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Creating Precision Components and New Value with Quartz [Kohoku Kogyo]

Secret to Robustness
  • Technical capability to microfabricate quartz glass.
  • Solid response in the advanced healthcare field.
  • Maintaining top global market share for lead terminals through expansion for automotive applications.

In October 2013, Kohoku Kogyo president Futoshi Ishii was in attendance at CEATEC, Asia’s largest electronics exhibition. At the glamorous venue, many businesses were looking forward to growth of the smartphone market. But Ishii felt both anticipation and concern, because for Kohoku Kogyo, smartphone growth may turn out to be either an advantage or disadvantage.

Lead Terminal Behemoth

Kohoku Kogyo’s main product is lead terminals for aluminum electrolytic capacitors. The company was founded in 1959 in Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture, where factories of its major customers were located, by Kanzo Ishii, Ishii’s uncle and inventor of the lead terminal. The company now maintains production facilities in Nagahama as well as in Malaysia and in China’s Dongguan and Suzhou. Monthly production of lead terminals is roughly 4 billion units, and the company boasts a commanding 60% Japanese market share and 40% global market share. One of its strengths is the technical ability to also design manufacturing equipment. Although the company’s monthly output prior to the 2008 financial crisis was 6 billion units, demand for small capacitors has declined, resulting in stabilization of production output at current levels.

Ishii pays close attention to future demand for small capacitors. He explains, "Capacitors are used in a variety of devices including mobile phones, digital cameras, and portable music players. But because smartphones are also equipped with a digital camera and music player, demand for these other devices that existed separately prior to the proliferation of smartphones will disappear." Meanwhile, sales are brisk in the automotive sector including hybrid vehicles and the environment and new energy sector including solar and wind power systems. Within the automotive industry in particular, there is greater use of electronics in powertrain systems including electronic control units, so growth has been rapid. "Looking at the composition of orders, three years ago automotive accounted for 10%, but now it has grown to 30%," says Ishii. At the time of its founding, the company recognized there was business opportunity with the proliferation of electric appliances. Kohoku Kogyo also views the various current needs as an opportunity as it solidifies its position as a leading company.

Mastery of Quartz Glass

Kohoku Kogyo is developing optical communication components made of quartz glass into its second major business after lead terminals. In 2003 the company developed a fiberoptic ferrule for use in fiberoptic connectors. Using a precision slurry cast technique developed in a joint project with leading semiconductor manufacturers, the company was able to make precision molds made of quartz glass. This was made possible by developing a self-hardening slurry with the use of additives that gives the slurry a moisture shedding quality. In addition, with the cooperation of professor Masataka Nakazawa of Tohoku University in 2007, the company successfully created a low-loss high-purity photonic-crystal fiber with quartz of purity 9N (99.9999999%). Since then the company has had an unending stream of inquiries from communication businesses seeking to achieve high-speed high-capacity transmissions.
 "Our real goal is to be able to use quartz as a material," reveals Ishii. There is significance in the fact that Kohoku Kogyo was able to establish the technology of forming precision components with quartz glass, a material not easily amenable to microfabrication. "Quartz has a lot of potential as a material. As an inexhaustible resource, it has very high transparency, thermal stability, and chemical durability," says Ishii. There are many possible applications for quartz, not only in communication components but also in medicine and energy. Ishii is "aiming to create new business and value in a new frontier."

In 2013, Kohoku Kogyo’s multi-application quartz microcapillary tube was awarded the highest honor of Small and Medium Enterprise Agency Director’s Award in the 25th Small and Medium Enterprise Superior Products Awards sponsored by the Resona Foundation for Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion. With a minimum diameter of 0.1 mm, the tube can accommodate up to 90 capillaries. Potential applications in advanced medicine include as a component in medical testing chips used in blood or cell component analysis, and as a guide tube for endoscopes. The company is already steadily growing its quartz operations. Ishii says, "Our sales goal for the fiscal year ending January 2017 is 10 billion yen. Our plan is to have quartz operations account for about 30% of that total."

Photonic-crystal fiber with regular array of minute holes.

Photonic-crystal fiber with regular array of minute holes.


Carrying on tradition of technology cultivation

Ishii, who was appointed company president in 2000, refers to the progress made thus far as "technology cultivation." While mastering quartz microfabrication took several years, Ishii recalls, "I had confidence we would be successful." From the time of its founding, the company has established technological superiority that cannot be imitated by other companies. The fact that Kohoku Kogyo has carried on this tradition of technology cultivation played a role in the success of its quartz operations. The company presented research on photonic-crystal fibers at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) 2012 in the US. Although the company was initially slated to make a general presentation, its status was elevated to guest speaker, and since then it has been attracting the world’s attention. The company’s next move will be closely watched.

Company Data

President:Futoshi Ishii

President:Futoshi Ishii

Company name Kohoku Kogyo Co.,Ltd
President Futoshi Ishii
Industry Type Manufacture and sales of lead terminals for aluminum electrolytic capacitors, optical communication components, and small precision components made of quartz glass
Address 1623, Takatsuki, Takatsuki-cho, Nagahama-shi, Shiga Prefecture, Japan
Phone 0749-85-3211

Printing day:August 7, 2014

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