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[DX progressing in the manufacturing industry] Solving social issues using advanced technologies and new materials!

The manufacturing industry has been an important key industry that has supported Japan’s economic development. However, Japan’s manufacturing industry is now facing a crisis of decline due to the rise of emerging countries that are capable of low-cost mass production and a decline in the domestic labor force.

Furthermore, due to the spread of the new coronavirus infection, the uncertainty that poses a risk to the supply chain of the manufacturing industry is increasing, and it is affecting the procurement of raw materials and the supply of logistics. In addition, efforts toward carbon neutrality and a circular economy are developing rapidly around the world.

At a crossroads like this, the manufacturing industry needs digitalization to respond to changes in the external environment .

In April 2021, Mitsui Chemicals, Inc. (President: Osamu Hashimoto) , a diversified chemical manufacturer, established the DX Promotion Office and is promoting company-wide DX initiatives in sales and supply chains. In the R&D and manufacturing departments, DX is already being used to advance R&D, preventive maintenance of plants, and real-time analysis of data.

On December 2, 2021, the company, which is responding to digitalization in this way , held the first online event “Mitsui Chemicals Forum 2021” to introduce the efforts of the Mitsui Chemicals Group to solve social issues .

Based on the theme of “designing social change, especially now in the Great Reset,” we will address social issues from four business domains: “Life & Healthcare Solutions,” “Mobility Solutions,” “ICT Solutions,” and “Basic & Green Materials.” A session was held on 12 projects aimed at solving the problem.

Furthermore, in addition to the keynote speech by Mr. Osamu Hashimoto, President and CEO of Mitsui Chemicals, Mr. Yoichi Ochiai, a media artist, will discuss the future of society under the theme of “Festivalism and the Circular Economy” as various changes are coming due to the corona disaster. A special lecture was also given to talk about work styles and trends.

In this article, I will report on Mr. Hashimoto’s lecture and two sessions.

*Part of the content of the lecture has been omitted and the wording has been changed. note that.

Table of Contents 

  • Keynote Speech Osamu Hashimoto | Improving the Digital Literacy of All Employees
  • Solution session|Introduction of business aimed at solving social issues
  • “Quiet materials” required for the robot society
  • Realizing a recycling-oriented society by building a plastic resource recycling platform
    • “Visualization of information” on a blockchain-based platform
  • In conclusion

Keynote Speech Osamu Hashimoto | Improving the Digital Literacy of All Employees

Mr. Hashimoto explained that Mitsui Chemicals has formulated the long-term management plan ” VISION2030 ” as a guideline for the next growth in response to the progress of DX and the growing social awareness of environmental issues, and talked about the new business model. rice field.

Mr. Hashimoto: As a BtoB company, our company will change from our specialty of providing materials to provide problem-solving materials. We will shift to a new business model such as a solutions business model or a circular economy business model. To that end, we will maximize the use of DX technology and accelerate the conversion to a business model.

In order to promote DX, we will first work to improve the ability and digital literacy of all employees and members to utilize data and digital technology. We will agilely create innovative products and services to solve social issues.

Quoted from page 18 of Mitsui Chemicals’ long-term management plan “VISION2030”

Mr. Hashimoto: In order to lead social change and realize our own corporate transformation (CX), we will first start with human resource development, change the organization, and then change the management. In order to promote (CX) while taking these steps, in April 2021, we created a dedicated organization called the DX Promotion Office, and are promoting business models, reforms, and sophistication of organizational capabilities. We are currently collaborating in various ways with external parties such as NEC, IBM, and Hitachi, aiming to accelerate DX throughout the supply chain.

Solution session|Introduction of business aimed at solving social issues

In the solution session, sessions related to all 12 businesses were held.

In this article,

  • Mr. Kenichiro Inoue “Supporting the Robot Society with ‘Silent Materials'”
  • Mr. Tatsuya Tokunaga “Plastic Resource Circulation Platform Using Blockchain Technology”

report on the content of the lecture. We will introduce some of our efforts on how AI and DX technologies are being used in the chemical industry and how the power of chemistry is contributing to the sustainable society and smart cities of the future.

“Quiet materials” required for the robot society

Kenichiro Inoue first talked about the possibility of a future where humans and robots coexist, and explained the characteristics of materials that can be used for robots.

Mr. Inoue: It is said that robots will permeate our lives in the future as industries become more sophisticated, the pursuit of a more livable society, and the declining birthrate and aging population. Our ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene products ” HI-ZEX MILLION®”, “MIPERON®”, and “LUBMER® ”  are not only good in slidability (slipperiness), wear resistance, and mechanical strength, but also workability, small particle size, By making use of these characteristics, we will realize a quiet, durable, and light robot. (*) Please refer to each link for details on the characteristics of each material.

Mr. Inoue: Currently, these materials are used for applications such as medical parts, helmets, and automobile repair parts .
Utilizing features such as high strength, wear resistance, and quietness, it can be used in a wide range of fields, including industrial robots such as precision equipment transport rails and rollers, service robots, and humanoid robots. is assumed. Hide Kasuga 1896,
which is currently consulting on material-based branding and application development for the introduction of humanoid robots, and Waseda University’s Atsuo Takanishi, led by Professor Atsuo Takanishi, the first person in charge of humanoid robot research. We are collaborating with the laboratory.

Currently, “Hi-Zex Million®” and “Lubmar®” are used in experiments on sliding parts (contact parts between parts) of humanoid robots being conducted at Waseda University. An interview with Mr. Takuya Otani of Muro was introduced.

Mr. Ohtani, Takanishi Lab, Waseda University: At the Takanishi Lab, we are currently starting anew the development of robots that can play sports similar to those of humans. Currently, we are proceeding with experiments on resin gears using Mitsui Chemicals materials. My impression is that the movement is smoother and quieter than when using metal gears.
In general, the problem with robots is that the heavier they are, the less efficient they are in using energy. I thought it was a problem that many parts were made of metal materials, but if resin materials could be used instead, weight reduction could be achieved.
Also, if we can use resin materials for transmission parts such as drive train gears, we will be able to improve energy efficiency, reduce friction, and reduce noise.

Mr. Inoue summed up his lecture by saying, ” In the coming robot society where humans and robots coexist, we will contribute to the realization of a society in which robots become partners with people in every situation. 

Realizing a recycling-oriented society by building a plastic resource recycling platform

At the beginning of the lecture, Mr. Tatsuya Tokunaga explained the overview and initiatives of the DX Promotion Office to which he belongs.

Mr. Tokunaga: The DX Promotion Office was launched as a cross-departmental organization in April 2021. We are implementing a company-wide DX strategy focusing on the sales, marketing, and supply chain areas that have not been touched so far. In addition, we are planning and executing the development of solution service business from selling things to selling things, and training DX human resources.
The personnel consists of full-time members, concurrent members, and his DX champions selected from each business headquarters. DX champions are developing DX in each division.

In addition, the DX Promotion Office has set up “3 Initiatives” as company-wide DX activities.

  1. Plastic resource recycling platform using blockchain technology
  2. Host an online event
  3. Search for new applications using AI

The first is the theme of this seminar, which I will discuss later. The second is exactly this online event. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities for business negotiations with customers are restricted, making it difficult to access our products. In response to this situation, we are holding this event with the aim of improving customer convenience by utilizing digital technology and strengthening our ability to disseminate information.

Mr. Tokunaga explained that the social issues to be addressed in this seminar are GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction, CO2 reduction, and waste plastic reduction , and talked about these issues from the perspective of plastics.

Mr. Tokunaga: Mitsui Chemicals is a general chemical manufacturer that manufactures and sells plastic materials. Plastics are used in various applications such as PET bottles, food packages, diapers, eyeglass lenses, automobile bumpers, and electric wires.

In the first place, how much plastic is effectively used after it is sorted and collected? In fact, about 60% is incinerated, and about 15% is not recycled and becomes waste plastic. In other words, as the current situation in Japan, about 75% of plastic is burned or discarded.

In other words, if a circular economy is realized by promoting the circulation of plastic materials, it will lead to the reduction of GHG, CO2, and plastic waste, which are the social issues I explained earlier.

So how can we increase circulation? While consumers who buy plastics are becoming more concerned about society and the environment, many people seem to be wondering if recycled plastics are really safe and secure.

“Visualization of information” on a blockchain-based platform

Finally, Mr. Tokunaga introduced the approach of constructing a “resource recycling platform” using blockchain technology that Mitsui Chemicals is working with IBM Japan to address the above plastic recycling issues. Did.

Mr. Tokunaga: I will explain the flow of plastic recycling. Plastics are converted from petroleum to naphtha, mixed with monomers, polymers, and compounds and delivered to parts manufacturers. Then, they are sold by manufacturers to consumers, collected by collectors (used products), dismantled, and recycled into recycled plastic by recycling companies.

However, we don’t know where the products are made, how they are recycled, and for what purpose they are actually used.

Therefore , we will realize “information visualization” in all recycling processes and build a resource recycling platform . For example, by visualizing recycling information such as manufacturing processes, inspection processes, and material information, we realize the safety and security of recycled plastics.

Blockchain technology is used there . By using blockchain technology, recycling information is connected through the value chain. Even if part of the recycling information is falsified, the falsified information is propagated and can be noticed, so the reliability of the information is guaranteed.

The advantage for product manufacturers is that they can use recycled plastics with peace of mind, and they can reduce costs by using a common platform instead of building individual systems. In addition, companies that actively use recycled plastics in the future may be able to receive tax incentives, and certificates for that purpose are available. Plastic recyclers will be able to obtain a stable supply of recycled plastics, with the added benefit of demonstrating safety.

And now, we are starting a demonstration experiment of this plastic resource recycling platform. From June 2021, we are proceeding with on-site tracing work, workload verification, and application verification and updating.

For the time being, we will create applications by conducting several demonstration experiments, and then in Phase 2, we will establish a consortium in Japan to share recycling know-how and expand resource circulation. In Phase 3, we plan to expand this platform, which is the first of its kind in Japan, overseas.

In August 2021, we announced the establishment of a consortium with IBM Japan and Nomura Research Institute for a plastic resource recycling society . As a stakeholder of this platform, we would like to collaborate with more consumers and all industry, academia, and government to create a society in which plastic ticks recycle resources and change the culture. We are looking for partners who can cooperate in the future, so please join us.

In conclusion

In this article, we reported on part of Mitsui Chemicals’ online event “Mitsui Chemicals Forum 2021.”

As the digitalization of the world progresses, the chemical industry, including Mitsui Chemicals, is starting various initiatives, such as DX and the development of materials that can contribute to Society 5.0, which is expected to advance with the development of AI and IoT.

Behind this is not only the need for digitization to compensate for labor shortages and the uncertainty of the world, but also the need to work towards carbon neutrality and decarbonization.

The industrial sector accounts for the highest percentage of CO2 emissions in Japan, accounting for 34.7% (*). The industrial structure will change significantly in the future toward 2050, which is Japan’s carbon-neutral goal.

(*) Refer to National Institute for Environmental Studies “Japan’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data” (FY2019 final figures)

AI/DX is a key technology in this period of economic and social change. In society, attention to SDGs is increasing and the sustainability of companies is being evaluated, so the development of DX / GX human resources is also required in various companies.

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