* This article is for Japan and translated for reference.
Consumer demand for clean and purified living spaces is rapidly increasing around the world
Awareness of health maintenance and hygiene on the part of general consumers is sharply increasing. Many households use air purifiers to remove invisible factors that are harmful to one's health, such as dust, pollen, mold, and PM2.5 particles. Moreover, such air purification has become used for removing tobacco smoke and odors, etc. in an increasing number of places such as ordinary homes, restaurants, hotels, etc. to improve the quality of such spaces.
The need for air purification has increased around the world in recent years due to growing awareness of health maintenance centered around advanced nations and improvements in standards of living in emerging nations. Against this backdrop, the technology for keeping homes, offices, and environments in cars, as well as commonly used equipment and tools, clean and purified is becoming a key point for adding value to consumer electronics and household equipment. In addition, this trend is further accelerating due to the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
Ionizers and ozonizers that distill the essence of technologies cultivated by Murata over many years
Murata Manufacturing (hereinafter, "Murata") develops "ionizer" devices that ionize air molecules and "ozonizers" that generate ozone. They are offered under the "ionissimo" brand to add value to consumer electronics and other products.
Ionizers and ozonizers are devices developed using the high-voltage circuit, insulation, and structural design technologies cultivated by Murata over many years. They are able to efficiently generate ions at low voltages and can maintain safety and reliability in consumer electronics and other products while adding high-level air modification features. Moreover, we achieved module miniaturization through the adoption of our own structural design and circuit design. They can even be embedded in narrow spaces in the interior of consumer electronics.
The effects of Murata's ionizers and ozonizers are wide-ranging and include air purification, sterilization, mold prevention, deodorization, and the removal of electricity (Figure 1). They are already employed in various use cases such as removing dust with air purifiers as well as suppressing mold in air conditioners and removing odors and sterilizing inside refrigerators and vacuum cleaners. Going forward, they are likely to be broadly applied in more familiar situations such as automobiles, nursing, health care, pets, and interiors, etc.
The need for air modification in living spaces is spreading around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic
In 2020, the lifestyles of people around the world suddenly changed due to the impact of the novel coronavirus. To defend against the threat of an unseen virus, the number of people who are vigilant about sterilization and disinfection precautions in daily life is increasing around the world. Thus, they are now strongly demanding features in air purifiers and air conditioners for creating safe and purified living spaces. We spoke with a manager who is involved with ionizer and ozonizer product planning at Murata about the changes in air modification needs and the features that are desirable in ionizers and ozonizers.
Sterilization and disinfection precautions becoming an ordinary daily action
--How have consumer needs changed with respect to the hygiene control and purification of the environments that we live in and the consumer electronics and other products that we use on a daily basis?
Since the global spread of novel coronavirus infections, the need for sterilization and disinfection measures in particular have rapidly increased. Nowadays, ordinary people can be seen disinfecting with alcohol at commercial buildings and entrances to office buildings everywhere. This act of disinfection, which was previously never seen, has become a daily behavior. The phrase "new normal" is now heard in various situations. Actions such as wearing a mask and occasional sterilization as well as the utilization of instruments and equipment with sterilizing and disinfecting effects are common and becoming deeply rooted at the same time.
--I feel that hygiene control and purification efforts were already advanced in Japan owing to its national character, which prefers and requires hygienic environments. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, similar efforts have spread throughout the world.
The wearing of masks is a good example, but when the novel coronavirus started to spread, there was almost no culture of mask wearing in the world. That has now spread as a common and daily sight across the globe. This is evidence that the way in which the people of the world think about hygiene control and environmental purification has definitely changed. It is thought that there is a growing possibility that many such behaviors may continue even after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.
--And has the product value of consumer electronics such as air purifiers, which can be expected to have a sterilizing and disinfecting effect, increased?
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, air purifiers and air conditioners were steadily spreading to consumers in some countries who expect such products to prevent damage to their health due to PM2.5. Since the coronavirus pandemic, models that can remove not only dust and PM2.5 but also provide sterilizing and disinfecting effects have become broadly used not only in Japan but also in Europe and Asia (Figure 3). I now feel that the demand for such value-added air purifiers and air conditioners has rapidly increased throughout the world.
Moreover, it is not only consumer electronics aiming to sterilize and disinfect an entire room like an air purifier that are increasing in demand, as recently there is an increasing number of inquiries for devices that can be expected to provide sterilizing and disinfecting effects for items that are directly touched by an unspecified and large number of people. Because ionizers and ozonizers can be expected to have sterilizing and disinfecting effects, it can be said that the product value of such devices is rapidly increasing.
--So they not only modify and sterilize the air within the room at all times but also need to have ways to sterilize as needed.
Yes, that's right. Ionizers and ozonizers can be utilized for both constant use and temporary use as needed.
Using the demand for sterilizing and disinfecting features as an opportunity to experience the efficacy of secondary effects such as deodorizing and mold prevention, etc.
--Ionizers and ozonizers can be expected to have many effects in addition to sterilizing and disinfecting such as removing PM2.5, odors, and mold. Globally speaking, are expectations increasing with respect to such points?
It is my impression that the expectations for sterilizing are taking the lead on a global level. However, we think that the needs will gradually increase as consumers who are newly introducing air purifiers due to the coronavirus pandemic experience the efficacy of non-sterilizing secondary effects. Of course, if they can clean the air, suppress mold, and remove odors, perhaps the number of people who discover value in such devices will increase. It is believed that this will become a factor for continuous use even after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.
--After becoming accustomed to an environment where an air purifier is used, they will not want to return to the previous environment without one. We feel that consumers who have started to use an air purifier will choose products that combine air purification with odor removal and sterilization features.
We believe that odor removal and sterilization will become required features not only in ordinary homes but also in retail stores, restaurants, and hotels as well as car sharing services that are expected to become popular going forward. The removal of odors and proper sterilization of locations and items used by an unspecified and large number of people will likely become the deciding factor when consumers choose which store or car sharing company to use.
From value-added features to standard features in the new normal era
--What types of devices are ionizers and ozonizers currently embedded in?
They are largely embedded in air purifiers and air-conditioners. They are primarily equipped in high-end models, etc. manufactured in Japan. Going forward, we think that they will tend to also be equipped in high-end models and popular models that are not manufactured in Japan.
--So in air conditioners, sterilization and other air modification features are now becoming equipped as standard features rather than high value-added features.
We feel that they are becoming equipped as "new normal" features that should be standard equipment. We think that the use of ionizers and ozonizers has high value as a means of sterilization, etc.