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World’s largest heteroepitaxial diamond substrates to revolutionize semiconductors

Interview - August 10, 2021

Riyako Namiki is one of the growing number of female presidents overseeing the direction of some of Japan’s longest-standing SME manufacturers. Since Ms. Namiki took over the reins of Adamant Namiki, a reputed leader in jewel processing, the company has developed laser technology to shape precise dimensions within a diamond. This groundbreaking technology has many applications, including in automobiles, semiconductors and electronics. Adamant Namiki will continue to channel the monozukuri tradition (though with a female touch) to remain at the forefront of innovation under Ms. Namiki’s leadership. We speak with Ms. Namiki and her predecessor, Mr. Shoji Namiki, to learn more about the company and its grounbreaking technologies.

MS. RIYAKO NAMIKI, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ADAMANT NAMIKI PRECISION JEWEL CO., LTD.
MS. RIYAKO NAMIKI | PRESIDENT AND CEO, ADAMANT NAMIKI PRECISION JEWEL CO., LTD.

Since the rise of Japan’s private sector in the post-war period, Japanese Monozukuri (manufacturing) has been widely spoken about, but often misunderstood. What do you believe is the essence of Monozukuri?

Shoji Namiki: I went to the United States in 1970 for the first time. At that time, Japanese products were considered cheap and of poor quality. The American Government even passed legislation to ban the import of certain Japanese products, and US citizens were seen burning Japanese-made automobiles and dumping Japanese electronics to protest what they considered there was ‘unfair competition.’

From then on, a popular movement that saw consumers demand fairer priced and high-quality products took on. And within the space of ten years, American consumers began favoring Japanese-made products and devices. This change of sentiment occurred not because Japanese products remained cheap, but because they became of good quality.

To manufacture high-quality products, the key is to create an adequate, controlled and optimized production environment. To illustrate this point, let me ask you a question: Why is Japanese sushi so tasty? Why is Japanese fish tastier than similar fishe found in other locations? For a fish to develop an elegant and exquisite flavor, simply putting it in water is not enough. From the purity of the water it swims in, to the nutriments it consumes from the ocean, a fish is a reflection of its environment. For the water to be pure, it requires an environment composed of natural mountains, an adequate climate and a thriving biological ecosystem. The reason why Tokyo’s sushi is so tasty is because three different rivers, namely, Tama, Arakawa and Edo, empty in the Bay of Tokyo. This junction creates a rich water environment. The other explanations for the high-quality of Japanese fish are all linked to its environment. For example, the method by which Japanese fish are killed is instantaneous and causes minimal amount of pain and stress; when restaurants buy fish, they go to a specialized market where the fish for sale are carefully selected, cleaned and arranged.

In similar fashion, Japan was able to develop a high-level of Monozukuri thanks to its prosperous business and production environment. Thanks to their extensive international network, traders such as Mitsubishi and Mitsui are responsible for importing excellent raw materials. Then, companies such as FANUC create optimal machines to assist manufacturers. With its leading companies in sectors such as material science, machine tool and chemistry, Japan’s diverse business environment is primed to support Monozukuri. Developing such a diversified network of expertise did not happen overnight; it took hundreds of years of experience.

Furthermore, Japan’s stable governance, unity and uniformity helped to create a stable political and business environment. Unlike other nations, Japan does not have a polarized society, and Japanese citizens prioritize stability, peace and unity. All these social and environmental factors have supported the development of Japanese industry.

 

Industry 4.0 technologies, such M2M and IoT, are revolutionizing production lines by changing the role of operators and engineers who must now learn to integrate novel techniques in existing processes. How will the advent of Industry 4.0 impact production lines, and how will it contribute to enhance manufacturing output?

Shoji Namiki: As technology advances, production is becoming increasingly complex. Today, the manufacturing process involves over 10 different stages. If a manufacturer has a 95% yield per stage, his final yield after all 10 stages have been completed will be less than 50%... an unacceptable level to create high-quality! To add in complexity, each of these ten stages requires its own expertise, technology and machinery.

To harvest the fruit of innovative technologies, and by extension, to enhance manufacturing output, reduce lead time and minimize defects, manufacturers must first establish a solid factory environment that enables for accurate monozukuri (manufacturing). Furthermore, as databases continue to accumulate an ever-increasing array of information, operators and engineers must develop systems to derive, analyze and treat said information. Companies and production lines that install new technologies but do no implement a system to fully exploit them will remain at an average level of production. Creating superior products is impossible for those who are passive in adoption. As such, companies must create an environment where data-collection, data-treatment and data-utilization are optimized.

To create a database that is above average, both in terms of information-gathering and utilization, one must establish a site or a corporate environment where people are ready to challenge themselves, where employees do not fear making mistakes. Furthermore, one also needs to have clients and stakeholders that encourage challenge, creativity and ambition. When you create an AI program, for example, you must not aim to create a program that makes no mistakes. As a human being, there is a ‘cool’ way to make a mistake; there is a ‘cool’ way to be defeated. Even if we fall, we can always fall with pride and honor. As such, we want to be a company that never fears to take-on new challenges.


What do you consider to be the most important technical milestones of your company?

Shoji Namiki: Back when my father was heading Adamant Namiki, the company developed a unique processing technology to produce manmade rubies for jewel bearings. With a rating of 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, ruby is a difficult material to process. At the time, Adamant Namiki developed a technique that utilized diamond powder and a drilling-tool to shape, cut and drill ruby materials. Drilling a hole in a ruby allowed manufacturers to insert a bearing inside the material. The companies that had this kind of technology only existed in Germany and Switzerland. Back when this technique was developed, it was considered super technology.

During my tenure as President, we developed a special technology that utilizes  newly developed laser technology to shape precise dimensions within a diamond. This technology allowed us to cut in any direction of a single crystal material and can be utilized in a variety of applications. Utilizing lasers also decreases processing time and increases productivity. For the next ten years, we are looking to commercialize new products thanks to this core technology. For the next twenty years, our aim is to research and develop new technologies that will unlock the potential of novel products.

 

Adamant Namiki specializes in three distinct processing technologies, namely, cutting, grinding and polishing. What synergies have you been able to create between these three processing techniques?

Shoji Namiki: To answer your question, one must understand that we are dealing with hard-to-process materials, as diamonds and jewels are extremely difficult to cut. As such, our company’s activity is to find techniques that allow for the grinding and polishing of extremely hard jewels, breakable glass, as well as magnetic and sintered metals.

By learning how to process such difficult materials, we are able to create a wide array of products serving various industries, from machine tools to semiconductors. Because of our diversified expertise in various processing technologies, we often find ourselves in a situation where we cannot answer to all of our client’s needs; not because we don't want to, but because there is not enough raw material available. Even large traders, including Sumitomo and Mitsui, do not have access to unlimited quantities of rare earth metals. Therefore, we sometimes have no choice but to go to the source and acquire the patent to produce those materials in-house. By mastering cutting, grinding and polishing processes, and by producing raw materials in-house, we have been able to develop a flexible supply and production approach.

In the United States in the 1970s, a regulation stating that cars needed to run a certain mileage per gallon was passed. In a combustion engine-powered automobile, the motor accounts for twenty percent of the car’s weight. The starter motor, the alternator, the transmission… all of these are run by the motor. Motors are heavy because two thirds of the motor is made up of magnets and coils. To match that new regulation, American carmakers began demanding a new type of lighter magnetic material made out of rare earth cobalt magnets, a material that boasts a magnetic field ten times stronger than previously-used metals. At the time, Western Electric was one of the only companies that could do this process, and a small number of high-technology manufacturers, including Adamant Namiki, approached them to acquire the license. In the development stage, laboratory machines could produce only 2-pound blocks of magnet for testing purposes and from this Adamant Namiki can produce over 2,000 pieces of magnetic components out of this sample.

 

New compound semiconductor substrates, such as GaN or SiC, boast special properties and have become increasingly important to certain applications. However, these crystals are more difficult to grow and more fragile than Silicon, and the number of defects within these crystals, together with production costs, are higher. As a company that develops diamond substrates, how are you contributing to the development of the semiconductor field?

Shoji Namiki: To a company the size of Adamant Namiki, the semiconductor sector represents a “mega-market”; it is simply too big. Past experiences with a major supplier of sapphire substrate for LED have taught us that very lesson. Our aim is to penetrate the top of the pyramid within the semiconductor business by developing niche technologies. As such, we are focusing our efforts on the creation of diamond substrates. Diamond substrates have various applications; for example, semiconductor makers may use diamond substrates to create compound materials, such as GaN. Semiconductor material firms may also bond diamond substrates with GaN to create complementary power devices, which utilizes p-type diamond and n-type GaN for a p-n junction. This is because n-type diamond is unavailable due to material characteristics. Furthermore, one of the challenges facing semiconductor makers is controlling and containing heat and thermal energy. Fortunately, diamond substrates are optimal for thermal control because of its ultimate thermal conductivity. Diamond can solve above mentioned challenges at once.

We recently developed a first-of-its-kind technology: the largest surface heteroepitaxial diamond substrate. The diamond can be grown on our sapphire substrate. If you observe two diamonds, one being natural and one synthetic, you would notice that the natural diamond has a few imperfections. In contrast, the synthetic one would be highly pure, almost perfect. As such, it is possible to create synthetic materials with better quality than their natural counterparts. Our large heteroepitaxial diamond substrate is a time-sensitive technology because it is simply a matter of time until other manufacturers worldwide can create it. Today, however, we are the only company in the world that has attained this level of technology.


Diamond substrate, size: 15mm×15mmx0.5mm


In 2006, Adamant Namiki was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for having developed the world’s smallest metallic glass micro-geared motor with a diameter of 1.5mm. With its miniature size, this product-line can be used for arthroscopic applications. Can you tell us more about the technology you developed to support such miniature projects?

Shoji Namiki: The gear parts of our micro-motors are made of glassy metal, a material that boasts both hardness, low young's modules and glass-like properties. Unlike conventional metal material however, this material is not crystalized, but amorphous. When traditional materials change from liquid to solid form, and as they are crystalized, their solidification shrinkage is by up to 4%. When this shrinkage occurs, it is difficult to mold and process the given material for engineering purposes. One of the interesting properties of glassy metal is that it does not change in size, nor does it shrink. As such, it can be molded and utilized in a variety of applications. For instance, engineers can create metallic molds at the micron level. Technically, you could even mold the whole of Mount Fuji on a tiny needle with a 0.5 micron diameter! At Adamant Namiki, our understanding of glassy metal allows us to produce these micro-gears.



Ms. Riyako Namiki, you became CEO and President of Adamant Namiki in April 2021. With the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, what steps will you take to steer the company through this unpredictable period?

Riyako Namiki: For over a year, the management of Adamant Namiki have been investing their time and efforts in responding appropriately to the situation. We have implemented a number of internal reorganization to limit the impact of the pandemic and to protect the health of our employees. The focal point of such efforts has been to improve the morale and motivation of our employees. More concretely, we have changed our company’s uniform to bring a wave of novelty and optimism. Activities and facilities that were stopped in the middle of the pandemic, such as our dining hall, have now reopened. Furthermore, we have re-started our policy to increase salary compensation and have reopened the doors to recruitment.

As part of the founding lineage of Adamant Namiki and as the third generation of presidents, I will continue to promote and protect the well-being of our employees.

In the medium-term, I will also change one of the company’s historical policies. As a family-owned business, Adamant Namiki’s executives and presidents have historically been members of the Namiki family. However, we believe that this strategy is no longer viable, and our policy whereby top management is only coming from the family will be subject to change. As such, I consider my tenure to be a temporary transition until this full change occurs.

Our company’s philosophy, held ever since our grandfather was president some eighty years ago, states that “a company moves like a family where members support one another, regardless of their department, or specialization, by embracing the weaknesses and strengths of each other.” As this transition occurs, I want to ensure that our philosophy remains intact as it is the key to creating a solid foundation for the future.

 

In 2018, Namiki Precision Jewel merged with Adamant, giving birth to the company we know today. What motivated you to enact this merger?

Shoji Namiki: Adamant Namiki engages in extremely precise and complex technologies, so we often conclude technical alliances and partnerships to acquire technological acumen. A distinctive feature of our company is that we are fully independent, a rare feat in Japan. We function differently from many companies of similar size that operate by having one large supplier or a single source of revenue. As an independent firm, our products are sold to more than 1000 companies and we supply 1000 to 1200 companies on an annual basis.

We treasure all of these relationships, but we are not dependent on a certain client or industry. This diversified clientele has allowed us to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by balancing our revenue streams. While some of our clients have been negatively impacted by the Covid crisis, others have performed adequality. Consequently, our revenue has been balanced and steady throughout the pandemic.

Regarding our future overseas expansion, our strategy is to consolidate the networks and partnerships we have created already. Currently, our overseas revenue represents more than fifty percent of our total turnover. The expansion of e-commerce and online platforms has allowed us to receive greater international attention. Looking into the future, we look forward to taking advantage of these digital platform.

 

Ms. Riyako Namiki, what objectives would you like to have achieved in five years’ time?

Riyako Namiki: For me, 2021 marks the starting line. Whether it is with clients, suppliers or partners, I want to treasure all the encounters I make. Five years from now, I hope to have developed an even more robust network of partnerships, and I am confident that these alliances will allow us to prosper. I am confident that we will achieve this because, even in the midst of a global pandemic, technology has allowed us to interact and collaborate with like-minded organizations.

 

Mr. Shoji Namiki, as you look back on your 30-year tenure as President of Adamant Namiki, is there a particular achievement that you are most proud of? And what message would you like to leave your successor based on your 30 years of experience?

Shoji Namiki: When I first started my tenure as president, leading the company was like driving a Cadillac: it was slow to turn and difficult to steer. It took me fifteen years to transform the Cadillac into a Porsche. Fifteen years into my tenure, we were able to successfully expand overseas; and that is a source of my greatest pride.

Regarding the message I wish to transmit to my successor: my prime concern is to prioritize and promote the “female perspective.” To illustrate the importance of involving women in business affairs, consider a modern automobile: For a car to properly operate, many mechanical functions must run smoothly. However, in the midst of all these ferrous metals and mechanical components, the GPS plays the crucial mission of guiding the driver to his final destination. As such, I believe the GPS to be the female perspective. I have the deep belief that time has come for women to shine in our society. In the recent past, women were not allowed to be at the forefront of business, and when one did succeed, she was made to be silent. If the world is to progress over the next 20 years however, it will require a woman’s guidance, voice and perspective.

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