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How SMEs can address societal issues with technologyJunichi Sone (Principal Fellow, Center for Research and Development Strategy, Japan Science and Technology Agency)

<Series 3(Total 4 series)>


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In this series of four articles we ask Mr. Junichi Sone, an expert in materials and devices, about how manufacturing companies should seize opportunities in a future world driven by SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The third article in the series will focus on specific approaches for companies. He also gave us advice for SMEs.

◆ 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.

Try using the country's facility sharing service

Solve societal issues set forth in the SDGs utilizing new technologies such as AI and IoT. Manufacturing companies have a considerable role to play in this process. Moreover, there are major business opportunities.

Some SMEs have already refined their technology with the help of universities and succeeded in effectively using resources with nano-level plating technology. With an increasing number of government policies supporting ventures with subsidies and various services, balking at the venture because of the difficulty of making capital investments or uncertainty about how your company's technology will be useful, and not trying to explore possibilities, is basically giving up on growth opportunities.

"To compete with advanced materials and devices, it is necessary to evaluate the technology on a nanoscale using high-precision equipment. However, using the facility sharing service of the 2012 government initiated "Nanotechnology Platform," it is possible to move forward with a review without large-scale capital investment, using state-of-the-art facilities in universities and research institutions across the country. I want anyone with technology and ideas to make good use of these services."

The platform was proposed to the government by the CRDS (Center for Research and Development Strategy) of JST (Japan Science and Technology Agency) where Mr. Sone works, to produce innovations in industry and academia. Based on corporate needs, practical services such as mass production support are starting to be provided through new mechanisms.

Research institutions across the country collaborate to provide equipment sharing and technical support to external companies. It is divided into the above three areas depending on the technology, and seminars for the general public are also held.


Effective use of resources by utilizing data and AI

For SMEs, the effective use of limited resources is becoming a more important issue. So Mr. Sone recommends making good use of digital capabilities.

"For example, in the field of drug discovery, attempts are being made to examine promising drug compositions using computers and to verify their effects in simulations. These methods can be used to develop products and materials."

The skilled use of data can greatly increase productivity. Even though it is difficult to introduce advanced data science into the development process right away, many companies now offer AI software free of charge that can perform image recognition and voice recognition. It is a good idea to start by considering how to use the appropriate AI for your company.

Collaboration efforts are also increasing

One more thing Mr. Sone emphasizes is the importance of "collaboration."

"Society 5.0, which solves challenges by fusing the real and virtual, requires complex, diverse, and advanced technologies. Even major companies and advanced IT companies are unable to provide all of these technologies in-house. That is driving collaboration between companies."

For example, Mr. Sone mentioned the startup company Preferred Networks Inc. that aiming for the industrial utilization of AI in collaboration with FANUC Corporation, Toyota Motor Corporation, Hitachi Ltd., and the National Cancer Center.

"The company's development capabilities have attracted attention since the company's previous identity when the focus was AI research on cyberspace. However, the company changed its name, and in 2014 started joint research with manufacturing companies such as FANUC which is known for factory automation. They have since been working on robot development and expanding their real world activities in a major way. For this project, they are presenting robots equipped with advanced AI to learn more efficient cleaning methods on their own and improve their skills."

The above is a collaboration between a leading IT company and a major manufacturing company, but there are many cases of devices and materials development in which two companies connect to create new value. And the benefits are diverse, with plenty of room for SMEs to participate.

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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