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 Jun Tanaka, director, managing corporate officer and chief technology officer (CTO) of Showa Denko KK (TYO:4004).
Tanaka noted that following restructuring efforts this January, Showa Denko’s Institute for Integrated Product Development has been elevated to now come under the company-wide Corporate R&D Department. The Analysis & Physical Properties Center – as well as the Computational Science and Technology Information Center – that operate under this institute have been then repositioned from their existing R&D support role to serve as full-fledged weapons in the company’s arsenal, he said.
In addition to this, Tanaka explained, Showa Denko has established the Advanced Technology Laboratory under the direct supervision of the company president. This laboratory is tasked with taking up unconventional ideas and perspectives, then using these to explore next-generation research themes and cutting-edge technologies.
Tanaka mentioned that under a new medium-term business plan starting this year, Showa Denko has set its sights on seven priority areas for R&D. These are transportation, energy, lifestyle, electronics, construction and infrastructure, industrial equipment, and life sciences and health care. R&D expenditure is set to rise by approximately 30 percent over the previous medium-term plan, Tanaka said, with Showa Denko also boosting its number of company-wide research personnel by more than 10 percent.
As the first point of a plan to better coordinate between its operations, Showa Denko has started up a project around automotive composite materials, Tanaka said. This comes in part as a response to the turning point that the automotive industry finds itself in, represented by the set of trends referred to collectively as Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electric (CASE). And following these trends, Tanaka noted, the industry is also showing greater demand for a number of material characteristics, such as light weight, high hardness, heat dissipation and storage, electrical insulation and multimaterial adhesion.
Amid all this, Tanaka explained, Showa Denko is able to make good use of its technological strengths in a wide range of areas, including aluminum, organic and inorganic chemicals, and materials for electronics. He said that the initial plan here is as such to focus the company’s marketing capabilities on the automotive sector as well, looking to coordinate these capabilities with the relevant R&D efforts.
In other R&D initiatives, Tanaka noted that Showa Denko intends to establish a new global R&D base by around spring 2022. The R&D capabilities that the company currently controls in Chiba will be transferred to this new location, he said, with the plan being to establish not only laboratory facilities but also training rooms, conference rooms and spaces for collaboration.