MITI AND ITS PERCEIVED ROLE

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) was established in May 1949 and has focused on the development of the Japanese economy and industry. It is in charge of the administration of affairs related to foreign trade, industries, information, advanced technologies, environmental issues, energy, and other such issues. With an annual budget of over 2,699 billion, MITI's budget accounts for about 1.1% of the Japanese government's total general budget. Of special interest to this study is the role played by the Agency for Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), which is charged with planning comprehensive measures concerning scientific technology in the manufacturing and mining industries, conducting research and development, encouraging technological development in the private sector, and instituting and promoting the wider use of industrial standards. It is this agency that is responsible for the development of basic technology and for planning for the future.

In a recent development, MITI and AIST plan to combine all offices responsible for managing research projects open to international participation into a single administrative entity that would be organized into eight divisions:

  1. New Materials
  2. Bio-Technology
  3. Electronics, Information Processing, and Communication
  4. Machine Technology
  5. Aerospace
  6. Medical and Welfare
  7. Human, Life, and Society
  8. Natural Resources

As part of this process 55 research themes have been identified, which include the following related to composites under the specific groups:

New Materials

Biotechnology

Machine Technology

Aerospace

Fiscal year 1993 research projects have been selected and categorized from among these themes.

In recent years it has been suggested in the West that a significant amount of credit for the amazing progress made by Japanese firms is due to MITI-supported initiatives. MITI does plan and initiate large, long-term projects that integrate leading companies (as was done with the major "heavy industries" companies and NAL in the area of composites). Most projects have a focused vision with technology development and dissemination as key and critical aspects. It should be noted that there is very little involvement of small companies through set- asides in these projects, and recently there has been a major push to increase the participation of international companies and institutes. This is seen as a means to create and capture new markets through the complete participation of the end customer in the development stages itself (such as through the participation of companies such as Boeing and DuPont). Although it is often presumed that the amount of funding generated by MITI for such projects is high, companies visited by the team were quick to point out that it basically served as a catalyst for IR&D funding and for the creation of teams for pre-competitive technology development. The companies often put in much more money than MITI's initial contribution, which essentially serves as a start up for long-term projects focused on critical technologies. Irrespective of this, the important role played by MITI in the emergence of Japanese companies as world leaders should not be understated.

It may be of interest here to report on the results of a MITI organized panel that was charged with listing areas other than their own from which they expected major new advances. Table 7.5 summarizes the results for seven fields in the short term (0-5 years) and long term (5-10 years).

According to the scores and percentages, the electronics area was thought to hold the most promise in the short term, followed by materials. Although the government- supported projects in the areas of aerospace and energy had produced a significant number of breakthroughs in new materials, it was held that the development of materials was now expected to be in direct response to specific technical needs, rather than as a result of a larger project. Over the long term, however, the expectations for materials were significantly higher than for the other fields, reflecting the widely held belief in Japan that new breakthroughs in areas would be prompted by advances in the materials area. This may be one reason why there is still a considerably increasing investment in composites R&D, even after the global defense markets have shrunk. However, it should be noted that Japanese scientists do not expect these composites to be the same as those developed earlier. The current emphasis is on "fourth-generation" materials, i.e. those which are designed by controlling the behavior of atoms and electrons, and which provide carefully tailored functional gradients.

Table 7.5
Expectations of Advances


Published: April 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian