Sumitomo Electric has been contributing widely to society by creating unique new technologies and products based on the technologies to manufacture electric wires and cables and expanding the business categories to Automotive; Information & Communications; Electronics; Electric Wire & Cable, Energy; and Industrial Materials. The basis of such business development is the corporate culture to respect research and development. As "attaching importance to technology" is part of the Sumitomo Spirit, we have since our early years considered R&D as the driving force for the sustainable development of companies.
The world is reaching a major turning point with challenges such as global warming, resources and energy problem, food crisis, water shortage and aging of population. To contribute as much as possible to sustainable development of the global community, we are making efforts to enhance our R&D capacity.
History of Contribution to Growth of Social Infrastructure through Development of Propriety Technologies
Managing Executive Officer and General Manager of the R&D General Planning Division
Put simply, our role as the R&D Group involves the challenge of creating new values. It means that we will identify changes in society and technological trends (needs) ahead of others and create advanced original new technologies by mixing material technologies and information communications technologies (seeds), which are strengths of the SEI Group, thereby developing new products and new businesses contributing to establishment of a wealthy society.
Founded as an electric wire manufacturer, we have consistently contributed to development of Japan's social infrastructure including its electricity and communications systems. We have constantly developed cutting-edge products, as exemplified by the replacement of telecommunications (copper wires) with optical communications (optical fibers, compound semiconductors) in the communications field. This would have been impossible without our corporate culture placing emphasis on research and development.
Original New Technologies Created Based on Business Diversity
To achieve the goals set in VISION2012, our mid-term management plan, it is essential to add new fields to the five business categories. The specifically targeted areas are: "Environment & Resources," "Life Sciences," and "Safety & Security, Ubiquitous Networking." For successful business development in such new fields, we need to make Group-wide efforts through integration of achievements in research, which have until now belonged separately to the respective business fields, and creation of new core technologies for horizontal development.
We also acknowledge the importance of proposal-based R&D free from existing models and are strongly promoting development of an R&D system that can address such structural changes. A sign of this initiative is our new "WinD Lab" R&D center, which was completed at Osaka Works in May 2009. The integration of the research divisions, which used to work independently at Osaka Works, has encouraged collaboration between different divisions and exchange between researchers.
Promotion of Joint Research
We are actively participating in research in cooperation with external research institutes such as universities and national laboratories. In May 2005, Sumitomo Electric concluded a comprehensive collaborative agreement with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). The joint research attracted great attention as a pioneering model; it pursued cooperation in diverse areas ranging from basic research to training industrial technology engineers. Specifically, we have initiated several joint research projects each year since fiscal 2005 and have sought to train personnel, mainly post-doctoral fellows*, who can immediately become effective and swiftly transfer intellectual properties and technical know-how possessed by AIST to industrial circles. Some of the post-doctoral fellows recruited for the projects have later been officially employed by Sumitomo Electric as researchers.
* Young researchers who have completed the doctoral course but are not yet employed on a full-time basis. Many of them are employed by universities or other public research institutes as part-time researchers, and play a role in sustaining Japan's research activities.
A System to Manage the Goals of Research Activities
Pure green semiconductor laser
Sumitomo Electric has valued a long-term viewpoint. As shown in the cases of compound semiconductors and superconductivity, we have established businesses based on long-term basic research of, for example, 20-30 years. In addition, our management system can reflect the value of research.
However, private companies usually conduct business-driven research and development and seek profits from such activities. If only R&D activities expected to generate profit within about three years were approved, it would be difficult for researchers to maintain a long-term perspective. Therefore, it is also important that the management team steps back and guides R&D activities based on company-wide strategies. The team needs to prepare a long-term vision for research by designing for society 30 years ahead and working backwards based on the anticipated social and economic structures. For example, it is inevitable in the near future to encounter energy reforms in relation to environmental problems. This will offer stages in which our technologies and products can play active roles. Meanwhile, if management looks at the arrival of the aging society, new business opportunities may be identified in relevant fields that SEI has not yet entered. Or it may assume that some core technology that SEI is good at can contribute to future society.
In an environment where the ideas of excellent researchers are carefully developed and with our management capacity, we will improve the speed and efficiency of research and promote structural reinforcement of existing business fields and expansion to new business fields through creative research and development. We are steadily solidifying the system to achieve these goals.
Superconducting coated conductors that eliminate power transmission loss will contribute to the environment in the future
Kotaro Ohki, Ph.D.
Coated Conductor Group,
Electric Power & Energy
As a member of the first batch of trainees at the Innovation School operated by AIST, I received on-the-job training at Sumitomo Electric for six months from October 2008. While I previously used to place emphasis on originality in my research activities at university and at AIST, I realized that research in a company has a clear goal, namely commercialization. I experienced the joy of introducing developed products into a market, and decided to work for a company for the next step in the research.
I am now studying "superconducting coated conductors" and developing them for practical applications in five to ten years. Superconductivity generates ultimate materials with no power transmission loss. If superconductive wires are used widely, they will have favorable effect on the environment on a large scale through improvement in power transmission rate and energy efficiency as well as reduction in material usage. I have consistently devoted myself to research on superconductivity, which is very attractive because I get to handle what does not exist currently in everyday life and contribute to the future society. It is challenging to work in an immature field with unprecedented innovative job content.
* Interviewed in July 2009
* Please see the following page for the details of R&D.R&D