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 Koichi Abe, executive VP, representative member of the board and chief technology officer of Toray Industries Inc. (TYO:3402)
Toray is touting a long-term management approach with a focus on R&D, Abe said. He explained that the main strategy here is to develop cutting-edge materials in Japan while the company’s overseas bases develop products that take local needs into account.
A certain amount of time is required to take materials from the start of research through to commercialization, Abe said. As a result, he continued, there is a need to properly finish up development for themes where a market is close while at the same time continuing to start up efforts on new themes one after another.
Toray’s R&D process, Abe explained, is divided into the four stages of exploratory research, full-scale research, early development and late development. In order to progress through these stages, he said, certain requirements must be cleared – and these requirements grow more difficult as a project draws closer to production.
Abe said that Toray’s most recent creation of a major new technology is Nanodesign, which the company describes as an innovative composite spinning technology. By utilizing multiple polymers, this technology is able to produce nanofibers with a variety of unusual cross-sections.
Toray is already using this to commercialize textiles for use in high-performance apparel, Abe said, adding that there are also plans going forward to roll such products out to the likes of the industrial materials, medicine and health care sectors. He said also that the company is speeding up its development efforts for high-performance materials making use of Nanodesign technology.
In the area of carbon fiber, Toray’s acquisition of TenCate Advanced Composites Holding BV has seen the Japanese firm add thermoplastic prepreg technologies to its lineup, Abe said. As a result, he continued, the company now has a comprehensive system here covering regular-tow, large-tow, thermosetting and thermoplastic products.
Alongside pursuing the absolute limits of these materials, Abe said, Toray is looking to make improvements to its overall productivity in the area, with efforts here including the company’s shift to multimaterial designs and molding. And he expressed certainty that such improvements will see the company’s carbon fiber make a major impact on society in the likes of the transportation equipment, energy and infrastructure sectors.