BreakThrough Study Idea

Leveraging our technology in a world changed by SDGs and the Fourth Industrial RevolutionJunichi Sone (Principal Fellow, Center for Research and Development Strategy, Japan Science and Technology Agency)

<Series 4(Total 4 series)


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In this series of interviews we asked materials and devices specialist Junichi Sone how potential changes in industry due to the Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by technologies such as AI and IoT as well as international agreements such as SDGs and the Paris Agreement will lead to corporate growth. In this final article, after telling us about the benefits of the previously mentioned corporate collaboration and how to implement it, he also talked about expectations for SMEs and messages of support.

◆ What are SDGs?
SDGs or the Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of global goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 for the years 2016 through 2030 under the "2030 Agenda for sustainable development." The agenda consists of 17 goals such as "poverty," "hunger," "climate change," "energy," and "education" and 169 targets laid down for specific targets under these 17 goals for achieving a sustainable society. They were adopted with the participation of more than 150 member state leaders to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) formulated in 2001. At the July 2017 session of the United Nations General Assembly, 232 indicators were adopted for measuring the progress of each of the targets.

Properly evaluate your technology and interact proactively with external parties

The development of next-generation products requires new devices and materials that improve product performance, as well as complex and advanced technologies. In the third article, we mentioned that companies are increasingly making up for technologies they don't have by collaborating with other companies.

"Many SMEs have underestimated the competitive core technologies they possess. For example, we have heard many stories such as the coaxial cable of a certain small factory being essential for operating a state-of-the-art quantum computer. Interacting with other companies with different technologies and a different awareness of issues may create unexpected products and businesses, so I would like companies to carefully evaluate their technology, keep their ears perked, and actively communicate with external parties."

A research institution such as a university can count as a partner. Many companies are active in advanced fields based on on-campus research.

"Examples of university-initiated ventures in the fields of materials and devices include Tsubame BHB Co., Ltd. which provides simple ammonia by utilizing unique catalysts, and also PeptiDream Inc. which offers various peptide therapeutic materials using artificial RNA catalysts. There are also companies such as FLOSFIA Inc. that are researching next-generation electric power devices in collaboration with universities. There are many promising ideas at universities that have not been commercialized for lack of means or funds for implementation, so it's worth approaching them about it."

In addition, many of the companies that come to exhibitions welcome exchanging information, so you can learn a lot even from just walking around the venue and listening to people speak.

Search actively for ways to collaborate in Japan and internationally

In order to collaborate with other companies in the development of products and materials, it is necessary to disclose company information to some extent and appeal to external parties. Internationally in particular, an increasing number of companies is working on open innovation by expanding the scope of disclosed information.

"Germany's SMEs in particular have their own technology and are aggressive in outreach. They go abroad with the support of state-run research institutes to promote open innovation and provide information at academic conferences. I feel that a vision for Japan's SMEs can be found there. The CRDS (Center for Research and Development Strategy, National Science and Technology Agency) where I work is holding workshops that invite German SMEs. I think it's worth keeping an eye on them."

Mr. Sone also mentioned that the reshoring of large companies is worth noting among recent developments. Increasing numbers of large companies are returning their factories from overseas to Japan.

"The introduction of IoT and robots are driving labor reduction and efficiency improvements in factories, and an increasing number of companies believe that they can be profitable even if they return factories to Japan. Returning to Japan has the advantage of being able to create a high-quality and reliable supply chain with the help of excellent SMEs. You may find something new by looking at these activities of large companies. "

Considering how to apply technology that has been honed

With international agreements such as SDGs and the Paris Agreement as well as new technologies such as AI and IoT changing the needs of industry, what are the strengths of Japanese SMEs? Mr. Sone answered this question as follows.

"I have many opportunities to interact with researchers from East Asia, and they often say that Japan is the place to go for new technologies. Many SMEs in Japan last for over 100 years, and each company has its own technology. These companies have surely and steadily supported the development of Japanese manufacturing."

However, as technology becomes more complex, there will be limited opportunities for doing business with a single technology. Mr. Sone points out that companies are unlikely to survive the coming era with a wait-and-see attitude.

"Even as the times have changed, Japanese SMEs have continuously valued certain technologies. It is important to make full use of nanotechnology and biotechnology, considering how to leverage it with confidence for use in value-added products and materials. German SMEs are making good use of government support as they compete in global markets. Even in Japan, the government has created a variety of support mechanisms such as the Nanotechnology Platform, so I would be happy to see companies use them well and compete with the combined strength of Japan. Hopefully CRDS can also help strengthen and improve Japan's industrial competitive position."

Series "Leveraging our technology in a world changed by SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution"

Series 1 How will "Manufacturing" change under the SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Series 2 What technologies are required to solve societal challenges in the SDGs era?
Series 3 How will "Manufacturing" change under the SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Series 4 Leveraging our technology in a world changed by SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Junichi Sone
Japan Science and Technology Agency Center for Research and Development Strategy Principal Fellow

In 1975, he completed a master's degree in physics from the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Science and joined the Central Research Laboratories of NEC Corporation. In 1983, obtained a Doctor of Science from the University of Tokyo. After serving as Director of NEC's Fundamental Research Laboratories, Director of the Fundamental and Environmental Research Laboratories, and Manager of the Central Research Laboratories, he has been Executive Vice President of the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) since 2010. He has been in the current position since 2015. JST-CREST “Nanosystem Creation” Research Supervisor and President of the Society of Nano Science and and Technology. Recognized as Fellow of the Japan Society of Applied Physics and Executive Vice President Emeritus of the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS). He specializes in nanotechnology, quantum information technology, environmental energy technology, and advanced materials.

◇Main authored and edited works
- Hyomen kaimen no butsuri (Sirizu bussei butsuri no shintenkai) (Surface and interface physics [New developments in physical property physics]) (Author and editor. Maruzen, 1996)
- Nano kozo sakuseigijyutsu no kiso (Sirizu bussei butsuri no shintenkai) (Fundamentals of nanofabrication technology [New developments in physical property physics]) (Author and editor. Maruzen, 1996)

Coverage date September 2, 2019

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