R&D Aimed at Supporting Technological Innovation in the Automotive Field
The Denka Group boasts a broad range of chemical technologies supporting technological innovation in the automotive field. In fact, the creation of innovative chemical materials is essential to realizing breakthroughs in automotive technologies, such as the installation of advanced car electronics and the creation of autonomous driving systems. We invited managers responsible for R&D in the areas of ceramics, acetylene black and other cutting-edge materials to participate in this round-table talk and share their enthusiasm for creating new value for the future.
Sales Targets for Automobile-Related Products
In fiscal 2018, sales of Denka’s automobile-related products amounted to ¥37 billion. In line with the Denka Value-Up management plan, Denka is striving to raise sales of these products to ¥70 billion by the end of fiscal 2020, almost doubling its performance. By the end of fiscal 2025, Denka aims to achieve sales of ¥100 billion from these products.
Hiroshi Murata (facilitator)
General Manager, AMS Dept.
■ Spearheading the Denka Group’s efforts to expand automobile-related operations to meet needs of future generations
General Manager, Specialty Ceramics Research Dept.,
Advanced Technologies Research Institute,
Denka Innovation Center
■ Taking on R&D aimed at realizing innovation via the creation of unconventional materials and systems
General Manager, Advanced Materials Research Dept.,
Advanced Technologies Research Institute,
Denka Innovation Center
■ Taking on R&D of new materials for next-generation vehicles
General Manager, Ceramic Research Dept.,
■ Taking on R&D of ceramics-based electronic circuit substrates, spherical alumina, etc.
General Manager, Battery& Conductive Material Development Dept., Chiba Plant
■ Taking on R&D associated with acetylene black
Murata (facilitator): The automotive industry is undergoing a once-in-a-century revolutionary change. Today, we have invited managers charged with the development of automobile-related products to join this round-table talk and share their views on the contributions Denka technologies will make and how the Company aims to achieve sustainable growth in the face of such a pivotal change. First, could you begin by explaining the roles your products are fulfilling in society?
Taniguchi: The Omuta Plant’s Ceramic Research Department is focused on the R&D of ceramics-based electronic circuit substrates and spherical alumina filler. The former is an essential component of electronic circuits installed in inverters for motor drivers and DC-DC converters for powering electronic equipment. The latter is a functional ceramic powder being used as a resin encapsulant for semiconductors and a filler for thermally conductive materials.
Murata: Denka commands a considerable 60% share of the global ceramics-based electronic circuit substrate market while commanding a 70% share of the global spherical alumina filler market. Furthermore, demand for these offerings is ever growing. Could you elaborate on the fundamental technologies used to create them?
Taniguchi: Denka boasts an accumulation of high-temperature control technologies backed by a long track record in calcium carbide production that dates back to its founding. Building on these technologies, the Omuta Plant has led the advance of ceramic sintering technologies while developing composite technologies that combine ceramics with different kinds of materials, such as metal. These endeavors have resulted in the creation of a great number of products, among them DENKA SN Plate, a silicon nitride-based electronic circuit substrate, used in automobile inverters, an area in which expectations are for ever higher output capacity and ever more compact units. Meanwhile, our spherical alumina filler boasts a meticulously controlled particle shape and diameter thanks to the use of the flame fusing method while containing fewer impurities, such as metal.
Hirotsuru: Although the R&D departments at Denka’s plants are charged with upgrading the functions, enhancing the cost competitiveness and improving other features of existing products, the Innovation Center itself is taking on the creation of unconventional materials and systems. In fact, the facility is focused solely on realizing innovation, in contrast to the aforementioned R&D departments charged with enhancement. Specifically, our duties include participation in a national project centering on a next-generation heat-dissipation mechanism and the co-development of novel materials in tandem with customers, including automobile parts makers with significant potential.
Murata: I see. Whether we aim to realize innovation or enhancement, an accurate assessment of the latest needs is key to directing our R&D activities. In this regard, the Automotive Materials & Solutions (AMS) Department is playing the important role of directly engaging with customers and acquiring valuable insights into their needs.
Just like ceramics handled by Mr. Taniguchi and Mr. Hirotsuru, Denka’s acetylene black boasts a significant share of the global market and is becoming increasing sought-after as a conductivity enhancer for automotive LiBs. To meet growing demand, production is currently under way at full capacity. Mr. Uchida, could you explain the features of this product?
Uchida: The manufacture of a battery conductivity enhancer requires the stringent management of impurities. This is essential to achieving higher quality in terms of product safety and product life. Acetylene black’s distinctive strengths lie in its extremely high electro conductivity and ultra-high purity thanks to a manufacturing method employing the high-temperature heat decomposition of acetylene. In addition to taking advantage of the material’s strengths, we are focused on providing customers with technical services, for example, jointly planning an optimal particle shape tailored in line with the customer’s intention.
Murata: The current trends affecting the automotive industry worldwide are often referred to using the acronym CASE, or Connected, Autonomous, Shared & Services and Electric, four areas of emerging automotive technologies and functions that are attracting growing public interest.
Denka boasts a wealth of technologies that will support the intensive use of car electronics. In addition, the Advanced Materials Research Department is engaged in research into connected cars and autonomous driving systems. Furthermore, the AMS department is studying the feasibility of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), an innovative transportation service exemplifying the “Shared & Services” aspect of these trends.
Now, I would like to ask you to tell us about the status of initiatives you are undertaking to achieve technological innovation in terms of CASE as part of the pursuit of Denka Value-Up management plan targets.
Okada: The Advanced Materials Research Department is charged with developing next-generation materials that will help achieve innovation for automobiles. To support the popularization of EVs, we are engaged in research into next-generation batteries, such as all-solid-state lithium ion batteries. To help realize connected cars and autonomous driving systems, we are developing electromagnetic wave absorption and insulation materials supporting 5G communication infrastructure. Our projects also include the development of sound absorption materials employing a wealth of Denka know-how ranging from precision polymerization to resin processing technologies, with an eye to meeting the growing call for solutions of this kind due to the tightening of noise regulations.
Murata: Mr. Okada is taking on a broad range of research themes. For example, millimeter-wave radars represent one of the promising technologies supporting autonomous driving systems. These radars use a millimeter-wave bandwidth and are capable of detecting a road blockage at a distance of 100 meters to 200 meters via the measurement of wave echoes. The 5G communication technology likewise utilizes a millimeter-wave bandwidth and is expected to support the creation of connected cars with more sophisticated communication functions while helping realize “vehicle-to-vehicle” and “vehicle-to-roadside-infrastructure” communications, which are essential to autonomous driving systems. These technologies are attracting growing public interest. A broad range of research projects themed on these technologies are currently under way. Mr. Okada, what is the status of the development of materials that absorb or insulate radio waves other than the millimeter-wave bandwidths necessary for these radar and communication systems?
Okada: As 5G relies on high frequency radio waves, we have to take on the issue of transmission loss. We must also prevent malfunctions due to the unintended scattering of radio waves. To fulfill these requirements, we are striving to control the dielectric properties of the materials themselves. In this light, Denka’s ceramics materials boast unique characteristics that may help us resolve a variety of issues we are now confronting. Sharpening our focus on realizing the possibilities of these materials, we are considering the development of new materials via, for example, a combination of ceramics and organic materials.
Taniguchi: The Omuta Plant’s Ceramic Research Department is paying close attention to the recent trend in materials used in ceramics-based electronic circuits and other substrates as we have seen a growing shift toward the intensive use of car electronics in automobile markets around the world. In addition, requirements for vehicle-mounted power modules vary largely by customer. Therefore, these modules may one day undergo substantial changes in their structure and other aspects. Denka’s technologies in this field encompass ceramics, metal and resin. Because of this, researchers are called to take full advantage of the Company’s arsenal of technologies to realize comprehensive R&D strengths. Also, we are seeking a new functional filler that will fulfill customer requirements for even higher thermal conductivity and take over from spherical fused silica and spherical alumina and are, to this end developing such candidates as spherical magnesium oxide.
Hirotsuru: Once CASE technologies are commercialized, our products will be expected to adapt to new conditions, such as different temperatures and electronic frequencies. These changes may cause Denka to face even more stringent customer requirements—in terms of, for example, strain release and dielectric properties—that cannot be satisfied by merely enhancing the performance of existing materials. In short, CASE will significantly affect expected product performance and specifications. With this in mind, we must rally all Denka’s strengths to deliver products that accurately achieve targeted performance goals, employing such technologies as those combining organic and inorganic materials, as needed.
Uchida: I expect that in step with the switchover to EVs, LiBs will become more sought after as the mainstream driving batteries for these vehicles and for HEVs and PHEVs. There will also be a growing need for batteries with higher capacities as automakers seek to create EVs capable of handling longer driving distances. We will have to develop a new conductivity enhancer that functions well even when less is used.
Hirotsuru: In recent years, material developers have been called to be ever faster in accommodating changes in customer requirements. We are sometimes asked to provide a new material or deliver products with totally different specifications. In order for Denka to become a leading company amid the revolutionary change affecting the industry, the Company must remain responsive to customer requests of this kind.
For example, if future technological advancements allow EVs to receive non-contact power feeding without stopping, their batteries will undergo a growing number of discharging and charging cycles in the course of product lifetime and be expected to accommodate even faster power charging. We also expect that the popularization of car sharing services will cause batteries to be used at significantly higher frequency. We must be attentive to new developments in these factors and capable of quickly acting on latest intelligence.
Taniguchi: Researchers at Denka plants are generally tasked with R&D aimed at accommodating customer needs. However, we are also expected to go farther than that. It is important for us to constantly engage with customers and exchange the latest information so that we can anticipate their future needs and make timely proposals.
Hirotsuru: When we are approached by a customer with a clear development policy to fill a specific need, this means that we will have to compete against other suppliers before winning the project. However, when we work together with the customer to identify its latent needs, we are ahead of other suppliers and better positioned to take advantage of our unique technologies. That’s exactly what we aim to achieve through our involvement in open innovation.
Murata: With regard to fulfilling customer needs, Denka is increasing the allocation of R&D expenses to SDG-related projects that collectively address wide-ranging needs for solutions capable of advancing sustainable social development.
Lastly, I would like each one of you to share your commitment to helping resolve issues society is now confronting, including those specified by the SDGs.
Okada: LiBs are deemed a promising technology that is environmentally friendly. However, these LiBs might also be fed with electric power that has been generated via the combustion of a volume of oil or coal. I therefore believe that an optimal combination of various systems and technologies is essential in light of our mission to help advance genuinely sustainable social development. The incorporation of the SDGs into Denka’s strategies helped us broaden our perspective when considering how to optimally reconcile various systems in society as a whole and accurately assess what is currently needed. This is definitely helpful to identify seeds for new products.
Uchida: Acetylene black, a conductivity enhancer for LiBs, is produced via the heat decomposition of acetylene. This acetylene is made from limestone and naphtha. As a researcher charged with technological development, I have identified the creation of a highly efficient and environment-friendly production method as my foremost mission.
Taniguchi: Denka offers a great variety of products, and numbers itself among only a handful of chemical companies in Japan with such an extensive product lineup. This attests to Denka’s distinctive strengths in manufacturing. With a large number of technologies, including those associated with ceramics and resins, at our command, we are called to strive to best utilize them in our R&D activities. This is how we will make social contributions in a way that only Denka is capable of doing. I would also like younger colleagues to be confident that researcher positions at Denka will give them abundant career opportunities to experience a variety of fields and allow them to freely pursue their ambitions and dreams.
Murata: Thank you for sharing your enthusiastic commitment as researchers. This round-table talk was also a success in terms of showcasing what Denka aims to achieve via manufacturing. Under the Denka Value-Up management plan, Denka is striving to raise the ratio of specialty businesses to 90% of its entire business portfolio by the end of fiscal 2022 based on the operating income ratio while aiming to double sales of automobile-related products in the same time frame. Denka’s success in these pursuits hinges on researches’ development of new products. Lastly, I would encourage all colleagues to bring together Denka’s unique specialty technologies in the automotive field and contribute to sustainable social development in countries around the world.
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