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Pioneering safe, sustainable and high-quality cleaning solutions for the medical industry

Interview - March 11, 2024

First established in 1975, Clean Chemical Company is an industry leader with advanced product development capabilities and products that provide optimal solutions for its customers.

SHOZO YANO PRESIDENT OF CLEAN CHEMICAL CO., LTD.
SHOZO YANO | PRESIDENT OF CLEAN CHEMICAL CO., LTD.

Can you give us an overview of your company?

We, Clean Chemical Company, have been the leader in the industry of special chemical products for about 50 years since the company was founded in 1975. With headquarters and laboratories based in Osaka, we have been manufacturing and marketing special cleaning agents, disinfectants, supplies, and equipment used in different medical settings, including surgeries, laboratory tests, dialysis clinics, and dental offices. Building on our developed skills, we have been developing innovative products for laboratories and plants in the food, biotechnology, and medical industries.

Clean Chemical has developed specific products. At the same time, we are willing and prepared to offer solutions to our customer's immediate or potential needs so that they can smoothly clean different equipment and materials despite demanding cleaning conditions. We have advanced product development capabilities and created products that provide optimal solutions for our customers. Our excellent production capabilities have accommodated multi-type small-quantity production needs and created unique products.

Our product, Kinosan PA-400 peracetic acid detergents for dialysis equipment, is most demonstrative of our vigorous technology development capabilities. Sodium hypochlorite, which is often used for cleaning dialysis delivery systems for dialyzers, has a shortcoming of accelerating rusting. To overcome the said shortcoming, we turn to peracetic acid detergents, which are known to be less corrosive to metals, for alternatives. We focused on increasing its percentage in solutions. Generally, when the concentration of peracetic acid is higher in peracetic acid detergent, the concentration of hydrogen peroxide is also higher. As a result, the detergent is considered a deleterious substance, and many constraints are imposed on its use. On the other hand, if the concentration of hydrogen peroxide is lowered, the concentration of acetic acid has to be increased. Peracetic acid rapidly deteriorates over time, and then the detergent quality becomes unstable.

How can we meet the contradictory requirements of easy handling and stable quality? We fully mobilized our personnel skills and ingenuity toward the research and development mission. Finally, we discovered an optimal stabilizer and commercialized the long-awaited innovation, the Kinosan PA-400. Now, the Kinosan PA-400 has proved as an indispensable presence in cleaning dialyzers.

SCLEAN EM is a hemolytic agent containing a high-potency proteolytic enzyme. About thirty years ago, we took the lead in focusing on the relationship between the reaction rate of enzymes and temperature. After many years of effort, we developed a proteolytic enzyme containing detergents with higher cleaning functionality and resistance to enzyme deterioration by adjusting the concentration of the corrosion inhibitor.

Our detergents have made it possible to just immerse and effortlessly clean surgical instruments, which had to be individually brushed for cleaning in the past. We believe that the detergent is an excellent achievement of our tireless dedication to understanding the first-line work environment and developing ever more comfortable, safer, and more effective detergents.

We have developed and produced many high-quality products that fully address our customer's needs by leveraging the experience and skills of our personnel over more than 40 years. We will continue to provide valuable products to society. Responding to the blowing wind skillfully, a yacht navigates along the ocean. We, Clean Chemical Company, are something like a yacht. In addition to the support of the wind, our yacht is equipped with a powerful driving engine and can agilely move forward across the ocean.

Our powerful driving engine is a product of our technical staff and their excellent analytical and development capabilities. One in five employees is a scientist and the scientist troops quickly work together in response to any challenging need from customers to offer good solutions. In addition, what is more highly appreciated than our products is our commitment to quality and the environment. We have acquired certificates for the International Quality Assurance Standard ISO 9001 and the International Environmental Management Standard ISO 14001. We follow the strictest control requirements.

Creating something original and unique from scratch has been and will be our business philosophy. We will grow and become a company that will earn the confidence of our customers as a good business partner. 

 

Many believe that the Japanese industry is currently presented with a unique opportunity for international relevance due to supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, US-China decoupling, and a historically low Japanese Yen. Do you share this perspective, and in your opinion, what advantages do Japanese firms possess in the current macroeconomic environment?

Manufacturers with an international presence have thrived in the current scenario, unlike those operating domestically. The COVID-19 pandemic affected us because our primary users are medical facilities, focusing on COVID-19 patient care. Consequently, general surgeries and tests declined, impacting our product consumption and leading to a 10% decrease in total sales. However, the surge in demand for alcohol-based products and hand soaps counterbalanced the downturn in other areas.

Our strength lies in meeting our customers' diverse needs. We provide safe, high-quality products and services by employing advanced technologies in controlled environments. This commitment to quality is a reflection of the diligence and hospitality ingrained in Japanese culture. This dedication to quality echoes the detailed services offered by ryokan (Japanese traditional inns).


Takatsuki Core Center


Japan's aging population is projected to drop below 100 million by 2050, posing challenges such as a shortage in the labor force and a shrinking domestic market. How is your company adapting to this demographic shift? To what extent is your business exploring opportunities overseas to ensure sustained long-term success?

Japan's aging population doesn't necessarily equate to a decline in surgeries and sterilization-related business. On the employment front, we're actively reaching out through various channels to attract both young talents and experienced professionals. We're especially focused on recruiting women; in our engineering department, for instance, we currently have three out of twelve employees who are women. Our hiring policy is inclusive, embracing candidates regardless of age or gender, and fostering a diverse workforce.

In terms of nurturing our employees' skills and capabilities, we invest in resources to support their professional development. We provide additional training, educational opportunities, and involvement in diverse projects to encourage growth and skill-building.

When it comes to our international expansion, we're still in the process of exploring the best approaches to enter the overseas market.

 

Previous interview discussions have highlighted the significance of partnerships for successful international expansion. How integral are partnerships within your business model, particularly concerning accessing new markets internationally? Are you actively seeking partnerships abroad?

We can't halt the decline in population, much like how we can't predict the world in a hundred years. Similar to the cycles we experience with global warming, population fluctuations are inevitable. As the population changes, new challenges and solutions will emerge. While we can't foresee everything, the declining Japanese population is a reality. Hence, we're shifting our focus to the overseas market and training our staff for this expansion.

In developing customer products, our strategy involves complementing what our customers lack expertise in. This approach has earned us their trust. Our business thrives on a blend of technologies, enabling us to fulfill specific customer needs. Our approach isn't merely about exporting finished products overseas. It's crucial for us to enter local markets, engage with partners, and leverage our technologies to meet local demands. We aim to find partners who value our expertise, appreciate our support, and collaborate on product development.

 

Could you provide more details about integrating technologies with local partners, as previously mentioned? What specific unique technologies does your company offer that could be of interest to potential overseas partners?

Medical conferences worldwide focus on equipment and development crucial to healthcare, including cleaning agents and technologies. Attending these conferences is essential, given the breadth of the field. Despite the diversity, we actively participate, sending our R&D team to gain insights and refine their expertise. These challenges serve as springboards for our new product development.

Our uniqueness lies in being a small company with around 50 employees. Rather than expanding, we prioritize maintaining this size to stand out. In blending technology, we deal with a variety of raw materials, aiming to create the optimal mix based on different targets. Variations in water quality and contaminants in different countries guide our selection of raw material blends tailored to specific local variables.

Considering detergents, there exist tens of thousands of raw materials. Addressing specific challenges requires us to meticulously determine the best blend of these raw materials, a skill we've honed over our about 50-year journey in blending technology.

 

Which industry do you believe holds the most growth potential for your company? Additionally, are there any new fields or industries where you aim to introduce your products in the future?

At present, 75% of our total revenue stems from the medical sector. We've just completed our new building, the “Core Center”, equipped with production facilities and various functions. This building boasts a prime location, just a minute from the highway exit. Operations are slated to commence around late May or June, with a primary focus on manufacturing. Currently, our production is outsourced, but this new building will allow us to centralize production, boosting overall productivity, especially for high-mix low-volume orders.

We're also amplifying our online capabilities to facilitate better connections with distributors and agents. The environmental impact of single-use medical devices has garnered global attention. In the US and European countries, legal frameworks support the reuse of single-use medical devices, a system newly established in Japan. This change encourages us to explore ways to remanufacture and reuse single-use medical devices.

Given that single-use medical devices are primarily resin-based, we're developing detergents specifically formulated to be non-reactive with resin. Our focus is on sourcing sustainable materials for these detergents. With the imminent completion of our new production facility, we foresee streamlined development processes for these innovative products.


Laboratory


Your focus on eco-friendly and non-reactive product development is aimed at ensuring sanitary conditions, particularly crucial in the medical field. However, chemical-based cleaning solutions pose risks, potentially leading to chronic respiratory issues and allergic reactions, especially in medical contexts. How does your company ensure the provision of the safest cleaning agents to protect people's lives and health?

Our cleaning agents are meticulously designed and manufactured to be utilized under supervision or by individuals well-versed in their handling. We will refrain from producing anything intended for ingestion. Safety is non-negotiable in our approach, and I constantly remind our engineering team to prioritize it above all else.

We maintain a dedicated individual responsible for monitoring the chemical agents within our department. Our material selection process is stringent to avoid any adverse environmental impact. Once materials are chosen, our focus shifts to development. We prioritize not just the cleaning efficacy but also the rinsing aspect to ensure zero residue of harmful chemicals.

In our formulations, we take into account specific pollutants, like proteins, that might adversely affect patients. These considerations are integral in our development of cleaning agents.

 

Beyond cleaning agents for medical equipment, your company provides various services, including analyzing target contaminants and evaluating cleaning properties to develop safe, eco-friendly products. As the first company in Japan to offer these evaluation methods for cleaning medical devices, could you outline the range of services you provide and highlight what sets you apart from your competitors?

Our engineers are always on standby, equipped with emergency phones for swift response in case of unforeseen accidents. Some incidents can be critical, especially involving chemical exposure to the eyes. While we provide comprehensive usage instructions, including wearing protective eyewear, there are instances where users neglect these precautions, resulting in self-inflicted injuries.

Our strategy revolves around an end-to-end total solution, aiming for partnerships with major medical product manufacturers to provide technologies or services as an OEM maker. Our focus is not on exporting finished products to overseas markets but rather on establishing OEM collaborations. This goal may take up to five years to fully materialize, although some of our OEM products are already available internationally.

In terms of analysis and evaluation services, we have obtained the ISO/IEC 17025:2017 laboratory accreditation standard from Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation, Inc. (Accreditation No.: 96536). The scope of accreditation is the analysis of residual protein in cleaned medical instruments, and we believe it contributes to quality control in medical facilities and the cleaning validation of medical devices for medical device manufacturers. While we haven't exported these overseas yet, we believe exploring opportunities  is a priority, and we aim to find ways for market entry. Currently, we're in the evaluation phase, meticulously considering our options.

To stay abreast of overseas market trends, we actively participate in international conferences such as WFHSS (World Federation For Hospital Sterilization Sciences) 2023 held in Brussels, Belgium. Engaging with specialists at such events helps us gauge market dynamics and expand our network, ensuring we have the latest insights and connections with researchers

 

As you pursue international expansion, which regions do you envision for the future export or expansion of your products?

Our primary focus is on the Asia Pacific region. To facilitate our expansion efforts, our employees are actively studying import and export processes and practicing English conversation.

 

As your company marks its half century anniversary, what aspirations and objectives do you hold for the company's future, particularly in this and the next year as you approach your 50th anniversary?

I'm currently 84 years old, but I'm still driven by many goals and dreams.  My mission is to pass them on to my successor and carry them forward to the next generation.

My life's journey began with hardships. Raised by my stepmother from the age of five, I lost my father at 14, and my early years were challenging, making focusing on my studies difficult. By 15, I started working, moving across cities and eventually founding this company at 33. Over the past 50 years, we've weathered five major financial crises, learning invaluable lessons in resilience and understanding societal workings. I was determined to prevent bankruptcy reflecting on our past experiences.

Fifteen years ago, sensing our company's stability, we prioritized creating a conducive work environment. Today, our company is in the era of our third generation, a talented and hardworking team. Our business philosophy is nearing fulfillment, especially in cultivating an ideal work environment and motivating our employees.

Our focus remains on high-mix, low-volume production, even as we set our sights on international expansion. We're committed to maintaining our identity as a small company with unique technologies and products.

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