Research & Development / Intellectual Property
SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group recognizes that maintaining a prominence in technology is the bedrock for creating value. This is particularly the case in the housing infrastructure and chemical solutions fields, where the Group’s technology platform provides the underlying strength of its competitive advantage. In order to maintain this prominence in technology, the Group is committed to consistently strengthening its human resources and organizational structure in the research & development, manufacturing and intellectual property (IP) fields.
Research & Development
SEKISUI CHEMICAL’s Approach to Research & Development
With the putting of efforts into practice for its Group Vision forming the framework of its medium-term management strategy, SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group is aiming to continue to be a corporate group with a sense of presence strong enough to last a century. The Medium-term Management Plan “SHIFT 2019 -Fusion-,” which begins in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018 (fiscal 2017), is positioned as one step forward toward a “new phase of growth” for the realization of the aim, and establishes the acceleration of new business creation through “technology fusion” as one of the top priorities. Actively promoting the fusion of in-house technologies with those from outside, the Company is working to increase the pace of commercialization in the new markets and fields that will play a part in the Group’s future while creating attractive themes that look beyond at what will follow.
Essential Technology Groups
Six essential technology groups related to the two business fields of “Residential and Social Infrastructure Creation” and “Chemical Solutions” and 25 technological platforms that are more specifically oriented towards solutions have been established. We are promoting development of products and services by combining some of those platforms while also refining each of them in order to develop new markets and fields.
Research & Development System
SEKISUI CHEMICAL operates four primary research and development centers within the Housing Company, the Urban Infrastructure and Environmental Products Company, the High Performance Plastics Company, and our corporate headquarters. In addition, SEKISUI MEDICAL CO., LTD., and other key affiliated companies maintain their own research facilities and R&D divisions.
Directly linked to the enhancement of existing businesses and the pioneering of new frontiers, the R&D conducted at the divisional Companies focuses on product development and production engineering themes that will lead to profit in the near future. On the other hand, as an independent research unit, the center within corporate headquarters is conducting research into themes that present extremely high technical hurdles to be addressed over the medium and long term, large-scale themes of the kind that will become links for interdivisional Company collaboration, and new business domain themes that the Group has yet to challenge.
Company business creation and expansion by fusing technologies both internally and externally
We aim to accelerate growth by strengthening collaboration both within and outside SEKISUI CHEMICAL. This will be carried out by further evolving our initiatives in “Co-Creation”—which involved the themes of growth and creation centered on new developments and other areas—to also include existing businesses in our fusion of technologies, business opportunities, and management resources.
Examples of development themes based on “Fusion”
- ・High performance interior fittings
- ・Thermoplastic CFRP
- ・Film-type lithium-ion battery
- ・Film-type dye sensitized solar cell
- ・Town planning
- ・Town energy management system
Manufacturing Development Innovation
Frontlines Taking on Manufacturing Development Innovation
We are working to promote R&D that helps to create new products. At the same time, we are placing equal emphasis on strengthening our manufacturing capabilities in a bid to reinforce the competitive advantage of our existing products.
In the medium-term management plan “SHIFT 2019 -Fusion-,” we stated “minimizing manufacturing risk and fortifying our ability to respond to the new era of manufacturing” as a policy for manufacturing capabilities. Aiming to build of a culture of reduced manufacturing risk as a priority measure, we will strengthen CS & Quality infrastructure by making facilities inherently safe and by thoroughly promoting safety-aware human resource development. We will also build a CS & Quality information knowledge system. As part of the ongoing enhancements to our manufacturing capabilities, we will strengthen our technical capabilities by quantifying our production engineering capabilities and introducing new technologies (ICT and automation). At the same time, we will enhance our manufacturing core strengths by nurturing our manufacturing human resources, as we have been doing up to now.
Fundamental Policy on Intellectual Property
The intellectual property cultivated from our R&D activities is an important management resource that underpins SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group’s growth and revenue and contributes to optimizing corporate value. An intellectual property strategy is vital to maximizing the Group’s technological prominence. In the Principles on Intellectual Property formulated in March 2005, the Group clearly stated that the objectives of our intellectual property management are to contribute to our business growth and to increase our corporate value by encouraging the creation, protection, and utilization of intellectual property, which is to be achieved by respecting our own intellectual property and that of others and by clearly laying out our approach toward intellectual property management. This management mandate is further reinforced by our fundamental policy of ensuring business competitiveness by acquiring highly beneficial patents.
Intellectual Property Management Medium-term Plan (formulated in March 2017)
In addition to constantly creating highly strategic groups of patents, we are aiming to contribute to corporate management by nurturing intellectual property (IP) human resources with the strength to compete.
1. Advancement of IP Activities
We will utilize IP information analysis tools, which will become increasingly sophisticated through the evolution of big data analysis technology, and analyze the competitive environment in detail. Based on the results, we will devise a winning IP strategy before the start of development and contribute to the efficient execution of R&D and an improvement in the probability of success of new businesses.
2. Accelerated Training of Intellectual Property Division Personnel
By having personnel gain experience by rotating them through development and planning divisions and locating them at overseas patent agents, we aim to improve the skills, planning proposal capabilities and global response capabilities of Intellectual Property Division staff.
Intellectual Property Management System and Major Activities
To speed up judgments and decision-making, the Group has set up intellectual property divisions at Corporate headquarters and at each divisional company.
The role of the Intellectual Property Division at Corporate headquarters ranges from the planning and drafting of a basic IP strategy common to the entire Company to IP training, and the operation and management of the patent management system. In order to raise awareness of IP, as the main entity, Corporate headquarters conducts training on IP in a planned manner for R&D and sales personnel. In addition, the patent management system, which will be updated in fiscal 2017, will enable the management of patent groups and introduce a platform for building strategic patent groups.
At the same time, the roles of the intellectual property divisions at each divisional company are to periodically hold Intellectual Property Strategy Committee meetings among the IP, sales and R&D divisions and to work with the aim of building strategic patent groups by having each company build and deploy its own IP strategy according to each company’s business environment. In this way, the intellectual property divisions at Corporate headquarters and at each divisional company are endeavoring to improve the Group’s IP level by collaborating in an organic manner.
SEKISUI CHEMICAL's first patent application was for a "film-forming paste manufacturing method" (a strong film for dirigibles and balloons) in 1948, the year after our founding, which was registered in 1950 to become our first patent. Initially, the submission and management of patents, etc., was implemented alongside other duties by the Technical Department, but as the number of applications soon came to exceed 100 a year, a patents section was established within the Technical Dept. in 1954, and they came to exclusively oversee our industrial rights.
Currently, within SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group, the intellectual property departments both corporate and for each company are our core, and we are promoting a consistent intellectual property strategy from the roll out of basic policies company-wide to the acquisition, management, and rights usage of patents. The intellectual property and R&D departments within each company periodically hold "development intellectual property strategy conferences", wherein the company's unique intellectual property strategies are discussed, and directions determined. At the same time, the corporate Intellectual Property Department supports each company's involvement from the viewpoint of a company-wide business strategy called "intellectual property portfolio optimization". Further, we are also actively forging links with outside specialists such as patent offices and law firms, etc., to suitably promote the acquisition, management, and rights usage of our intellectual property. In particular, as well as focusing on expanding business roll out globally and actively pursuing links with experts not only within Japan but also overseas, we are employing and training non-Japanese intellectual property personnel as staff to promote intellectual property activities locally.
Trademarks and Brands
The SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group has carved out the SEKISUI brand over its long history, and is expanding business activities not only within Japan but also overseas, aiming to thrive as a global business.
We designated the SEKISUI logo as our Group-wide symbol in 2009, and have since rolled it out uniformly both within Japan and overseas. Obtaining the rights to “SEKISUI” as our trademark in each of the regions we operate in, we are also promoting activities to protect and improve the value of our brand.
In addition, a variety of other logo marks representing business and product lineups such as “SEKISUI HEIM” and “S-LEC™” and “ESLONⓇ” are systematically used when rolling out businesses and launching products as a symbol of SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group’s technology and performance, so that customers can have peace of mind when choosing Group products.
We will continue to protect and improve the value of the SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group’s brand globally through branding strategies using the Group’s logo.
Initiatives for Managing and Protecting the SEKISUI Brand
We have established our Visual Expression Standards (Brand Book) in order to improve the value of the SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group’s brand and ensure that our employees use the SEKISUI brand correctly. We focus on training our employees on the SEKISUI brand so that they understand the brand and observe the established rules.
We are also reinforcing our monitoring and responses to infringements of our trademark rights, such as counterfeit products that damage our brand. In particular, we are continuing with our active countermeasures centered on Asia. Moving ahead, we will continue to respond firmly to counterfeit products.
Examples of Initiatives and Achievements
- Our Innovations Inspired by Nature Research Support Program is one of our nature conservation and social contribution activities. It has the potential to give rise to cutting-edge technologies using the principles of nature. Recently, we have been working on tying the results of this research to our Group’s businesses.
- Having brought in many cutting-edge technologies in the past and refined them into distinctive SEKISUI CHEMICAL technologies, we are working to create cutting-edge technologies not just through in-house development, but also through collaboration between industry, government, and academia. For example, the pipe rehabilitation SPR method, which was awarded the Okochi Memorial Prize for uniquely excellent research results in production engineering, was developed jointly by us, a Japanese sewage service company, and a Japanese construction company. In recent years, we have been pushing forward with our business strategy and adding technological capabilities necessary for achieving our targets through global mergers and acquisitions, as well as alliances with other companies.
- SEKISUI CHEMICAL Group has been promoting the creation of innovative environmental products using our high-performance film technologies developed over the years. In particular, our efforts have focused on energy materials and devices. Since 2012, we have worked on innovative and challenging developments under the support of the Advanced Technology Research Project for the Application and Commercial Use of Lithium-Ion Batteries driven by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).
- Working together with agencies such as the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, we conducted the world's first successful trial production of film dye-sensitized solar cells in a room temperature process using the aerosol deposition method (a high-speed ambient temperature coating process for ceramic materials; hereinafter called the “AD method”), without the previously required high-temperature firing. The project required expert use of AIST’s AD method technology and SEKISUI CHEMICAL’s own fine particle control technology, porous membrane structure control technology, and film surface control technology. It achieved high adhesion between the photoelectric conversion layers and film, along with excellent electron transport performance, to obtain the world's highest conversion efficiency of 8.0% for dye-sensitized solar cells on organic film. This allows dye-sensitized solar cells to be made using various film substrates. A wide variety of applications can be expected.
- PUXFLAME, a non-combustible polyurethane foam, was developed using the flame-retarding compound technology of our fire-resistant materials business. Normal rigid urethane foam burns very quickly when heated, but PUXFLAME blocks the bonding of oxygen and flammable gas using a special carbonized layer that is created when heated, instantly suppressing the spread of fire.
- In order for even plastics with high viscosity to be easily embedded with carbon fibers, we developed our own unique technology (fiber unraveling technology) to separate individual strands from bundled carbon fibers. In addition, by further developing our extrusion molding technology nurtured through pipes and films, we developed a composite continuous extrusion molding technology for long carbon fibers and thermoplastics. Besides being able to mold long and large sizes, we also improved productivity. Furthermore, it became possible to both increase strength and reduce weight at the same time through developing an atypical molding technology capable of continuously and simultaneously molding a special rib structure.
- At Smart Heim City Research Academy in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture, we are conducting an evaluation test for a virtual power plant linking home storage batteries with the cooperation of the residents and TEPCO Power Grid, Incorporated.
- SEKISUI CHEMICAL CO., LTD. and LanzaTech Inc. have developed the world’s first successful production technology that gasifies combustible waste accumulated at waste disposal facilities without any sorting, and converts this gas into ethanol using a microbial catalyst. Ethanol, which can be turned into the ethylene used to make plastic, can not only be used as an alternative to fossil fuels through waste recycling, but also as a means of contributing to reducing CO2 emissions.