Since it was founded back in 1957, screen ink manufacturer Jujo Chemical has been offering innovative products to its customers across various industries including electronic devices, medical care, cosmetics and fashion.
Since the end of World War II, Japan has gathered a very famous reputation for its detailed-oriented manufacturing and the kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement is known throughout the world. This is none more so evident than in the ink and printing industry where Japan holds a leadership position. As a company that specializes in inks and coating agents, can you give us your take as to why you think Japanese firms are so successful in these niche B2B fields?
I believe that this is down to our capabilities to create high-quality products continuously and stably. This is a Japanese characteristic. Japanese people are quite diligent, so we abide by the rules that are set. This is our strength as Japanese people and it allows us to create something of high-quality, and then provide it continuously. However, if we continue to produce locally in Japan, the costs are going to be high. Therefore, Japanese companies have been transferring their monozukuri overseas, which allows us to create products overseas and sell them in the overseas markets. By doing so we can lessen our costs. Transferring our strengths overseas also allows for us to leverage lower labor costs. Major Japanese companies are good at doing this.
Japan’s declining population is currently a big issue for all Japanese firms. Not only is it an aging population, but the fertility rate is 1.37. By 2060, it is predicted that there is going to be less than 100 million people living in Japan. In the case of your firm, what steps are you taking to cope with these population challenges?
What you have said is right. The Japanese population is going to keep on decreasing, and I think that Elon Musk was talking about Japan becoming extinct. That was saying too much, however, I do agree with the concept that the shrinking population will weaken our national capabilities. Our company, Jujo Chemical, is not actually a big company. We hire four or five people per year, so we do not carry out mass recruiting. Therefore, we are not feeling that there is a huge crisis when it comes to recruitment, due to the shrinking population. However, it is of course important to hire the best talent. Right now, we are concentrating on enhancing the efficiency of our production, and the automation of our plant. That is what we are focused on.
There is one more thing I would like to add. Because the Japanese population is going to shrink, the purchasing capability of the nation and the domestic demand is going to shrink in parallel. In the future, we are going to have production hubs overseas, which will mean that we focus more and more on the overseas market. Japan will be the development location, whereas the production will be done overseas. I foresee this trend intensifying in the future.
Last year at the COP26, a rulebook was finalized on how countries will be held accountable for delivering on climate action. Mr. Suga, the former prime minister of Japan, also said that Japan must drop its carbon emission levels by 46% by the year 2030. In the case of Jujo Chemical, how are you adapting your production process to be more carbon friendly?
Carbon neutrality is being requested strongly by the market and our clients right now and this trend is intensifying. Since 2021, 100% of the electricity used at our plants comes from renewable energy through hydro-electric generation. This accounts for more than 90% of the total electricity that we use as a firm. Therefore, we were able to greatly reduce our CO2 emissions.
The next step for us is to develop new products that do not emit CO2. Examples of this would be UV inks and water-based inks. We are also looking forward to making the electricity used at our plants more energy-efficient, as well as reducing the actual overall amount of electricity that we use.
Could you highlight some of the products that are synonymous with Jujo Chemical?
There are quite a lot of competitors in the screen ink market. I believe that our strength is in our UV ink, which is of the highest quality. This has led to us being highly valued by our customers, and a lot of our sales comes from our UV inks. Our functionality ink, such as the ink used for conductivity and insulation also have a very high reputation.
When it comes to ink technology, we know that inkjet-based printing is replacing older forms such as toner or offset. Within inkjet printing, there are many different variations, and they are related to the curing method i.e., how the ink dries. Of course, UV inks are very fast to cure, as they dry very quickly. There are other types such as the electron beam form (EB) which is much slower but ideal for food packaging applications. In the case of your company, which types of technology are you focusing on? Are you looking to diversify EB inks for different applications?
As of now, when it comes to inkjet-based inks and EB inks, we are not developing or manufacturing them at Jujo. Inkjet is a competitor for screen printing, and we view its replacement of screen printing as a threat for us. As for EB, yes, for some food packaging purposes it is being utilized, but the initial investment for the printer is very high, and as a result, we see that EB is not really spreading quickly in the industry. Therefore, right now, we are not considering going into the EB area.
We know there are many applications for your inks, for example, your ink is applied to automotive instrument panels. When we look at the automotive industry, we see that it is undergoing huge changes now. The transition to electric vehicles (EV) is taking place at a very quick pace. As the automotive industry transitions, what opportunities and new applications do you see for your inks in EV vehicles?
Yes, automobiles are changing rapidly with the transition to EVs and autonomous driving and this is creating a huge impact on our company. On the negative side, there is the speed meter which used to be printed, however, now they are being replaced by liquid crystal displays. Autonomous cars may not need the speed meter, there is also the possibility that the speed meter itself might not exist anymore. These are certainly negative aspects for us.
That being said, as a company we want to challenge ourselves when it comes to these new trends in the automobile industry. Right now, in our R&D department, automobiles are a big theme. For example, in the car there are electrical wiring harnesses which are quite heavy and when a vehicle becomes electric it becomes even heavier because of that. How to make the harnesses lighter is a huge issue that is going on right now. We are considering whether it is possible to substitute the harnesses via printing and develop an ink with higher conductivity to tackle this area. Also, of course, electric vehicles require a battery. On the battery, there must be lamination material which is made by laminating aluminum film and plastic films. We are looking to develop that lamination material, and we have installed the machine for coating and laminating. This is a big theme that our R&D department is working on right now.
Could you talk to us about your R&D strategy, and how you develop your products? What are some of the new releases that you would like to share with our readers?
The screen printing market, which we are in, is shrinking. So, we concentrate our efforts on development aimed at inventing new products. We are eager to make innovations. We have two important themes in our R&D. I spoke earlier about the first one, which is automobiles. Specifically, they are conductive inks as substitutes for wire harnesses and laminate materials for EV batteries. The second theme is our response towards the environment. We believe that these two themes require drastic changes, and this of course poses challenges. When it comes to the environment, we need to come up with new environmentally friendly products. These may be water-based products, or products that use biomaterial. We are also developing conductive layers with our conductive inks for Perovskite solar cells which will spread in the near future. This is the second pillar of our R&D strategy.
To do so, are you looking for partnerships, perhaps with overseas companies, or even academia overseas in Europe or the US, who could help you to use new biomaterials, or water-based materials to create more environmentally friendly products?
Yes, we are considering such partnerships. Right now, we do not have a deep partnership with another company, but if such a chance presents itself, we would be open to considering that. The area that we are talking about is very challenging, and very difficult developments are required. It will be extremely difficult for one company to do alone. If we are able to partner with various companies, the development speed will enhance, and the quality will enhance as well. Therefore, we are open to partnerships going forward.
Which countries or regions will you be focusing on for your midterm strategy to continue your growth?
When we consider the current population of the region or the countries, and the future growth of these populations and markets, our target is China and Southeast Asia. As you have mentioned, we already have locations in Taiwan, Thailand, China and India, and they will be our future concentration points.
Imagine that we come back on the very last day of your presidency and interview you all over again. What dreams and goals would you like to have achieved for the company by then, what would you like to tell us about in that interview?
It is difficult to talk in terms of figures, but I do want this company to be a place where our employees feel motivated and where they set targets for themselves and work in a lively manner. That is the type of working environment that I want to be established. Also, when it comes to sales, of course, the more the better. I think that sales are an index that shows the contributions from the customers or the society. Because, I think the more customers gladly purchase our products, the better we can contribute to society. My wish is that the customers use our products and we achieve social contribution.
When it comes to our overseas operations, one characteristic of our overseas business is that in our overseas plants, there are no Japanese people working there. This has been the case even before the Covid situation. At our localized overseas plants, the person in the highest position is of the nationality of the country in which the plant is located in and they can speak Japanese very well. For example, our top person in Aguascalientes is from Mexico, but he can also speak the Kansai dialect.
I believe the best way for the future is to localize, as by doing so, we will be able to serve our local customers and support them in their local ways of thinking and procedure. This will allow us to maximize our leverage of the local employees, and to provide the best service to the local customers, so I want to continue to do this in the future.