Site:               Ministry of International Trade & Industry (MITI)
                    1-3-1 Kasumigaseki
                    Chiyoda-ku
                    Tokyo 100, Japan

Date Visited:       January 8, 1996

WTEC Attendees:     G. Holdridge (report author), D. Apelian, D. Bertram, 
                    H.W. Hayden, M.C. Flemings, P.H. Mikkola, T.S. Piwonka, 
                    C. Uyehara, M. Nozaki (interpreter)

Host:               Masanori Hirota, Deputy Director, 
                      Machine Parts & Industries Division

BACKGROUND

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) has traditionally played a significant role in formulating trade and technology policy in Japan. Both through government laboratories (e.g., the Electro-Technical and Mechanical Engineering Laboratories in Tsukuba) and contracts with industry associations and individual companies, MITI has provided both direct and indirect support for applications-oriented research and development in Japan. MITI programs such as the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Project of the 1970s have been credited with helping establish Japan as a world superpower in key high technology industries. This WTEC panel visited MITI to learn about its current role in promoting the development of Japanese casting technology and industry.

CASTING-RELATED ACTIVITIES

Mr. Hirota described a number of activities of the Machine Parts and Industries Division that are directed towards this industry. The division has a small staff, a total of nine professionals, including the division director and three deputy directors. This staff has responsibility for a broad spectrum of industries and technologies, within which casting is only a small portion. Mr. Hirota indicated that MITI's casting-related activities fall into three categories: cooperation with industry associations, two specific R&D initiatives, and indirect support for modernization efforts of the pig iron casting industry. In addition, the division conducts public relations activities to increase public awareness of the importance of its areas of responsibility. For example, November 1995 was declared "material processing month." Special activities during that month included a symposium on materials processing.

Industry Associations

Within the jurisdiction of the Machine Parts and Industries Division, MITI is working with approximately 50 industry and technology associations. Two of these are in the casting field.

Mr. Hirota provided us with a one page handout describing two relevant industry associations: the Japanese Association of Casting Technology (JACT) and the Steel Casting and Forgings Association of Japan (JSCFA). MITI provides direct funding to neither of these organizations but "backs them up" them by conducting public relations to promote their activities. Mr. Hirota emphasized that there is no government-wide policy in Japan coordinating industrial or technology development in casting and that the industry associations he described are entirely private.

JACT

JACT was founded in 1992 with the objectives of coordinating technology development activities within the large, diverse Japanese casting industry and gathering and disseminating information on technology developments. These functions are carried out largely through conferences. JACT also awards citations and cash prizes for the development of especially promising new ideas. It currently has 434 member companies; another 36 are supporting members. These member companies include casting machine manufacturers, materials suppliers, and mold manufacturers. The chairman of JACT at the time of the WTEC visit was the chief executive officer of Kin Mon Manufacturing.

JSCFA

This association was formed in 1972 from the union of two previous organizations (for casting and forging, respectively), both of which dated to 1947. It plays roles in promoting intra-industry discussion of management and business issues as well as technology. It gathers and publishes statistics on the industry and conducts surveys, particularly with reference to environmental issues. It currently has 62 regular members and 38 supporting members. Mr. Hirota stated that membership in JSCFA is strictly voluntary and that only companies that agree with its philosophy are members; this statement could be taken to imply that a significant number of Japanese casting companies do not belong.

Mr. Hirota indicated that, for both associations, regular members contribute more money and staff time than do supporting members and consequently have a stronger voice in policymaking within these organizations. JACT is focused on technology information gathering and dissemination, whereas JSCFA has broader interests in management and labor issues as well as technology. For example, JSCFA conducts surveys on issues facing the industry (e.g., environmental problems) and gathers and disseminates production and employment statistics.

Other Relevant Organizations

In addition to the two organizations described in the handout, Mr. Hirota mentioned one other important organization working in the casting field in Japan: the Materials Process Technology Center. Known in Japanese as the Sokeizai Center, this is one of several zaidanhojin or private, independent organizations operating under a government charter to dispense R&D funding and information and coordinate pre-competitive R&D within industry. The Sokeizai Center's scope is larger than casting only, including forging and molding as well. During subsequent site visits, the WTEC team's hosts in both industry and academia mentioned the Sokeizai Center frequently as a key organization for networking and information exchange within the casting community in Japan.

Mr. Hirota and the other hosts also described other relevant organizations during this visit to Japan. These include the Japan Cast Iron Foundry Association, the Japan Research and Development Center for Metals (see the Nagoya University site report), and the Nagoya Supermetal Center.

R&D Programs

Mr. Hirota described two specific R&D projects currently underway: 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 in turn assembles a project team from industry and universities. Actual research takes place in industry or university labs, as appropriate to the project.

Super Metal Project

This is a new program aimed at the development of metal materials with controlled microstructure at the molecular level. Its objective is the development of materials that are both stronger and lighter than currently possible. According to the 1995 MITI/ISTF brochure, the fiscal year (FY) 1995 budget (ending March 31, 1996) for this project is ¥35 million ($350,000 at the ¥100/$ exchange rate that was typical at the time of this WTEC visit). FY 1996 funding has been reported as ¥34 million (GMD Tokyo: http://www.gmd.de/Japan/). Future year funding is subject to negotiation on a year-to-year basis with the Ministry of Finance (MOF), depending on the outcome of this early phase. Mr. Hirota indicated that this program does not involve the development of metal composites or rapid solidification (glassy) metals.

Industrial Furnace Project

This program is aimed at the development of a new type of industrial furnace that could be used for heating, melting, and thermal processing of materials. The goals are 30% reduction in energy consumption, as well as reduced emissions, compared to current furnaces used for these purposes. The FY 1995 budget was ¥1.3 billion (about $13 million). FY 1996 funding was expected to continue at roughly the same level. [In fact, NSF/Tokyo reported to WTEC staff recently that the FY 1997 budget for this was raised to ¥1.8 billion.] The project is expected to continue through FY 1999. The fuel for this new furnace will be heavy oil.

Mr. Hirota indicated that there are no other casting-related R&D projects funded out of his division currently. A project that was aimed at developing technology to address labor problems in the casting industry was completed two years ago. During subsequent site visits, the WTEC team learned of a completed MITI project to develop a hot chamber die casting machine with ceramic inserts (see Kyocera site report, p. 101) and another apparently MITI-coordinated project on MHD for steel casting (see Nagoya University site report, p. 110) -- most likely funded out of a different division of MITI.

Pig Iron Project

Mr. Hirota made passing mention of a five year project now underway to encourage the modernization of and improve the business structure of the pig iron industry in Japan. MITI contributes no funds to this project, providing only anti-trust clearance for small firms in the industry to collaborate. When asked why MITI is focusing on the modernization of the pig iron industry when demand in key high technology industries is moving towards lighter metals, Mr. Hirota replied that cost is the priority in applications such as manhole covers, and thus heavy metals are more suitable. There may also be a concern with the trend in some Japanese companies to move foundry operations overseas to cut costs.

Industry R&D Salaries in MITI-Funded Projects

The WTEC team asked Mr. Hirota if industry or the government is responsible for paying the salaries of industry researchers working on MITI-funded R&D projects. He answered that in principle MITI pays these salaries. In practice, however, government funding often proves insufficient, in which case companies pay the difference. This answer only serves to underscore the difficulties in comparing U.S. and Japanese government R&D funding levels.

SUMMARY

It was clear from this visit, as well as subsequent visits the WTEC team made at Japanese companies, that MITI plays a relatively modest role in the development of Japanese casting technology and industry. Mr. Hirota made very clear his position that neither MITI nor any other Japanese government agency is engaged in determining the future course of the Japanese casting industry. Budgetary constraints from the MOF, especially during the current recession in Japan, may be playing a role in limiting MITI's ability to fund new R&D projects. During the week of the WTEC visit The Japan Times (Jan. 14, 1996, p. 1, col. 8) reported that total government revenue for FY 1996 was expected to be ¥51.35 trillion, a decline 4.4 percent from FY 1995. The historical peak was ¥60.11 trillion in FY 1990.

However, this and other MITI divisions do fund some important R&D at the cutting edge of casting and other materials technologies, and MITI does exercise some influence in industry. It is also too early to gauge the impact on MITI's programs of major increases in Japanese government R&D funding proposed for FY 1996.


Published: March 1997; WTEC Hyper-Librarian