MITI has traditionally played a significant role in formulating trade and technology policy in Japan. Through government laboratories and contracts with industrial associations and individual companies, MITI has provided direct and indirect support for applications-oriented R&D in Japan.
The entire WTEC team met with Mr. Masanori Hirota, deputy director of the Machine Parts and Industries Division. This division has responsibilities for a broad spectrum of industries and technologies of which casting is a small portion. Mr. Hirota described two specific R&D projects sponsored by his division, one aimed at the development of "super metals" and the other on industrial furnace technology. Both are being managed by the New Energy Development Organization (NEDO), a quasi-governmental organization that carries out a number of other MITI programs. NEDO assembles project teams from industry and universities. Actual research takes place in industry or university labs as appropriate to the project.
This new program is aimed at developing metal materials with controlled microstructures at the molecular level. The objective is to develop materials that are both stronger and lighter than currently available. The fiscal year (FY) 1995 (ending March 31, 1996) budget for the project was ¥35 million -- $350,000 at ¥100/$ (MITI 1995). FY 1996 funding was expected at roughly the same level. Future year funding is subject to negotiations on a year-to-year basis with the Ministry of Finance (MOF), depending on the outcome of the early phase. The effort focuses on intermetallic compounds and on amorphous materials. The program is being carried out at the National Industrial Research Institute of Nagoya, a site which was not visited by the WTEC team.
This project is aimed at developing improved industrial furnaces that could be used for heating, melting, and thermal processing of materials. The goals are reduced emissions and a 30% reduction in energy consumption compared to current furnaces used for these processes. The effort is directed at furnaces fueled with heavy oil. Mr. Hirota indicated that the FY 1995 budget was ¥1.3 billion (~$13 million). Subject to negotiation with MOF, FY 1996 funding was expected to continue at the same level. The FY 1997 budget is ¥1.8 billion (NSF/Tokyo 1997). The project is expected to continue through FY 1999.
The WTEC team learned of another major program sponsored by MITI through the Japanese Research and Development Center for Metals (JRDCM) that is being conducted at the University of Nagoya. The program is directed at the use of MHD for casting continuous ingots of steel using a soft contact steel casting process. The program, which started in FY 1995, has a budget of $24 million over six years. Six Japanese steel companies and Asea Brown Bovari (ABB) are involved in the effort. A French company may also join the program. The JRDCM is headquartered in Tokyo and is an association of Japanese metal companies cooperating on precompetitive R&D. Its director is a former vice president of Nippon Steel.