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Thursday, Aug 11, 2022
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YAMAMOTO: Material for all industries

Interview - March 25, 2022

With its unique technology, YAMAMOTO has been offering a diverse range of products, including its quality, eco-friendly, and people-friendly rubber material, for over 50 years. Founded in 1964, the company’s lineup of high-performance, rubber-based materials have applications in professional sports, health, aerospace, and apparel, among others. YAMAMOTO’s dedication to innovation can be seen in its BIO ESPERANZA material, which can generate heat without an external source.

TOMIZO YAMAMOTO, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF YAMAMOTO CORPORATION CO., LTD.
TOMIZO YAMAMOTO | PRESIDENT AND CEO OF YAMAMOTO CORPORATION CO., LTD.

Japan's famous manufacturing philosophy known as monozukuri involves high attention to detail and the kaizen philosophy of constant improvement, and Japan has created many innovative materials. Why is Japan excelling in this area?

Japan is an island nation that does not have enough natural resources. The only way for its industry to survive is to process materials imported from other countries and return these as high-quality products. We are always looking for partners who share the same aspirations and work together to develop sustainable and innovative products. Efficiency is a fundamental element, so we are always mindful of how to fully utilize the materials to create a product needed in the market. 

 

The BIO ESPERANZA you developed is a material that can generate heat without an external source. Since Japan has an ageing population, can you explain to us how this material is helping improve the quality of life of the elderly and why it will be such a needed material in the future?

Our BIO ESPERANZA not only contributes to the quality of life of the elderly but also the general population; it keeps the body temperature at average or higher. Before, I thought all human beings had the same average body temperature, but I later learned that it was not the case. The French average body temperature is around 37°C, but for Japanese, it is 36.5°C. I talked to a specialist who said that the average body temperature is decreasing and is now at 35.8°C. A lower body temperature can affect the efficacy of medications that are formulated based on the average temperature of 36.5°C. Older people think that the pharmaceutical industry has reduced their medications' efficacy, but the decreased efficacy is due to their lower body temperature. Most people lose muscle mass as they age, which is very important in maintaining circulation in the body. Moreover, the decrease in body temperature restricts muscle movement. BIO ESPERANZA plays a vital role in sustaining the body temperature even at an average room temperature. COVID-19 has raised the awareness of people about the ways to boost their immune system, and a higher body temperature means more immunity to the virus. BIO ESPERANZA has become widely known and recognised for its effectiveness in maintaining body temperature and its multiple benefits.

It has been proven through science that Westerners' body muscles differ from Japanese. The number one cause of death for Westerners is a heart attack, while for Japanese, it is cancer. Cancer can be a result of low body temperature therefore Japanese people are more prone to passing away from this illness. Because Westerners have more muscles, they require more oxygen during exercise or physical exertion; thus, adding more load to the heart. For this reason, there are many cases in western countries of people having heart attacks while running. On the other hand, Japanese who have less muscle mass put a lesser burden on their hearts. 

 

Your Neoprene material is used for wetsuits, wellness, aerospace and apparel products. In the future, are there any new applications or uses that you are looking to develop your material for? And how will you do that?

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear power plant disaster in 2011 prompted our development of a new product or material. The gamma rays penetrated through the building, and there was no available wear at that time that could shield people from them. With the Tomodachi relationship, the US Navy came to Fukushima to assist. The X-ray shield suits they wore still exposed them to radiation. Right after the earthquake, several companies globally sent in samples of radiation shielding materials to the Japanese government which they sent to us for analysis. We discovered that none of those materials was effective for radiation shielding. 

Therefore, we started our project on April 1st, and our target was to complete the development by the 10th of May. We developed a new material that could give protection against gamma rays, and we succeeded in this undertaking within forty days. It is still being used in Fukushima, and we are the only company that has this technology. No other companies have entered into this market.

 

Is your material using lead inserts?

Yes, there is lead and other types of metal and alloy blended in the radiation shield material. This material’s closed-cell structure is important because X-ray and gamma rays travel in a straight line. Our material is unique because of the multiple microbubbles that deflect the way and decelerate the speed and amount of radiation that can reach a person's body. The amount of metal we use is highly effective. The lead-based shield used by Japan's defence army is about 40 kilograms, while ours only weigh about 12 to 14 kilograms. Also, our products are rubber-based and give more flexibility. Typical shield suits have stitches that are more likely to have gaps. On the contrary, we employ the diving suit technique or blind stitching method to ensure all gamma rays are blocked.

There is a water tank in the Fukushima nuclear power plant that has a high concentration of Strontium. Alpha radiation is usually a weak type that can be stopped with a cooking foil; however, the concentration level of Strontium in the water is extremely high, which means there’s a high level of alpha rays, and that can be truly dangerous. We are the only company that succeeded in developing a suit that protects the workers from any kind of radiation. Alpha rays keep their form when they touch the skin, but they turn into X-rays when they enter the human body, which causes a nuclear bomb effect, meaning you get burned inside. 

 

Other wetsuit makers blend the natural rubber with synthetic rubber and use cheap SBR- a type of additive that is more or less a filler. In your case, you have developed a special proprietary technique to create your wetsuit material that does not use fillers. Can you talk to us about this and why it makes your products superior to others?

In the 1970s, we were making Chloroprene rubber (CR), a synthetic rubber, using petroleum. However, when my father, who was the president at that time, saw that petroleum was not stable, he shifted to a more natural ingredient. He purchased CR rubber made from limestone, but it was difficult to utilize for wetsuits because it was for industrial use. He then collaborated with the manufacturers to make the material more flexible.

My father was at the forefront of pursuing SDGs. At that time, nobody anticipated the importance of SDGs, but transitioning from petroleum to limestone has been very beneficial to our company.  During the oil shock, the price of petroleum-based synthetic rubber soared; on the other hand, limestone-based CR did not fluctuate along with the petroleum. As a result, overseas customers regarded our company to be stable and reliable, which was the trigger for us to expand to the overseas market. 



You are also taking a step further by developing a technology to re-utilise recycled rubber eliminating the need to make new materials every time. How are you progressing in developing that recyclable ability?

We started this project of recycling rubber in 2010, and it took three years to develop the machinery with the machine manufacturing company. Since we have been continually doing the prototyping and testing, we now have achieved substantial success. 

When I came up with the idea to my father in 2005, he kept telling me how senseless I was for thinking about recycling rubber. He studied Applied Science at Osaka University; he was a pure scientist. He knew plastics could be melted and reshaped, whereas cross-linking the molecules in rubber for recycling was generally thought to be virtually impossible. Nevertheless, I was determined, and when I became president, I pursued the project. Over a course of time, I have succeeded and come this far. We already have our prototype machine and have sent out samples to our important customers in many countries. So far, the wetsuits that they have produced and tested for three years are resistant and have had no problems; everything is good. However, we will try to improve the sustainability and performance of the recycle rubber as much as possible because our goal is to enable production of wetsuits from recycled wetsuits without changing the quality.

 

When we spoke to the president of Spiber, he mentioned the importance of gathering partnerships around the world with different companies in order to sustain his business in the long run. What role does open innovation play for your company? What type of partners are you looking for?

We have been very independent, but there have been several changes in the rubber industry. Rubber companies, regardless of their size, including Bridgestone or Yokohama, used similar types of chemicals or additives. Lately, however, the chemicals used in the food industry are added to the rubber, which has become the standard. This shift in the manufacturing approach makes me think that perhaps working together with rubber companies would not be feasible because it may be a challenge to share our technologies. I think working with companies in other material industries to create a new product is something that we are interested in. 

We have had to employ changes in our use of chemicals because of the European Union regulation - Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and California Proposition 65. From 2016 to 2017, automotive tire manufacturing had to shift from petroleum and use more plant-based materials. We also changed the processing oil and become the biggest consumer of canola oil, more than tempura restaurants; we use 2000 litres per day. We feel that it has been a good regulation and a good shift for us. Tempura oil is easily understood by our overseas customers because everyone is familiar with Japanese tempura. 

 

You are present in the US, Canada, France and Taiwan. Which products are you looking to push to those international markets?

Our main product that targets the overseas market is BIO ESPERANZA. As dictated by the medical device regulation, the amount of infrared emitted is 60% in Japan, and above 80% in the US and Taiwan. Currently, our product has 86% of infrared emissions, which has enabled us to register as a medical device in the US and Taiwan. As people are becoming more aware of SDGs and environmental effects, we want to promote the eco-friendliness of our devices that do not require electricity to generate heat. 

The second strategy for both overseas and domestic markets is taking advantage of the lifestyle changes caused by the global pandemic. Europeans exercise more regularly than us, but gyms and indoor pools have been closed due to the pandemic. The UK opened their beaches from March to November, and in Spain, it was from May through October. Open water swimming has become very popular. Outdoor camping has also become a trend in Japan as well as diving and surfing. Hence, we are targeting the general public to wear our wetsuit; we are in the process of developing a new material that can cater to this market.

Aside from special material such as BIO ESPERANZA or Radiation Shield Material, our foam rubber has been used for a wide variety of applications not only wetsuits but also orthopedic supports, apparel, and others. We are always looking for an opportunity to collaborate with companies with different types of products. Our materials have been adopted worldwide for the following reasons.

  1. Quality: 100% CR, no cheap rubber blended
  2. Performance: Thermal insulative, Light, Flexible, Durable, Low surface friction
  3. Sustainability: Made from locally sourced limestone and food-grade canola oil
  4. Safety: Complied with the latest chemical, health, environmental regulations in the world

For further information, visit our website www.yamamoto-bio.com/material-e/ We are open to discussion on new technologies and new applications. We look forward to your inquiries.

 

Imagine we come back three years from now and have this interview all over again. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company, and what goals would you like to have accomplished by then?

As my objective for our 60th anniversary, I want more people around the world to use our BIO ESPERANZA product. On average, it can increase a person's body temperature by 1°C when worn for three to five weeks. An increased body temperature entails better health benefits and staying fit. We want to contribute to the global society, especially the ageing population, by improving their health through our products that do not use electricity. 

We want our wetsuits to be lighter and more flexible. We are in the process of developing the next generation material with less water friction. The average water friction for swimsuits is 2.0 COF, but with our new material, that will be reduced to 0.021, which is 1/100th of when one swims naked. By next year, we are aiming to launch material better than 0.021. Also, we want to use our recycled rubber material in making wetsuits that are thin, more flexible and easier to wear that would be available to the public. 

As an SME, we may not be able to contribute to society to a huge extent. Still, we are more focused on what we can do to help. The radiation shielding material plays a vital role in saving the lives of workers. With people not used to swimming in lakes or oceans, our wetsuits provide buoyancy and protect them from body temperature drops. Every time we develop a new material or product, we are always focused on providing safety and contributing to society. 

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