A super-smart society that aims to solve social issues and pursue prosperity by making full use of digital technology is coming. Digital transformation (DX) will bring new value to people’s lives, work, and social activities, and decarbonization is essential to realize a sustainable world. To materialize these mega trends, we need to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies to effectively and efficiently assess situations and make decisions, and to control devices and equipment, based on data that reflects the real state and trends in society. It seems likely that such a super-smart society will use more advanced electronic components in greater quantities than ever before. The key to achieving a super-smart society is how to prepare the required number of electronic components that meet the needs of the times at the required timing. We asked Norio Nakajima, President of Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd., about Murata’s role in anticipation of the arrival of a super-smart society and the ways in which Murata will contribute to the creation of a sustainable society.
Contributing to the construction of infrastructure and sensor networks for a super-smart society
--What role will Murata play to help achieve the smart society that the Government of Japan aims to achieve with Society 5.0?
The aim of Society 5.0 is to create a prosperous, waste-free, and sustainable super-smart society by connecting people and all kinds of things through the Internet of Things (IoT) and sharing diverse knowledge and information.
The amount of data generated in daily life, work, and social activities is ever-increasing, and the situations in which data are used are more diverse than ever. To realize Society 5.0 under these circumstances, it is absolutely essential to have an advanced sensor network that collects diverse data from various locations and exchanges the vast amounts of collected data quickly and reliably. I believe that Murata’s mission is to support the construction of sensor networks that will serve as the next generation of social infrastructure by providing sensing technology, which is our core technology, as well as technology for producing robust communication networks.
Murata will lead the development of technologies and products that are needed to build sensor networks that meet the needs of the times, establish a production system according to demand, and reliably provide the necessary quantities in a timely manner.
Expanding use of 5G accelerating the digitization of all things
--In anticipation of a super-smart society, what kinds of new technologies and products will you focus on in the future?
Taking a bird's-eye view of current market movements and technology trends in the electronics industry, it is not so difficult to anticipate the technologies and products that we should offer in the future.
In the field of communications systems, for example, full-scale commercial services for the fifth-generation mobile communication system (5G) began in 2020, and the areas where it is available are expanding steadily. Using 5G, which enables high speed with large capacity, low latency, and multiple connections, will make it possible not only to improve the functions and performance of smart phones, but also to increase the use of data in all aspects of social activities to a higher level.
For instance, by applying 5G to automobiles, information can be shared between vehicles traveling on the road, including with transportation infrastructure, enabling safe and efficient autonomous driving. In the medical field, 5G will enable services such as home medical care and remote surgery. Even at factories in the manufacturing industry, such as those of Murata, the use of industrial robots that perform more advanced and diverse tasks, and the practice of preventive maintenance that detects signs of system and equipment failure and deals with it before it occurs will most likely advance with the use of 5G.
5G is the infrastructure that will trigger innovation in society, accelerating the drive to make smart devices and equipment that are installed throughout society for various purposes. With this, the demand for electronic components such as capacitors and inductors, which are crucial for materializing electronic functions, is certain to increase more than ever. At Murata, we call electronic components that form the basis of these equipment parts “Electronics Infrastructure (EI) products.” We will continue to provide solutions that employ the latest technologies to support the transformation of all things into smart things.
Murata’s true value put to the test in the development of 6G devices
--People are already talking about the development of 6G, the next-generation wireless communication infrastructure. What kind of initiatives does Murata intend to take?
Research institutions around the world have started to develop technology with an eye to putting 6G into practical application in 2030. For our part, Murata participates in standardization organizations for mobile wireless systems such as 3GPP. We have started to collect information on what frequency band and what kind of communication systems 6G will use, and to establish a direction for technological development.
With 5G, technology using millimeter waves of 28 GHz or higher was introduced, requiring higher-level technologies than ever before to create the devices that make up communication circuits such as antennas, filters, amplifiers, and switches. For 6G, there is an increasing possibility of utilizing terahertz waves, frequencies an order of magnitude higher. To create devices used in the corresponding communication circuits will likely require technology that is at an even higher level than for 5G.
At Murata, we believe that in order to create high-performance, high-quality 6G-era devices, it is necessary to start with material development. Since material development takes a considerable amount of time, it is necessary to be fully ready from an early stage. A strength unique to Murata is that we can conduct development while making fine adjustments among the technical elements of materials, production processes, and devices. Device development in the 6G era will truly be a chance for Murata to show its skills.
Contributing to decarbonization with eco-products, storage batteries, and RE100
--Countries and regions around the world are working to achieve the SDGs with the aim of realizing a sustainable society. Initiatives related to decarbonization in particular have accelerated since 2020, with governments implementing specific policies and companies becoming visibly more active in related businesses. Please tell us about Murata’s initiatives.
At Murata, we think that we can contribute to decarbonization in three ways.
First, by pushing back the limits of component miniaturization and reducing power loss in the electronic components that make up electronic devices, we will help to reduce the amount of electricity consumed by society and the amount of waste generated. We call our products that make a difference in reducing environmental impact in this way “Eco-Products.”
Second, we will focus on the storage battery business, which allows the power generated by solar panels to be accumulated and used as a convenient power source. We will make a direct contribution to the decarbonized society. With our storage battery products, we focus not only on pursuing large capacity, but also on improving durability. Incorporating our storage battery products into electrical and electronic equipment will help to improve system power efficiency and the effective use of renewable energy through frequent charging and discharging according to the operation situation.
The third is our contribution by promoting energy conservation and the use of renewable energy in our own business activities. We already use solar power generation at 15 production sites to cover a part of the electricity needed for production activities. Moreover, in a move to further accelerate our efforts to decarbonize, in December 2020, we joined the RE100, an international business initiative whose members aim to go 100% renewable in their business activities. In September 2021, Kanazu Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd. in Fukui Prefecture started initiatives aimed at eventually making the electricity consumed at the plant 100% renewable energy. We will cover the roofs of parking lots and plant buildings with solar panels, and integrate and use Murata’s energy storage systems to achieve RE100.
Creating valuable system solutions through collaboration with partners
--I heard that Murata is working to create new businesses by pushing collaboration with startups. Please tell us about the significance of collaboration.
At Murata, we develop everything from materials to production equipment in-house. Because of this, many people may have an image of Murata as a company that is committed to developing technology and improving production systems on its own. However, going all the way back to the company’s founding, the success in developing porcelain bodies composed of barium titanate, a dielectric material that is the basis of ceramic capacitors, our current main products, in collaboration with Tetsuro Tanaka, then assistant professor at Kyoto University, was the starting point of our present progress. Since then, we have continued to engage actively in industry–academia cooperative development, taking it as a driving force for our growth. It could be said that Murata is a company that was created through collaboration and grew through collaboration.
However, looking ahead to the future of our business, I feel that a different kind of collaboration is needed. Over the next five or 10 years, our customers’ models for value creation and the roles expected of Murata will likely change dramatically. So far, we have devoted ourselves to providing excellent electronic components such as capacitors and filters, and our customers, equipment manufacturers, have assembled valuable applied equipment such as smart phones and personal computers. In the future, however, we will need to provide solutions that deliver complete hardware for equipment or the equipment functions themselves. This is because more and more of our customers will be companies with strengths in software technology and companies that want to create innovative services based on the system solutions we provide.
We practice portfolio management in which we think about appropriate management while forming a clear picture of the nature of our products. In addition to portfolios of conventional products, with a first layer consisting of standard products such as capacitors and inductors and a second layer of products with custom specifications, such as high-frequency components and sensors, we have newly defined and are developing system solutions that integrate software into hardware as a third layer. This began in 2020. However, it would be difficult to cover all the technologies that make up this third layer of products on our own. We must therefore find the right partners who possess highly specialized or unique technologies, and work together on product development. Since such potential partners specialize in areas that we are not familiar with, finding them is not easy. Currently, Murata is working to find new partners by holding hackathons and pitch events in Japan and overseas. In addition, it is an urgent task for us to develop human resources who have an eye for discovering partners by catching information on startups, research institutes, and universities.
Preparing steadily for the coming future
--To realize a sustainable and prosperous society of the future, it seems that Murata will have much to contribute over the next five to 10 years and beyond.
What is required of Murata? We will carefully assess this and prepare for the future little by little. We will move forward, keeping in mind the fact that only companies that are ready for the future will have great strengths and be able to contribute in ways that meet expectations in a new world.
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