BreakThrough Interview

Innovative “Langasite oscillator” and “Langasite sensors” have been commercialized by linking the research seed “New Langasite piezoelectric single crystal” of Tohoku University to the needs of societyPiezo Studio Inc.

2019.02.07

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New Langasite type piezoelectric single crystal

summary

  • Develop a new device from the research seed of Tohoku University
  • Introduce high-demand products to the market, such as sensors adapted to hot environments
  • Contribute to the local economy by conducting business through industry-university collaboration

Piezo Studio, Inc. was established in December 2014 as a venture company to commercialize the research seeds of Tohoku University. The company is now attracting attention as it seeks to market electronic devices that are essential in the era of full-scale IoT. The writer spoke to Mr. Kenji Inoue, President and Representative Director of the company.

“Langasite Oscillator” and “Langasite Sensor” Were Developed with the Research Seed

The spirit “Industry is a school of learning” of Mr. Honda Kotaro, the first director of the Institute for Materials Research, has been passed down continuously at Tohoku University. The Tohoku University Business Incubation Program (BIP) has been implemented to increase the number of start-ups from Tohoku University. The program provides support such as business funds for selected projects.

Mr. Akira Yoshikawa, a professor at the Institute for Materials Research at the university, considered that “Research results are of no significance unless they reach out to the world”, and started the venture enterprise, C&A with the goal of commercializing the research results, and the institute joined BIP for further development. Piezo Studio, Inc. was established independent of the C&A piezoelectric division, as a business entity to engage in the “Piezoelectric business”, which was selected as a seed for commercialization. The company moved into the incubation facility (University Coordinated Entrepreneur Fostering Facilities) “Tohoku University Collaborative Business Incubator (T-Biz)”, which is managed and operated by the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation.

Piezo Studio is currently developing two products using the “New Langasite piezoelectric single crystal” developed by Professor Yoshikawa et al.

The first product is the “Langasite type oscillator”, which is a type of timing device.
For all electronic devices in the world to function correctly, both sides need to adjust the timing between the sender and receiver of digital data, and a stable periodic signal “Clock Signal” is required at constant intervals for reference. The “Clock Signal” of a constant period is generated by the timing device and is an indispensable key device for electronic equipment. Previously, crystal oscillators were mainly used.
In the state where many devices form a network with the full-scale progress of IoT, data collisions will occur, and transmission/reception will be hindered if the occupancy time including start time from the standby state until an oscillator transmits a clock signal is extended.
The start-up time from standby state of Langasite oscillator is extremely short, and it can be shortened to about 1/10 than that of a conventional crystal oscillator. The short start time reduces power consumption, and can significantly contribute to the reduction of power consumption. Realization of low frequency that consumes less power is possible with the Langasite oscillator. System size has to be increased for the stability of operation to achieve low frequencies with the crystal oscillator, while in the case of the Langasite type oscillator, it is possible to obtain low frequency, low power consumption, and compact size for easy incorporation in a circuit.

The other is “Langasite type sensor”. The sensor can operate without problems in high-temperature environments with a theoretical value of 1200°C. There has always been a high demand for sensors suitable for high-temperature environments. For example, a high temperature is said to be suited for film formation, which is one of the processes in semiconductor manufacturing, but sensors operating at more than 300°C were not available until now. It is expected that Langasite sensors can overcome these challenges.

These products are currently being deployed to companies developing IoT equipment and manufacturers of piezoelectric materials.

Sensor element called Langasite Crystal Microbalance (LCM)

Research and Development to Create New Devices from New Materials

Mr. Inoue, company president, used to work at a major manufacturer of crystal oscillators. However, spending on research and development decreased while it increased on projects that involved redesigning of conventional products that were considered to have better prospect of sales. Mr. Inoue, who met professor Yoshikawa at that time was impressed by his research approach and said, “I want to create new devices using new materials and spread them to the world”, and moved to the venture company C&A established by professor Yoshikawa. He later moved to Piezo Studio and became company president in December 2015.

Venture businesses unlike other companies have to manage tasks ranging from finance to detailed research with few employees, though the work is challenging it gives great satisfaction. Mr. Inoue also said it was a great pleasure to receive the “New Value Creation Award” at the New Value Creation Exhibition 2018 (Organizer: Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation). He said with modesty, “We exhibited without knowing about the award. When I heard about having won the award, I was surprised and felt honored. Since we are a small company, we want to increase the company's recognition while encouraging the development of better products. I will be happy if more people come to know about us because of this award”, he answered with modesty.

Since Langasite oscillator has received good evaluation from customers, their goal is to start mass production in FY 2019. The company is receiving many inquiries regarding Langasite sensors to measure pressure and strain in a high-temperature environment. They are responding earnestly to the demand and expect to introduce products into the market in about a year.

We Want to Boost Local Industries

The company acquired ISO9001-2015 certification in April 2018. They plan to expand business and list shares in the stock exchange. Mr. Inoue says, “This company from Sendai was established through a strong industry-academia collaboration with Tohoku University and is also being funded. I want to contribute to the industry and economy of my hometown”. The company designs and evaluates its products in-house, and manufactures them in cooperation with companies in Tohoku.

Expansion of the timing device business

The market for timing devices such as oscillators is expected to expand to about 300 billion yen over the next 15 years. In addition to the current two products, the company aims to develop medical biosensors, and “Piezoelectric elements” related to next-generation communication such as 5G.
Mr. Inoue said, “Though the use of piezoelectric devices has advanced, it is still limited. All industries, including automobiles, aviation engines, steel, boilers, and catalysts have a potential need for these devices”.
They plan to explore the hidden needs and expand the product lineup in the future.
Although the company is a small venture company that has just started operations, they will continue to take up challenges of research and development for the commercialization of new devices that others have not yet noticed.

Interview Date: January 28, 2019

company information

Piezo Studio is a venture started by the Institute for Materials Research, Tohoku University. We create innovative products by combining new material and high precision ultrasonic measurement technology that are said to be the seeds of Tohoku University with the design and evaluation technology of Piezo Studio Inc. We contribute to IoT society through a transducer that contributes to low power consumption and sensors suitable for high temperature environments.

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