As part of its three-pronged action plan for the decade ahead, UACJ Corporation aims to create a circular aluminum economy in Japan and overseas markets.
“UACJ Corporation is meeting brisk demand in the market while aspiring to help build a better world and a healthier environment.”
Miyuki Ishihara, President, UACJ Corporation
Founded in 2013 in a merger between Furukawa-Sky Aluminum and Sumitomo Light Metal Industries, over century-old companies, UACJ Corporation is Japan’s leading comprehensive aluminum manufacturer. With the slogan “aluminum lightens the world”, the firm supplies clients in Japan and beyond with flat-rolled, foil, cast and forged, extruded and precision-machined aluminum products. They include aluminum stock of cans, automobile parts, electric and electronic components, aviation and aerospace materials, foodstuff packaging, and medical and chemical products.
Outside of Japan, UACJ has bases in Thailand and the United States, having moved to strengthen its international presence following the company’s formation. “We’re the fourth-largest aluminum rolling company in the world, with about 1.3 million tons of annual output in total in Japan, Thailand and the U.S.,” UACJ President Miyuki Ishihara says. “One of the strategic values of our three-location operations is that it allows us to organically and flexibly utilize production capacities to meet market demand. For example, we’ve exported to customers in the U.S. from Japan and Thailand, as a way of supplementing local production in the States.”
Looking to the future, UACJ’s goal “is to contribute to society by using raw materials to manufacture products that enhance prosperity and sustainability”, Mr. Ishihara explains. With this in mind, in 2021 the firm announced a long-term management plan, VISION 2030, which is to focus on three core areas over the next decade.
“The first is Mobility, considering we might have flying cars and drones in the future,” he says. “We believe this field will give us a more comprehensive range of areas where aluminum can be of use. The second area is Lifestyle and Healthcare, including cans, food storage and the medical field. Japan experiences a lot of natural disasters, and we believe we can also contribute to disaster prevention and disaster risk management. The third is the Environment and Energy. Aluminum is an excellent electrical conductor; it also releases heat well and is recycle-friendly. As the world moves away from fossil fuels towards hydrogen and many other fuels, we believe aluminum inspires our work in building a better world and a healthier environment.”
In the drive for a greener future, aluminum’s qualities make it a crucial material in the transition to lighter-weight, electric vehicles, which have a central role to play in reducing carbon emissions. Used by UACJ to manufacture automobile parts such as body panels, sunroof guide rails, bumper assemblies and crush boxes, aluminum is both light and strong. These are characteristics which, combined with its ability to aid temperature control by releasing heat, additionally make aluminum the ideal material for electric vehicle battery housings, which UACJ also develops. “With these key traits, aluminum is competitive as it is a unique raw material,” Mr. Ishihara says.
Harnessing its research and development divisions in Japan, Thailand and the U.S., UACJ works hand in hand with its automotive clients to craft aluminum products that meet their precise needs. “In addition to supplying bumpers of our clients’ design, we can design and develop a new product using an optimal type of aluminum alloy,” Mr. Ishihara notes. “Having different combinations of extrusion, processing and molding in our business division for product development is an advantage, because we can suggest and provide new solutions to our customers.”
UACJ’s R&D efforts are also focused on the creation of aluminum alloys that promote a circular economy. “We’re working on developing recycle-friendly alloys,” Mr. Ishihara says. “We’ve already been able to use recycled aluminum in cans, and in some car models, the body panels are made of 50% recycled aluminum. We believe the development and expansion of recycled alloys is our mission.”
Aluminum’s major role in creating greener vehicles and a circular economy is integral to UACJ’s plans for growth overseas, where North America and Southeast Asia are the company’s chief markets. “In North America, we’re focusing on beverage can stock and automotive parts,” Mr. Ishihara says. “Working towards environmental conservation, we’re using more aluminum cans for beverages that are easy to recycle. We believe we can fill the substantial need in the market.
“In Southeast Asia, we believe we can be a key player in the beverage can market, especially with the region’s economic growth and rising demand. Our industry already has a system in place in Japan which recycles over 90% of aluminum cans, but it’s a system that we are yet to establish in Southeast Asia. We can collaborate with the companies involved in the process of recycling aluminum, and contribute to mitigating regional environmental issues through our products.”
As previously mentioned, one of the focus of VISION 2030 is to address Japan’s vulnerability to natural disasters. With the effects of climate change increasing the frequency of such events, particularly those involving water, UACJ has released a lightweight, easy-to-install aluminum flood prevention system, whose name – ‘MIZUYOJIN(TM)’ – means ‘beware of water’. “When metropolitan or urban areas experience water disasters, subway systems and convenience stores are affected,” Mr. Ishihara says. “Conventionally, we prevent water from entering an infrastructure by putting up sandbags, which are very heavy and make for laborious work. However, anyone can set up our product, and it can be stored in a compact space. We want to create a system that could be put together quickly so that everyone could be prepared to respond to a disaster right away.”