October 18, 1965 Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Electronics,
published 1930 - 1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Electronics magazine editor Lewis H. Young dedicated a series of issues in 1965 to reporting on the state of electronics research and production in Japan. The December 13 edition had many articles on the subject. The world was still in the early phase of a major transition from vacuum tubes and discrete components to transistors and integrated circuits. Japan was at the leading edge of that effort - and it was very successful. Ample evidence of the not-quite-there-yet status of the transition is all the advertisements in this edition of the magazine. Products showcased by manufacturers were discrete, not integrated - that applies to both electronic and mechanical subjects. When you look at those components and assemblies, you get feel for what made them work because the individual parts are in view. Many modern products are integrated into packaged and tested subassemblies that are ready to be integrated into higher level products. High performance, high functionality products can thereby be developed and produced at a blazing speed. Both the professional and the DIY communities have benefitted greatly. Look no farther than Lego robot sets and Arduino functional blocks for proof.
Japan Stresses Research
(This is the second of a series of editorials from the Far East by editor Lewis H. Young.)
The Japanese electronics industry has existed on ideas and technology borrowed from abroad. Low labor costs have enabled the industry to absorb licensing costs and still meet foreign competition; but their increasing dependence on foreign patents has impressed manufacturers with the need for originality.
The result has been a startling growth in research. Nine separate research facilities have been established at the Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., a producer of consumer goods, communications equipment, and semiconductors. Though eight of them are attached to operating divisions, the ninth is a central research laboratory with 500 employees who are investigating projects in physics, chemistry, and electronics. Matsushita expects to double the size of the central lab in a few years.
Matsushita is not alone. Hitachi Ltd.'s central research facility has grown from 600 to 1,400 employees in the last five years, and another hundred will be added. The research lab formed by Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd., in 1961 has grown to 230 employees and will hit 300 in a few months. The Electrical Communications Laboratory, the research arm of the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corp., added a big new building last year and plans another.
Such growth is reflected in the amount of money being spent on research and development. Nippon Electric Co., Ltd., spends 7% of its sales, which last year were $231 million, on R&D; Hitachi, which makes everything from transistors to locomotives and last year had total sales of $1.1 billion, spends 5% of electronics sales for electronics research. The rate is double Hitachi's average for research in all fields. Matsushita spends 3.8% of sales on R&D, though many of its products, like wiring devices and pumps for homes, require little R&D money.
Some of the projects now under way in research labs are advanced; examples are voice analysis at Nippon Electric, diffraction of crystals by slow electron beams at Tokyo Shibura Electric Co. (Toshiba), investigation of new electroluminescent materials at Sanyo Electric, and of active thin film devices at the Mitsubishi Electric Corp., and the development of languages for hybrid (combined digital and analog) computers at Hitachi.
But originality has not been a hallmark of Japanese research. There are two basic reasons, one historical and one economic.
For nearly 300 years, until the middle of the 19th century, Japan cut itself off from the rest of the world, and consequently fell far behind in technology. The country scrambled to catch up, borrowing heavily from the West - then saw the major part of its industry wiped out in World War II. The catching-up process had to begin all over again, and the important goal was technology itself, not innovation. Japanese electronics engineers, says the senior managing director at Matsushita, Tetsujiro Nakao, "were educated with technology imported from the United States and Europe. They digested it and used it the best way they could."
A further barrier to basic research was erected by Japanese management, which, like management anywhere, tends to demand that research prove its worth quickly. Since development produces results much faster, the product of most Japanese research has been mixed R&D.
A recession which is current in Japan has not helped; to combat a drop in sales, companies are concentrating on new products, stressing development at the expense of research. For example, Matsushita's central lab has just come up with a design for a new consumer video tape recorder - a project most United States companies would have assigned to a development engineering department.
But management is beginning to see the light - and one reason is that U. S. companies, which hold patents on key techniques, have put a stranglehold on Japanese technology. Research offers the only path around the U. S. patents. Matsushita has developed a new ceramic piezoelectric material, lead titanate, for ultrasonic generators so that it will not need barium titanate, which is covered by U. S. patents.
In general, research is succeeding. When the Hokushin Electric Works, Ltd., signed with the Fischer & Porter Co. in 1958, it agreed to pay the U. S. company royalties of from 5% to 8%. In 1963, that agreement was replaced by a 25-year non-royalty technical exchange and cross-licensing agreement. And next March, when Mitsubishi's 15-year-old one-way pact with the Westinghouse Corp. expires, it will be replaced by an exchange agreement that will allow for two-way flow of technical information.
Posted August 30, 2018