CASE STUDIES

In this section we briefly touch on aspects of product development through examples gleaned from the team's visits. Wherever possible, the structure of the company/institution under consideration is highlighted and emphasis paid on aspects that are different about the approach under consideration. It is not possible to present a detailed picture of new product development methods and approaches as used by the Japanese within the confines of a few pages, and it is hoped that the few examples will give the reader a glimpse of the varied activities undertaken to ensure success of the product realization process.

Tonen Corporation

Most companies develop products within certain set bounds in terms of application areas. We briefly consider in the context of this chapter the background and development of an advanced material form -- Tow Sheet -- by Tonen Corporation, as an example of a company developing a market beyond its specific area of past activity. This example is used here for a number of reasons:

It is perhaps of interest to note that Tonen, unlike other Japanese companies, is actually a mix between a traditional Japanese held company and a multinational joint venture between Esso Eastern Incorporated, Tonen Corporation, and Mobil Petroleum Co., Inc. Figure 7.21 gives a schematic of the outline of the company, and Tables 7.6 and 7.7 give brief details of the major shareholders as the major sources of financing, as reported in the 1991 annual report.


Figure 7.21. Organizational Structure of Tonen Corporation

Table 7.6
Major Shareholders in Tonen Corporation

Table 7.7
Major Sources of Financing

It is interesting to note that the major business of the company is in the import, production, and sale of petroleum and petroleum products, including gasoline, naptha, kerosene, gas oil, heavy fuel oil, lubricants, LPG, paraffin, asphalt, sulphur, natural gas, and carbon fiber. The joint venture was facilitated to assure the ready import of crude oil from its multinational partners, in itself an example of a strategy to assure product development. In the context of this chapter, however, we will focus on the development of a new business area for the company -- that of advanced materials for infrastructure rehabilitation.

Tonen had a preexisting materials capability in production of liquid crystalline petroleum pitch based carbon fiber. Based on work conducted by its rival Mitsubishi Kasei and Ohbayashi Corporation in the area of seismic retrofit of structures through the use of carbon prepreg, it was determined that the company might be able to diversify into a new market if it could develop a form of prepreg that would allow ease of drapability and use in the field. Based on the identification of the drawbacks of the existing product and process, Tonen engineers and scientists developed a modified material form known as "Tow Sheet."

In the initial form, it consists of 10-micron diameter filaments of carbon with a tensile strength of 3300 MPa (470 ksi), and a tensile modulus of 700 GPa (100 Msi) applied on the top of a thin layer of scrim (Figure 7.22). The "FORCA Tow Sheet" is thin and applied like wallpaper to structures, and has been shown to be extremely amenable to application to a wide variety of structures without having to rely on expensive equipment. Tow Sheet has since been improved through a modification in form, and is now available in glass, aramid and a variety of carbon grades. This case emphasizes the identification of a pre- existing materials capability and that of the needs related to a new market, which lead to the development of a new material form -- a case of market development needs leading to the development of a new product.


Figure 7.22. Schematic of Tow Sheet

Mizuno Corporation

In another case study we briefly consider the overall development strategy used by Mizuno Corporation. Mizuno is a world leader in the area of sports equipment, sportswear, and other items related to sports, including, recently, the development of sports facilities. The company was started in 1906 and incorporated in 1923. Unlike other powerhouses in Japan, Mizuno is an independent company, not directly linked to any keiretsu (in itself a reason to comment on its product and market development strategies). It currently has 4,080 employees and a paid up capital of over 26 billion. Mizuno has 17 production facilities around the world with 12 factories in Japan and five abroad, including one in Norcross, Georgia which primarily services the golf products area. The company uses an integrated information system to aid in both production and strategic planning, and a schematic of the setup is shown in Figure 7.23.


Figure 7.23. Total Information Control as Espoused by Mizuno -- From Management to Cost, Process and Stock Control

In order to stay competitive in the sports equipment arena, Mizuno picks new products by searching for specific applications where high performance composites would give increased benefits and enable product forms not possible with traditional materials. One case in point is the development of composite large head tennis rackets not possible with wood or metal due to stiffness and weight constraints. Mizuno is also a major player in the carbon fiber composite golf club market. In recent years they have collaborated with Pininfarina (Italy) on full scale aerodynamic studies to improve head speed, such as in the development of the optimized ZP-1 club. As part of its development strategy, Mizuno uses automated integrated production lines with state-of-the-art computer integrated manufacturing facilities to meet the needs for small-lot production. This allows them to develop new products cost-competitively using a variety of different processing methods as well as in a number of simultaneous variations. Product development is followed by market insertion through the use of high profile "advisory staff" that includes athletes such as Sandy Lyle (golf), Ivan Lendl and Mary Joe Fernandez (tennis), and Franck Piccard (skiing). Golf products (34.3% of sales in 1992, and a major user of composites) are promoted through the use of travelling golf schools.

Mitsui Mining Company Ltd

Although a number of carbon fiber suppliers have been very active in the development of short fiber forms for use as reinforcement in concrete, there still exist the two basic problems associated with its widespread use: (1) cost, and (2) development of adhesion between the fiber and the slurry. The promise of a large potential market served as the impetus for Mitsui Mining Company Ltd. to develop a new "fuzzy" fiber form that is claimed to be both cheaper and to have a strong affinity for concrete slurry. The fiber has a diameter of 16-20 microns, a density of 0.06 lbs/in(3) (1.6 gms/cm(3)), and a tensile strength and modulus of 113-128 ksi and 4.7-5.4 Msi, respectively. The cost reduction and hydrophilic surface are obtained simultaneously through the use of a lower cost precursor, low cost solvent (water), and a less intensive pyrolysis. The actual secret, however, would seem to be in the realization that the civil engineering market had different requirements from the traditional aerospace/automotive markets for reinforcement in the form of short fibers. This was followed by the quick development of a process suited to the requirements (many of which would cause the fiber to probably not qualify for use in aerospace applications). The development of what has been largely touted as a "new material" is actually a lower quality form of a pre-existing form, but one modified for the specific needs of an application.

Sumitomo Precision Products Co. Ltd.

This was a rare case of a joint project between a university research group (Kyoto Institute of Technology) and a company, aimed at the development of a new product. Through the previous development of a variety of products, Sumitomo had identified the joining of composite tubes and profiles as a major problem. Existing connections were based on steel design, highly unsuitable for use with advanced composites. Driven by the need for innovative solutions to stop failure of the more effective composite structures at joints, the team used an integrated materials, configuration, and processing approach to develop braided connections. These were developed through extensive simulation and experimentation and are now available as hybrid (carbon-glass) structures, allowing the connection of multiple members. Again, this case study emphasizes the identification of a specific niche need, followed by the rapid development (through extensive experimentation at a leading university laboratory) of an innovative solution, which was used to improve the company's own products.

Yamaha Motor Co.

Almost all new product development by established companies is conducted in the broad area of technology (or market sector), in which the company has a pre- existing stake. In this section we briefly discuss a case where this did not hold true. Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. is a comprehensive manufacturer of products ranging from sports and leisure goods to industrial equipment. Its mainstays, despite considerable diversification in recent years, remain motorcycles (45.8% of sales), marine products (20%), and power products (multipurpose engines, generators, outboard motors -- 16.7%). However, the company is in constant pursuit of new markets and business opportunities leading to the development of "new and original quality products that are at least one step ahead of the times." Product insertion in the traditional sense is done through publicity generated by participation and victory in high profile sporting events, such as Grand Prix automobile racing, motorcycle championships, Americas Cup (sailing), and events such as the solar powered and human powered boat races, in much the same way U.S. firms do. In one case however, Mr. Horiuchi, Director and Senior General Manager of the Marine Division, and his team identified the need for a method of applying pesticides to small fields in a rapid manner, without human intervention (for reasons of health). Once the need for a new product was identified, the team developed a concept through combined IR&D and government funding, in an area in which Yamaha as a whole had very little experience, and the division in question had none. It was determined that a small remote controlled helicopter would be the most efficient solution, and one was developed and transitioned into a production line item (albeit small) in less than six months. The R-50 helicopter has a fuselage of 2655 mm in length, and a main rotor of 3070 mm in diameter powered by a 98 cc. engine. In order to keep weight to a minimum and allow a sufficient payload capacity for pesticides, the blades and body enclosure were fabricated out of composites using procedures borrowed from their boat-building yards (total weight of helicopter = 67 kg.). The helicopter is now commercially marketed and is an example of new product development for a niche market. Two aspects stand out in this case study:

Toray Industries

In order to secure a long-term market for its graphite fiber business, Toray worked through the hiring of Boeing veteran Malcolm Katsumoto to secure its business on the Boeing 777. This was seen as a spectacular success in prepreg, as Boeing opted for a toughened Toray system for the tail and floor beam (both primary structures) on the 777 aircraft. In order to keep the market and its edge over other rivals, Toray put up a 4.5 million square foot prepreg plant in Seattle. The prepreg contains Toray's 3900-2 epoxy with uniformly dispersed thermoplastic microparticles and Toray's T800H PAN-based carbon fiber. This case highlights two points:

New products are driven to become realities through concentrated efforts using existing structures, but while also striving to develop new materials, equipment, designs, and skills to optimize the entire development. It is emphasized that most Japanese teams consider that integration of different facets leads to larger gains at the systems level and strive towards that goal, rather than towards narrow, field- and level-specific goals. This may very well be an attribute of the different management structures prevalent in the companies scrutinized.


Published: April 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian