Japan Business Report 2018

Presented by

Discovery Reports

Ferrotec transforms into a holding company that equips the world for the future

Diversified technology company makes advanced material, component and precision systems that improve the performance of semiconductors, smartphones, LED products and solar panels.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 6:14pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 6:14pm

[Country Business Reports interviews and articles by Discovery Reports]

As a company that perennially finds itself on the cusp of technology within various industries, Ferrotec continues to hone the spirit of craftsmanship as it applies space technology concepts into innovative solutions that support the way people live and allow businesses to thrive.

Ferrotec’s products uphold business and infrastructure in ways people cannot see. Ferrotec solutions are used in advanced manufacturing processes for semiconductors, smartphones, light-emitting diode (LED) products, and solar panels. The company’s technologies extend into medical equipment, automotive parts, consumer electronics, laundry equipment and much more. The diversified technology company provides customers with advanced material, component and precision system solutions that make products work better, more precisely, and more reliably.

This year, Ferrotec transformed into a holding company as it becomes increasingly diversified, but since 1987, much of the company’s growth has come through ferrofluid and thermoelectric module technologies. Ferrofluid, born from the Apollo Space programme, and thermoelectric modules are at the core of many of Ferrotec’s solutions.

“I encountered ferrofluid and thermoelectric modules 50 years ago, and at that time, the world market applying these technologies was less than US$1 million,” says Akira Yamamura, founder and CEO of Ferrotec. “Today, our company alone handles a thermoelectric business worth around US$120 million.”

Committed to discovering and bringing more customer solutions to the market – from cutting-edge precision manufacturing equipment to the latest advances in vacuum seals – Ferrotec connects the world and upholds the future through pioneering technologies.

Technologies that support the future

Ferrofluid technology made its debut in the 1960s, when a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researcher tried to create a delivery method for engine fuel in zero gravity, using the mysterious magnetically attractive liquid.

The concept was abandoned eventually, but the earliest founders of Ferrotec licensed the technology. Since then, Ferrotec has been renowned for its magnetic fluid technology, manufacturing and supply.

“We are the only company that provides ferrofluid based on the original recipe from NASA,” Yamamura says. “This technology is a closely guarded company secret.”

Ferrofluid is a stable colloidal suspension of magnetic particles in a liquid carrier. The particles are coated with a surfactant preventing agglomeration, even in the presence of a strong magnetic field. Ferrofluid is now used in speakers, actuators, sensors, recycling separation applications, and in vacuum seals – one of Ferrotec’s core products.

The company patented the first Ferrofluidic seals, which quickly became the gold standard for demanding precision sealing and rotation applications. Ensuring a sealed environment with no contamination, Ferrotec vacuum seals use ferrofluid to enable the transmission of rotational movement into a vacuum chamber. Ferrofluidic seals are typically used in clean room equipment for precision manufacturing processes such as in the production of semiconductors, flat panel displays (FPD) and LEDs. Ferrofluidic seals use a multistage approach to seal even ultra-high vacuum systems.

Thermoelectrics is another Ferrotec core technology. A thermoelectric module is a plate-like semiconductor device that uses electricity to move heat through it, cooling one side of the device while heat moves to the other side. Because thermoelectric modules can act as a precision heat pump, they are used for precision temperature management in electronics and temperature-sensitive applications. Compact, lightweight and Freon-free, thermoelectric modules are used in climate-control seats of vehicles, medical and telecommunications equipment, and consumer electronic products.

“We have two core technologies. If one goes down, there is always one to back the other, and both are doing extremely well today,” Yamamura says.

The thermoelectric module manufacturing technology can be further applied to create power semiconductor substrates. Highly insulated to dissipate heat, power semiconductor substrates support downsizing and lead to energy savings in trains, electric vehicles, air conditioners and servers.

Taking advantage of these core technologies that support the semiconductor manufacturing process, Ferrotec also produces photovoltaic crystal growers. Capable of producing single- and multi-crystal silicon ingots, the apparatus can develop quality silicon ingots, which are highly sought globally to meet the demand for solar cells.

“50 years ago, the [ferrofluid and thermoelectric] world market was less than US$1 million. Today, our company alone handles a thermoelectric business worth around US$120 million”
Akira Yamamura, founder and CEO, Ferrotec

“There’s a long line of supply chain from the moment we produce a single crystal ingot, and this is where we started expanding our business in the semiconductor field,” Yamamura says. “We are now going into advanced materials such as quartz, ceramics and silicon carbide, vacuum chambers, and process tool parts cleaning.”

Ferrotec performs cleaning for semiconductors and FPD production equipment parts to further support its clients. Apart from using ultra pure water and chemical cleaning, the company is equipped with sand blasters and plasma sprayers supporting the latest microstructure requirements.

“Mechanical designs and precision machining is important,” Yamamura says. “To do that excellently, we use top-of-the-industry machinery from Japan, Germany and Switzerland.”

Twenty years ago, Ferrotec only had one machining centre. Now, it has more than 1,000 machining centres including state-of-the-art manufacturing plants in Japan, the United States and China.

Applications that sustain daily life and industries

From a single ferrofluid drop, Ferrotec was able to build a viable and comprehensive semiconductor venture. It keeps track of market trends to anticipate future needs. Consequently, Ferrotec applications are present everywhere though typically unnoticed.

Electronic and consumer products such as smartphones and computers – products that people today cannot live without – have encountered at least one Ferrotec solution in their development process. Ferrotec is at the forefront of a future reality – one where the internet of things connects people, goods and information, leading to an era where consumer electronics will watch over or take care of people.

In the medical industry, Ferrotec ceramics and thermoelectric modules are used in an array of applications including endoscopes, blood analysis instruments and DNA amplification equipment. Japan is considered the centre for ageing societies, and Ferrotec sees this as a duty to take an expanded role in the medical field.

Integral to solar panels used in residential and mega-solar projects are Ferrotec’s silicon ingots, wafers and cells for solar modules. Following worldwide heightened awareness on climate change, the company expects a significant spike in the use of photovoltaics in the midterm.

Ferrotec also upholds safe transport and comfortable driving as it offers products that support temperature-controlled seats, audio, navigation and power control for vehicles. It leads in safely managing and implementing new technologies particularly in self-driving taxis, electric vehicles and hybrids including universal GPS or global positioning system applications.

Diversifying its business, Ferrotec applies the same keen technological and consumer-driven insight to offer exceptional, automated, and energy-conserving industrial laundry equipment. Through Yamamura’s many travels, he learned that tourists appreciate the high-quality linen products in Japanese hotels. Comfortable hotel life is made possible through Ferrotec washing machines, spin dryers and rolling machines manufactured in cooperation with Asahi Seisakusho.

Pursuing happiness through innovation

Continuous improvement has become a way of life at Ferrotec, and this is evident in all its manufacturing locations worldwide. Operations in Asia and Europe are registered to the internationally recognised ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 quality standards. Its plant in China is also TS 16949-registered for automotive compliance.

From the very first Ferrofluidic seals developed and manufactured in the 1970s, Ferrotec products have been used by industries with demanding quality requirements. The company’s systems and processes ensure products meet the highest quality standards.

“Manufacturers who work with us get good quality and price, but they also discover new opportunities to expand their business,” Yamamura says. “We are focused on growing together.”

With a goal to achieve excellence in all aspects of procurement, manufacturing, supply, and customer order fulfilment, Ferrotec offers a seamless supply chain for all customers and markets. Its engineering resources complement its manufacturing capabilities, allowing it to provide unparalleled service.

Backed by new technologies, and a dedicated and talented workforce, Ferrotec pursues happiness through innovation, and welcomes further collaborations to improve society and to share its success with partners and customers.

“We have a manufacturing, marketing and selling team so we can make and sell any product, and we can make it better,” Yamamura says. “For instance, our vacuum seal design is a product of the successful collaboration among our customers, engineers and designers.”

Recognising the need for responsible environmental management and resource conservation, Ferrotec implements an environmental programme that includes pollution prevention, recycling, and reduction of all types of waste and emissions. In addition, all of the company’s employees abide by a code of conduct in all its business dealings and activities.

Based on the company’s philosophy and global point of view, Ferrotec works in harmony with people and communities to supply products and services that contribute to life. Guided by a social common sense, it observes the laws and ordinances of each country as it provides high-quality and price-competitive products and services.

“Ferrotec’s technology and products are indispensable in manufacturing processes,” Yamamura says. “We will continue to strive and grow to earn the satisfaction and trust of our customers, while contributing to solve global environmental problems. We are devoted to serving society through manufacturing.” and