The Chemical Daily recently conducted a round of interviews with the heads of R&D divisions of major Japanese chemical companies. For this installment, we talked with Shin Fukuda, managing executive officer of Mitsui Chemicals Inc. (TYO:4183).
Fukuda said that Mitsui Chemicals is trying to change its approach to R&D, focusing here on customer-based initiatives. To become a proper solutions provider, he said, the company must be able to market the benefits of its products and technologies to customers in an easy-to-understand way. And to this end, he added, Mitsui Chemicals is working to improve on its capabilities in both design and communications.
Materials-based R&D represents another priority for Mitsui Chemicals, Fukuda said. He explained this as a process wherein the company asks itself whether it truly understands the appeal of its own materials. The idea here is that, if the company is able to borrow the help of designers and the like to draw out the appeal of its materials in ways it had not yet thought of itself, it will gain more opportunities to find solutions for both customers and broader society.
Fukuda noted that as part of this train of thought, Mitsui Chemicals is engaging its Corporate Communications Division to facilitate the Mitsui Chemicals Material Oriented Laboratory (MOLp). This represents a set of initiatives run in conjunction with designers and more to help find new ways of using the company’s products.
In other efforts, Fukuda said that Mitsui Chemicals has begun working to improve communications at its laboratories and other research facilities. Giving one example, he said that the company last year held an event to exchange technologies and ideas at its Sodegaura Center in Chiba Prefecture, inviting not only group companies but also customers to take part in the exchange. The company intends to host more events of this kind in the future, Fukuda said, bringing in the likes of startup companies as well to further increase the level of activity.
More generally, Fukuda noted that corporate R&D expenses continue to pile up. In looking to make the most of things here, he said that Mitsui Chemicals intends to hold discussions with venture companies – as well as deliberate on how it can act as a facilitator – as part of a broader goal to motivate its researchers to contribute to new research.
Similarities can be seen between corporate research and efforts at venture capital firms, Fukuda said. But companies like Mitsui Chemicals must do more than just start work on a new theme straight away, he explained – saying that the proper processes must be carried out, starting from verification of concept. It is therefore highly important for the company to hold dialogues with customers as part of this, he continued, using these to carefully work out what its products can offer customers.