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NatureInterface > No.05 > P062-063 [Japanese]

NI Human Interview: Seiko Epson Co., Ltd -- Hideaki Yasukawa

NI Human Interview

Mr. Hideaki Yasukawa

Chairman, Seiko Epson Corporation

Hideaki Yasukawa

Born in Otaru city, Kokkaido in 1931.

Graduated from Department of Precision Machinery Engineering, School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo.

Joined Suwa Seikosha (currently, Seiko Epson Corporation) in 1955.

Vice President in 1987, President in 1991, Chairman since April 2001.

Received Science and Technology Contribution Award from the Director-General of the Science and Technology Agency in 1995.

Received the Ranjyu Medal in 1996.

He enjoys classical music and audio system.

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Itao: Mr. Yasukawa, I heard that the best students used to join the Department of Precision Machinery Engineering, School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo when you were a student. That department has been reorganized as "System Creation Department" in 2000 after discussions since 1998 when I was the Department Head. We aim to educate students to become what we call T-shaped human resources who are able to find requirements in the society and have one solid expertise.

Yasukawa: When I was a student, the students were encouraged to take classes in other departments. I took many classes in different departments including a lecture by Prof. Kenzo Tange and a lecture on metallic materials. We were half forced to take such lectures but the experiences have been very helpful since I joined the company.

Itao: Have you been living in Suwa since you joined the company?

Yasukawa: Yes. When I joined the company, they asked one or two people to join the Suwa plant. Since I grew up in a rural area in Hokkaido, I said I would go there. I have lived in Suwa for forty-five years since then. It turned out to be a good decision. It's not true that you have to live in Tokyo to get information. It's better to live a little away form Tokyo to get valid information. I would have to deal with too much information if I lived in Tokyo.

Itao: You can get right information wherever you live if you have high quality human networks.

Yasukawa: Nowadays, we do business with the world and Tokyo is one of the cities in the world. Although we have our head office in Tokyo because of registration convenience, I don't miss Tokyo much actually (laughter).

Inkjet technologies were born based one precision fabrication technologies of watches

Itao: I had been working on research and development of printers which were the prime information equipment in the early stage of the data communication era for about ten years at NTT Laboratories. I developed a keyboard printer that could print at a speed of 10 to 20 characters per second then. The target changed to a wire-dot printer and then to an inkjet printer. In that period, many competent Japanese mechatronics manufacturers joined the development. As a result, the technologies advanced and a printer that used to cost a million yen costs a few tens of thousand yen now. The current price is quite affordable for students.

Yasukawa: It's true thanks to you and everyone involved.

Our first printer was like a mini-printer which prints by hammering characters placed on a plastic surface controlled the data. A wire-dot printer came next and an inkjet printer followed.

Our company was the first to complete the commercial, monochrome-type inkjet printer. However, it took long to develop the second version that allowed our competitors to catch up and pass us. That was the reason why our president then ordered me to manage the printer development. When I went to the plant, I found that the engineers were using a laser to open ink nozzles. But that method was not good enough to open the holes precisely enough. Such lousy holes could not print neat images because the ink was scattered. They also caused deterioration of the material surrounding them. In case of ruby bearing in watches, abrasion increased due to the deterioration in the surrounding area. After all, the laser was useful only in opening coarse holes. We needed another finishing step.

Since I knew the limit of laser process, I brought a watch engineer. In cheaper watches without rubies, the holes were opened using precision process. A watch engineer was able to open holes of 200 micrometers in diameter then (which is much smaller now) easily. That was the reason why we could establish a high print quality piezo technology for ink-jet creation.

Itao: I see. The ink-jet technology was based on watch technologies.

Yasukawa: Yes, it was the watch technology. It developed to the leading edge technologies now.

Itao: Since Japan is strong in micromechatronics, such technologies are truly our strategic technologies, indeed.

Yasukawa: Another printer technology transferred from watch manufacturing was paper feeding which must be very precise. Gears were used to do the job of sending and feeding paper. If the gear sizes vary, it changes paper feeding rate. Such variation accumulates. The gear fabrication technologies with 1 _m precision developed in watches were very helpful to prevent the problem caused by size variation.

The roots of information equipment are in watches

Itao: Not only the mechatronics technologies but also many basic technologies originate in watch technologies, aren't they?

Yasukawa: Yes, another example of watch related technology is low-power consumption technology which is from quartz watches. Since watches must be made small, super low-power consumption and very low voltages were achieved in ICs in watches. These achievements have contributed in cellular phones and PDA's. Watch engineers who are used to work in the world under a microscope are good at miniature things. They entered semiconductor devices development without feeling any strangeness.

It has not been known well somehow, but non-reflection coating technology used in a cover glass of a watch has been successfully applied in displays of cellular phones. There had been strong claims from cellular phone users that small characters in the displays are not easy to read.

In watches, that technology has been used only in some products because the environment for watches are quite severe but it has been widely used in non-reflection coating for plastic lens for glasses we have been manufacturing.

Itao: You are telling us that the watch technologies are the basis of current terminal equipment such as cellular phones and PDAs.

Yasukawa: Yes, we proudly believe so. As a natural consequence, nature-interface equipment such as future micro-information equipment and sensor equipment based on watch technologies is on the extended line.

From Suwa to the world

Itao: I have another question. I understand that your company has a very advanced policy about environment preservation. What is your opinion about the environmental issues?

Yasukawa: A major reason that our company started to think seriously about dealing with the environmental issues is that our plant has been located by Lake Suwa. Since our plant was the only big one in that area, our company would be blamed if there were any problem about environmental pollution. With that background, we decided to build a plating waste processing facilities that produces much less waste liquid than the new standard enacted then. The facilities were the most advanced ones in Japan at that time. Watch manufacturing requires clean environment from the beginning anyway.

Itao: People hate littering if the environment is very clean.

Yasukawa: Right. No one seemed to have taken strong leadership but it worked out that way.

Itao: People must live in a clean environment, don't they? By the way, can you tell me a bit about the economical aspects of environment deals? I'm talking about what is called environmental accounting.

Yasukawa: The expenses are temporarily. It turns out to be profitable in a few years. When we stopped using chlorofluorocarbon gas in 1998, we ended up earning a few billion yen in terms of cost performance. We never lose money.

When we started the chlorofluorocarbon-gas project, a TV broadcast station came to us for an interview. They asked, "What is your strategy to stop using chlorofluorocarbon gas?" I answered, "If we knew the answer, we wouldn't have started this project." We try to gather everyone's wisdom because the answer is not obvious. Since we have many brilliant people here, I have no doubt that we'll eventually get a solution with new ideas." I wanted this comment broadcast but they didn't because they didn't seem to value anything without a specific answer. I still believe that we seek a solution because we don't have it.

Itao: I'm very glad to know that the concept you and Seiko Epson Corporation have is closely related the nature interface concept after learning from you the activities of your company in watch manufacturing and micromechatronics, portable information equipment development, and dealing with environmental issues.

Thank you very much for joining me today.

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