BREAKTHROUGHStudy Idea

Industry-Academia Collaboration Needs Mutual Trust Between Universities & CompaniesHiroshi Uyama<Series 3 / complete>

2018.12.25

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Industry-academia collaboration with universities provides huge merits regarding technology and development for SME. Professor Uyama’s lab receives requests from a variety of companies for R&D support. His personal resume also includes years at a major private company, allowing him to make progress in his research with a business perspective, which can be extremely rare in academia. Next is Part 3: Bioplastics in Industry-Academia Partnerships.


The Significance & Outlook of Industry-Academia Collaboration

I’ve been involved in industry-academia collaboration ever since my younger days. From an academic perspective, it’s fascinating to talk with people working in different fields. It’s very educational to learn the hows and whys of their products.
We sometimes get requests from people who want to use one of our technologies, or people with proposals on how a certain technology could be applied to one of their products. These company representatives are interested in our research, and it makes me very happy that they come and find us. There are some hard parts about working together with manufacturers, but I feel that it’s really, really worth it. Also, partnerships with companies in different fields are more productive than partnerships with chemical manufacturers because we can complement each other’s knowledge and technology, and it can lead to a great synergy.

Collaborations like these are very beneficial to both the academic group and the commercial partner. New possibilities in manufacturing will be born from mutual benefit and intellectual refinement. Industry-academia collaboration includes all levels of companies from major manufacturers to SME. What are Professor Uyama’s impressions from partnerships with SME?

Real Examples of Industry-Academia Partnerships With SME

When it comes to industry-academia collaboration with major companies, there have been plenty of times when the company rep was overdemanding, or when the company canceled the whole project because they changed their plans. If I have to choose, I would say that SME are easier to work with. In particular, working with SME usually allows us to talk directly to the company president who makes the decisions, so development progresses swiftly.
I have been involved in many industry-academia partnerships with SME. One example of product development that matched both the theme of our research and the expectations of the business partner was an industry-academia collaboration with Mizutani Paint, who makes synthetic resins for the home construction industry.
Mizutani did joint R&D with us to make a plant-oil based roof paint. After 5 years of development, the environmentally friendly paint BIOMASS R-Si is finally available to buy. It’s stronger than previous products, it sticks to the roof surface better, and it’s even resistant to fading in UV light. The reviews have been great since sales began.
Actually, the director of Mizutani Paint and I went to the same university. We met at an alumni event and he was very excited about my research so we decided to work on a project together.

BIOMASS R-Si paint on a factory rooftop.

The environmentally friendly paint BIOMASS R-Si is an excellent example of industry-academia collaborative product development that highlights the strength of partnership between a university and a commercial business. What are Professor Uyama’s expectations for an ideal partnership?

Ideal Partnerships Between Industry & Academia

It might be too much to say “ideal,” but there needs to be mutual trust between universities and companies. Projects won’t go well if researchers on just one side do all the talking and give all the instructions. I’m not exactly a business genius, and I don’t really have technology with a large capital. If companies will communicate with me about their plans for large-scale technical development and the circumstances around it, then I can support them with my own experience and technology. Ideally, it’s important to complement the other side, there needs to be a true mutual respect, it needs to be a partnership like marriage.
SME provide that relationship of trust with the company president, and the president’s influence is immense. It’s also very important to have another person inside the company, besides the president, who has the power to pull the project along. We describe it as matching industry and academia, but in the end, it’s just a matter of human connection between the people involved.

Interview Date: November 5, 2018

 

Series

Plastics Created the Modern Chemical Industry

It’s important to clarify required output when developing new plastics.

Industry-Academia Collaboration Needs Mutual Trust Between Universities & Companies

Finding Ideas for Plastic Alternatives Through Open Innovation


Hiroshi Uyama

Born 1962 in Kobe. Graduated from the Kyoto University Faculty of Engineering & Graduate School of Engineering. Worked as a researcher at Kao Corporation before joining the Tohoku University School of Engineering as a research assistant in 1988. Rejoined the Kyoto University Graduate School of Engineering as a research assistant in 1997, and became an assistant professor in 2000. Currently a professor at the Division of Applied Chemistry, Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University since 2004. Involved in collaborative research and development with companies through SME Japan as a specialist in polymer materials chemistry.

Awards & Honors
・Polymer Journal, Paper Award (1995)
「Dispersion Polymerization of N-Vinylformamide in Polar Media. Preparation of Monodisperse Hydrophilic Polymer Particles」
・Chemical Society of Japan, Progress Award (1997)
“Pioneering Polymerization Using Enzymatic Catalysts.”
・Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology and Agrochemistry, Agrochemical Planning Award (2005)
“Development of New Green Polymers Based on Renewable Plant Resources”
・8th Bio Business Competition Japan, Grand Prize (2008)
“Development of New Polylactide Materials from Low-Cost Biomass Resources.”
・The Society of Polymer Science, Japan, 2017 Mitsubishi Chemical Award (2017)
“Development of High-Performance Polymer Materials from Plant Oils.”

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