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Changing R&D and the Business Model from Osaka University Collaborative Research Centers

Developing New Open Innovation

Collaborative research between Kaneka and Osaka University began in April 2008. In order to strengthen collaborative research in environment and energy, a field in which Kaneka has placed strategic emphasis, "Kaneka Energy Solution Collaborative Research" was established within Osaka University. Since then, taking advantage of the newly established "Collaborative Research Center" system, a new structure of open innovation was formulated, and the Kaneka Basic Technology Joint Research Center was started at OU. "Kaneka has always been active in its open innovation. It is good at introducing and using technologies developed by universities and other companies."

Challenging the 2045 Initiative 

The vision of the Kaneka collaborative research is "challenging energy, basic technology, and integrated fields." In the energy sector, this research strives towards "highly-efficient, long-lasting organic EL" and "development of high efficiency solar cells." "Our aim is to develop lighting materials with optical characteristics similar to LED. We also want to create thin lighting that you can install even on thin areas such as walls, as well as create a new "culture of light," which involves human-friendly light.

With regards to solar cells, "We're performing research with the Graduate School of Engineering on materials for a new type of solar cell, perovskite solar cells, using technology related to thin-cell solar cells."

In "Basic Technology/Interdisciplinary Fields," the Kaneka Basic Technology Joint Research Center has collaborated with the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, the Joining and Welding Research Institute, and the Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research. "In order for Kaneka to survive until the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2045, which, coincidentally, is the year that the performance of computers is said to surpass the human mind, I want to deepen bonds with the field of information and communications through chemical/biological reaction simulations and informatics."

Technology Development in Cooperation with Osaka University COI

Collaborative programs in the Osaka University Center of Innovation are also progressing, such as the "patch-type wearable sensor." Development has progressed under the leadership of Prof. SEKITANI Tsuyoshi of the Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research. This device measures brain waves when applied to the forehead. "There is no stress of attaching multiple electrodes to the head, making for little burden on children and the elderly. Kaneka has developed and provided us with an adhesive (pictured right) to attach these sensors to the human body." The patch must be developed in harmony with the human body, so that when attached, it does not become sweaty or cause a rash to form. Development of technology to further improve these sensors is being carried out. 

Additionally, the length of the development period for chemical materials is currently a huge challenge for chemical manufacturers in Japan, to which Prof. Sekitani stated, "I'd like to shorten this development period through full-scale collaborations with the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology and the Graduate School of Engineering Science."

Closeby and Flexible

Professor Fukui also spoke on the research department of a company being at Osaka University: "Being able to team up with the most innovative university in Japan is a huge merit. They say that the density of communication is inversely proportional to the square of the distance, and the professors here are all surprisingly flexible and easy to work with. They never hesitate to give me the best advice and guidance they they can. Additionally, the members of the Kaneka Basic Technology Joint Research Center are making efforts to advance their expertise by studying in places such as the Joining and Welding Research Institute and the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology to obtain their doctorate degrees," explained Professor Fukui, he himself a graduate of the School of Engineering at Osaka University.

Towards the Development of Leaders Who Can Create Value as Well as Products

The Kaneka Joint Research Center is also striving to develop human resources with the future in mind. "We are performing training exercises in which individuals create a virtual team that is different from the organization of the company to display their leadership. This is a system unique to the Joint Research Center, interconnecting university, company, research institute and division in order to cultivate the management ability of the members of the Joint Research Center. There are cases where people become just a cog in the wheel of a giant organization like a company, but you can become a leader here. I think we're just as rewarding as any other research institute."

Currently, in addition to manufacturing, "value creation (kotodzukuri)" and solutions are also in demand. "I want to utilize the environment and resources at Osaka University to cultivate human resources who can perform both manufacturing and "value creation," and who understand both chemistry and information-communications," said Professor Fukui.

Focus on OU's Resources

After finishing the master's program at the Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University, FUKUI Yoshifumi entered Kaneka and thrived in the R&D Planning Department at the Osaka Headquarters. Since May 2015, he has served as the director for the Kaneka Joint Research Center, guiding research activity.

He spoke about the future, saying, "Now, IoT (Internet of Things), artificial intelligence, and use of big data have all become important keywords. But for a chemical company like Kaneka, it is difficult to make efforts in that kind of field by ourselves, which is why we're focusing on the intellectual and technical resources of Osaka University."

The Origin of a Revolution in the Business Model

Currently, 7 companies have joint research facilities in the Techno Alliance Building. "The companies deepen exchange with each other through social gatherings. If we are able to realize collaborative research in the future, I think you could expect even bigger research results."

The aim of the Kaneka Joint Research Center is to become the origin of a revolution in R&D and the business model. Prof. Fukui continued, "I want to make the Techno Alliance Building, and thereby my alma mater Osaka University, into an international center for university-industry innovation."

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