISHIZUKA, REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR OF TOMEI DIAMOND CORPORATION
HIROMI ISHIZUKA | REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR OF TOMEI DIAMOND CORPORATION

Can you give us an introduction on Tomei Diamond? What do you believe are your core strengths that set you apart from regional manufacturing competitors?

Most Japanese companies place emphasis on quality control. For example, companies in the automotive industry might prefer to flock to cheaper companies, but they later realize that the product quality is not competent enough. If they order 100 units of a certain component, the number of defects determine the overall quality and efficiency. Japanese companies provide high-quality products and are reliable, which gained the trust of other companies and made Japanese firms competitive in the global market. Our major customers are in the semiconductor, automotive and stonework and construction industries. We categorize stonework and construction as one because they use similar materials. Our diamonds are used to cut the stones, and they are used to cut concrete in construction.

The strength of our company is providing a consistent quality and supply of our materials. We ensure the consistent shape of our materials even though they are invisible to the naked eye and only measure about one micron or one nanometer. This allowed us to gain the trust of our customers and sustain our business. Another strength we have is that we have our own unique development and improvement capabilities. We develop our own machines which allow us to produce unique items such as IRM. There is nothing like IRM in the market. Because our machineries are original, it is impossible to reproduce our products with available conventional machineries. We also have improvement capabilities to adapt to the market and our customers' needs. Currently, the market is focused on materials for heat dissipation, but diamonds are not compatible with resin or other materials. There is a need to conduct a surface treatment to the diamond so it can become compatible with other materials.

Our human resources with our in-house improvement capabilities mean we can make proposals regarding new possibilities and options for new fields of application to our clients. Our products are used in the commodities area, but they are also used in specialized areas. Specialized areas require high quality and uniqueness which further inspires our development skills.

 

The IRM is one of your best-selling products you supply to gemstones, optical-based polishing and various applications related to these industries. The standards in these industries are very high and require details to the micro level. How are you able to meet the stringent demand in these industries?

IRM is mostly used for dicing silicon. It is not only used for cutting but also for polishing and grinding. Conventionally, different types of powders are needed for different purposes. We provide one powder for multiple purposes. Currently, IRM is best used as a dicing material. We are very particular in the production of IRM. Mass produced types of diamond powders tend to be very hard and are often circular in shape. Our diamond powders have sharp edges or as we call them angular acute edges which makes them serve multiple high-end purposes.

We have unique machineries for the production of IRM. We first synthesize the diamonds. The jewelry machine is used to crush the diamonds and turn them into angular shapes. After, there is a sizing machinery that categorizes or sorts the crushed diamonds based on their size. We may take longer time compared to other companies, but we  ensure that the shape and size is the most appropriate for diamond powders.

 

Some of your CBN products like the GX60 and GX90 both demonstrated 1.6 times greater wear resistance compared to both domestic and international competitor's materials. Can you tell us more about these products and how your materials and machineries help your clients get a longer lifespan out of their tools?

The GX series is a sintered cBN powder. The powder preparation is critical so we need to have high-quality powder, sort out the correct size, and have the best compounds. The sintering is done through a 20,000 ton press machine specifically made for us by Ishizuka. There are multiple possibilities to balancing and combining pressure, temperature and other factors, so we did a lot of trial and error over a period of time to achieve optimal results. This recipe has allowed us to improve our products and create products that have no competitors in the market.

 

Your example shows the cumulative amount of knowledge and expertise that exists in a company like yours with an extensive history and industrial importance. You have found a secret through years of trial-and-error experimentation. We saw you are applying it to new fields, specifically in the boron doped diamond that you are using as an electrode material for electrolyzing water. What motivated you to choose this as a new area of research?

We started the research and development for diamond electrodes 30 years ago when there was great emphasis on using diamonds to purify water. We were met with three obstacles: the cost, not being able to treat big surfaces and diamonds suddenly delaminating after some time (because they are grown on a board). Due to these issues, using diamonds for water filtration or purification did not penetrate into the market. 



Since our company’s focus is the use of diamonds for cutting, grinding and polishing, I also wanted to put a new surface to the diamonds. When I joined the company, I researched about the company’s activities, and I found out that this water purification method through diamond electrodes is very effective in providing solutions for water issues. Drinking water is a matter of life or death, and it is indispensable and fundamental to human beings. In fact, there have even been wars over purified drinking water because of its scarcity, and developing countries suffer from non-potable water. By utilizing the diamond electrode which only requires the electrode water and electricity that can be generated from solar power, this sure would be a viable solution for countries suffering from the lack of drinking water. Once the ozone water is created, it becomes drinkable and safe to drink because the ozone is unstable.

We are continuing our research and development and promoting our products in the field of water sanitation. With over 30 years of experience, we were able to reduce the cost and durability, but we are still working on increasing the surface of water treatment. This diamond electrode can be used for many applications, such as treating wastewater or waste materials and converting CO2 into energy, but our current focus is solving water-related issues by providing a device that could turn water into sterilized water.

 

The three issues that stopped this kind of technology from becoming more popular or mainstream are cost, limited treatment area and delamination. How have you been uniquely suited to tackle these three challenges, particularly delamination?

We have been taking active steps to make improvements. In order to deal with the cost, our ultimate goal is to produce the maximum number of products with the minimum number of people. By increasing the capability of our machines and reducing the staff required to operate them, we can increase our efficiency and reduce the overall costs. For delamination, since diamonds are grown on a substrate which is an incongruous material, we have developed a new surface treatment on the diamond and the substrate. Through that, it becomes more compatible and does not delaminate but remains durable for a longer period. I cannot disclose the details about increasing the treatment area, but we are currently putting emphasis on enlarging the surface treatment area. We are trying to apply a new technology as part of our efforts to change our mindset or approach of how we increase the surface treatment areas.

 

What role do overseas sales and the overseas marketplace play for your company? Are you currently looking to expand your share of the overseas business?

Currently, 90% of our sales are domestic and 10% overseas. We feel the importance of the international market, and we are aware that we should focus more on growing our overseas bases and have a bigger overseas sales ratio. Last year, we established a base in Kentucky. The four areas we are strong in are semiconductors, automotive, stem work and construction. Our main target is semiconductors since this industry has a limited number of players. We have been collaborating with many of the major Japanese players in this industry. From this point, we also aim to expand and collaborate with overseas companies. Our products are used for cutting silicon material,  but we are now focusing on the next generation of semiconductor material, silicon carbide, to which we are providing a new type of solution for cutting, grinding and polishing. With the advent of EVs, there are new types of materials like CFRP and GLRP that are difficult to cut, and by using our centered PCB or PCBn, we can provide solutions to process these types of new materials. We also want to expand into new fields.

 

Why did you choose Kentucky in the US specifically? Is there a particular region in the world that you are targeting or putting more emphasis on going forward?

Our target is the semiconductor industry. When we did a global search, we discovered that the US has the most flourishing semiconductor industry and is incomparable to China. Considering that its national government is leading the advancement in the semiconductor industry, we decided to have our base in the US. Two years before I assumed this position, Mr. Yamamoto was the company's president while owning the company called YSPS. Tomei collaborates and works with YSPS in establishing joint ventures, which we have already done so in China and the US. Since YSPS already had already established its base in Kentucky, we decided that it was better to have our factory within the same compound. Chicago has many semiconductor-related and automotive companies nearby. In the end, having our base in Kentucky has become a positive thing.

 

In the US the Chips Act allocates USD 51 billion in incentives to spur domestic growth of manufacturing of semiconductors in the US. Intel is building fabs in Arizona and Ohio on the back of this. What kind of trickle-down benefits for your business do you expect it to bring for SME firms like yours?

We are a small SME in Japan, but our technology and products are unique. It is important for us to leverage what we have to the fullest and provide high-end quality products, stable supply and flexible solutions to the issues that companies are experiencing. By communicating closely with the customers in the US, we want to slowly but surely acquire their trust by providing high-quality and unique products that would support them in the manufacturing of high-end products.

 

If we were to come back on the last day of your presidency, is there a certain goal or personal ambition that you would like to have achieved by then?

My father founded and established this company to use diamonds to cut, grind and polish. As the president following his path, I want to broaden the possibilities of diamonds. People are aware of the many different applications diamonds can have, such as water purification and sanitization. Still, I want to increase the potential of diamonds and commercialize them and have something concrete to prove to the world that diamonds can be used for society. Another role I must fulfill as the president is to make our employees feel more satisfied in working for the company and serve us from the bottom of their hearts. Before passing the baton to the next generation, I need to lay the foundation so that the president who succeeds me can take up new challenges and explore the possibilities of diamonds.

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