Project story

POREFLON Microfiltration Membrane Module

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08. At the manufacturing site, sharing good times and bad times.

The POREFLON water treatment membrane module gained a business foothold through projects that included the Sinpyeong Sewage Treatment Plant and other Korean sewage treatment projects. The manufacturing site played a significant role in that process. The POREFLON water treatment membrane module was manufactured at Zhongshan Sumiden Hybrid Products Co., Ltd. (ZSH), a Chinese subsidiary of Sumitomo Electric Fine Polymer, Inc. Whether improving the production speed and yield would make the business operation successful and whether a cost reduction would be achieved depended largely on ZSH. In Japan, project members including Morita came up with ways to improve the manufacturing efficiency. They then brought the measures they formulated to ZSH and made improvements through discussions with local staff.
The most difficult challenge was to cope with the unstable production scale characteristic of the early days of any business. ZSH had been producing the membrane modulesince before the Korean sewage treatment project. However, the production scale was only around 10% of the scale of the Korean sewage treatment project. It is impractical to increase the number of workers quickly even in response to a massive order. And an increase in the number of workers does not necessarily mean an increase in skilled workers. If orders drop off again after taking on and training more workers, they will have to be made redundant, putting a strain on management.
"At that time, we arranged for workers to be sent from production plants that were producing other products and trained them. We had a hard time, but the plant management must have had an even harder time. We are truly grateful to the General Manager of ZSH."

09. Abundant and diverse management resources drove the project.

Following on from the Sinpyeong Sewage Treatment Plant order, the Company received orders continuously from Daewoo E&T. In addition, orders for industrial wastewater treatment increased in China. It was time to make the project ready for the global market. Looking back on those days, Morita says:
"I feel that without the overall strength of Sumitomo Electric, the POREFLON water treatment membrane module wouldn't be what it is today. ZSH worked on production and the Industrial Wire & Cable Division helped us to achieve a breakthrough, to name just two of the contributors. Sumitomo Electric Group has businesses all over the world. When our development team receives a request, such as to survey needs or to make proposals to potential customers, we have somebody in every part of the world who can respond positively to our request. This is really reassuring."
When the development team was struggling to meet both the deadlines and performance targets, sales personnel supported them. Understanding the actual development and production conditions that were often behind the schedule, sales personnel made every effort to negotiate with customers. Everyone in the workplace behaved thoroughly professionally with mutual trust and did their best. Thanks to that the business has grown into what it is today, says Morita.

10. Aiming to establish a new standard

The project members currently aim to establish a new de facto standard for POREFLON-based water treatment, making use of one feature discovered during the research: the fact that the membrane module is good at treating oil-contaminated wastewater. This feature is perfectly suited for treating oilfield produced water and wastewater from petrochemical plants. In these applications, it had been thought impossible to treat wastewater with a membrane. POREFLON makes it possible. But in addition, POREFLON has better toughness than other materials and the cost has been brought down. The POREFLON technology has the potential to replace conventional treatment technologies.
Another aim is to take a position of parity with existing competitors in the drinking water and sewage treatment markets. Although a latecomer, Sumitomo Electric plans to establish a firm footing in these huge global markets, making the best use of the Company's proprietary POREFLON technology.
"Our project has finally started in full. Each project member is a pioneer. We are armed with our original technology and as such, we are ready to meet any engineering challenge. We are paving our own road. With this spirit, we are committed to bringing solutions to global water issues."

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