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Oral-History:Tetsuo Fujimura

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About Tetsuo Fujimura

Tetsuo Fujimura was born into a family of farmers in Japan. He studied mathematics and science in high school before taking an engineering degree in college. Later he worked for the NGK company in Japan, rising from manager to deputy general manager and then general manager in charge of insulator research and development. By 1979, he had become a director of the company and served as executive managing director for all research and development.

Fujimura briefly discusses his childhood and early career before shifting to the subject of NGK and its management. The NGK company believed that product quality and constant innovation were of paramount importance. Engineers would not make cost-cutting changes to products if those changes resulted in lowered reliability. In this way, NGK gained an international reputation for high quality insulators. During Fujimura's time at NGK, the company has expanded its product lines to include ceramic filters for waste treatment. Insulators in 1993 accounted for only 20% of the company's business. Managers at NGK are often drawn from the college trained engineers already working for the company.


About the Interview

TETSUO FUJIMURA: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, May 19, 1994

Interview #203 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Tetsuo Fujimura, an oral history conducted in 1994 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEW: Tetsuo Fujimura
INTERVIEWER: William Aspray
PLACE: NGK, Komaki near Nagoya
DATE: May 19, 1994

Background, Education & Career Overview

Aspray:

Could you tell us about your family background?

Fujimura:

My ancestors and grandfather were farmers. My father was a teacher mainly at a primary school. He was particularly interested in mathematics and biology and was a teacher in these fields at a senior high school. I have three sisters and five brothers. All six sons graduated university. Five of us completed courses in technology or agriculture (two took electrical engineering, one took mechanical engineering, and two took agriculture). Accordingly it can be said that there was a tradition in my family of being interested in science and technology. In my junior high school days I was interested in mathematics and in a course of science and technology.

Aspray:

Please tell us about your career.

Fujimura:

I devoted myself to the engineering design and R&D of insulators for many years. My positions in NGK were as manager, then deputy general manager, and then general manager in the above-mentioned field. In 1979 I was appointed a director and from that point I participated in the management of our company. At the last stage of my career, I was appointed a highest-level executive managing director and managed all R&D in the company.

In Japan, teamwork is very important. My achievements were realized not only by myself, but by all the people under my leadership. I developed high-strength and high-reliability insulators. I carried out not only insulator design but also insulation design of 500 and 1000 kilovolt transmission lines. In the USA, these tasks are usually carried out by the laboratories of utility companies or consultants. In Japan we carry out such tasks in our lab.

Japan is an island country, surrounded by sea, and it suffers from strong winds such as the typhoon. Accordingly we were worried about salt contamination that decreased the insulation properties of insulators. I developed anti-contamination insulators with excellent performance against salt contamination. I also developed hot-line washing equipment for insulators in substations (live-line). About 600 substations adopted my washing equipment. As a result, we succeeded in overcoming the salt contamination problem.

One of our biggest achievements was the development of a UHV porcelain shell twelve meters in height, which is the biggest in the world. I would like to give you our technical report showing our achievements.

Overview of Insulator Market

Aspray:

Could you give us some details about NGK's role in the insulator field?

Fujimura:

First I will explain insulators, which are the main product of our company. I hope that you have already received the paper, "The History of Insulators in Japan." I will talk about the business in insulators for voltages higher than ten kilovolts. The market share held by NGK is now 90% in Japan. The remaining 10% is held by Daito of Osaka. These are the only two manufacturers in Japan. There were three manufacturers in Japan during the early 1920s. Those were NGK, Daito, and Shofu. The market shares of NGK, Daito and Shofu were 30%, 30%, and 40%, respectively. Shofu went bankrupt in 1964. They failed in their technology. The market share of NGK increased to 90% during the last seventy-five years.

It is difficult to show our international market share. The insulator production of NGK is almost equivalent to the total production in the USA and exceeds the total production in Europe. One of our overseas factories is an insulator manufacturer named Locke Insulators in Baltimore, Maryland. This manufacturer was one of the pioneers in the manufacture of insulators and was a subsidiary company of the General Electric Company before being managed by NGK. In 1974, this company became managed by NGK at GE's request. In 1977, an old company called Baudour in Belgium, which had been manufacturing insulators and tableware for many years, was managed by NGK in compliance with the request of the Belgian government. This company now supplies insulators to the European market. In the international market our major competitor is a French company manufacturing glass suspension insulators for transmission lines. Domestic manufacturers of each country are our competitors. We supply insulators to the American and European customers from the plants in the USA and Belgium. Only high-performance insulators are supplied to these countries from Japan.

Market Share and High Quality

Aspray:

How did you increase NGK's shares of the domestic and international markets?

Fujimura:

I will explain the main reason. It is very difficult to replace deteriorated insulators on transmission lines. It needs a lot of labor and is costly. Accordingly, the quality of these insulators has to be much higher than that of ordinary products. Our directors were aware of the importance of the quality of insulators during the early years and made much effort to improve it. There are many methods of improvement. For example, as described in a paper titled "The History of Insulators," the grain size of raw materials for porcelain was made as small as one-fifth of an overseas insulator manufacturer. As a result, homogenous and high-strength porcelain was manufactured. In this case highly advanced manufacturing techniques were required. Our directors addressed this problem and achieved success.

Aspray:

How do you insure high quality?

Fujimura:

We always intend to manufacture high quality and highly reliable insulators regardless of standards and specifications. For example, thermal-mechanical performance tests are specified in the IEC standards as an important test for evaluating long-term performance of insulators. In our company, long-term performance tests, which are much stricter than those of the IEC, are applied to our products. The reason we adopt such severe test methods is that we consider the IEC methods not enough to evaluate the long-term performance of insulators. We believe such severe tests are necessary. We have not proposed our test methods to the IEC. If we proposed our methods, only our insulators would pass such tests. Then nobody would support our proposal. We also have no intention to obtain the whole market share by standardizing such test methods. However, this is very important for our insulators. We impose such severe tests on our insulators on the basis of our beliefs, whether the other companies adopt such test methods or not.

Furthermore, a hydraulic inner pressure test is imposed on the head portion of every disc insulator. This test is not stipulated in any standard nor any customer's specifications. It has been confirmed by our research that this test is the most effective way to eliminate the insulators with a possibility of deterioration. Only NGK has adopted this test. I will show you the testing facilities during a quick tour in our factory near this laboratory. These facilities are expensive and increase manufacturing cost. The increase of manufacturing cost due to the introduction of such extra tests is recovered by introducing automatic production facilities that bring both quality improvement and reduction of cost. Reductions of cost that cause quality reduction are strictly prohibited even if the insulators meet IEC standards and the customers' specifications. Quality is always considered before cost. We don't balance quality and cost. This is easy to say, but difficult to do. We exert all possible effort. As a result, the quality of our product is so improved that deteriorated insulators occurring in service are only one out of 100,000 per year. This rate is lower than one-tenth or one-hundredth of that of other manufacturers' insulators. This excellent performance is recognized by the utilities of the world for long-term service.

Other efforts are directed toward technological contributions to our customers. The most important role of this laboratory is to supply useful reports to customers. We have presented a lot of technical papers to the IEEE and international conferences. There are five IEEE fellow members in this area. Two are from this laboratory. The remaining three are professors at Nagoya University. Owing to our high quality products and technical service, NGK has won a worldwide reputation and the heartfelt confidence of our customers.

Aspray:

How do these policies compare to those used in other nations?

Fujimura:

I have never managed a company in a western country, so I cannot make an exact comparison between America or Europe and Japan. I would like instead to describe our general affairs. Generally speaking, many companies feel that minimum-cost products that meet the specifications are the most competitive products. Many western companies take this policy, but we don't, as I explained before. Our company does not just try to sell products for maximum profit, but we think about how to develop proper products for our customers, including their prices. Of course, western companies also think of these matters and try hard. I believe the reason we remain the top manufacturer in the insulator field is that we make stronger efforts than the others. I have always said to our engineers, "Never be just an insulator engineer. You must also be an electric power engineer and see insulators from this side, so that we can see the true way to do things." Studies of our laboratory always agree with this point.

Labor conditions are different between western countries and Japan. In Japan, management and labor do not stand in opposition, but aim for good cooperation with each other. In conferences between managers and workers in our company, positive suggestions concerning managing the company often come from the workers. The labor union makes positive efforts within the company. We also believe that only a clean factory can produce high-quality products. A clean environment produces a clean mind, and a clean mind can produce high-quality products. Actually, it was very difficult to introduce this policy to our western companies. I believe that oriental spirit is necessary for modern management. We learned rationalism from western countries, and I recommend that western countries also learn from orientalism.

Other NGK Businesses

Fujimura:

Let me explain the net sales of NGK Insulators, Limited. I'll present you a brochure of NGK's annual report for 1993. The net sales of our company are about two billion US dollars. Only 20% of our sales will be from insulators in 1994. When I entered NGK, 90% of the sales were insulators. Business shares in NGK are as follows:

  • Insulators: 20%
  • Electric power equipments: 25%
  • Environment products (mainly): 25%
  • Fine ceramics (for automobiles): 25%
  • Special metal (Beryllium copper): 5%

All new products are developed within the company, so great attention is paid to R&D in NGK. About 6% of net sales are spent on R&D in this company. We have close contacts with universities and independent laboratories. But we rarely join with government organizations and are not helped by them.

Aspray:

I can see how you moved into the ceramics business and into special metals, but how did you get into the environmental business?

Fujimura:

You know, every commodity has a life cycle, a time when it hits its peak. Then a company must continue to develop new products. Since we spend 6% of our total sales amount on R&D, this can add up to big money. As for NGK's environmental business, we have two major projects. One is water treatment plants, and the other is radioactive waste treatment systems in nuclear plants. We started the water treatment system with a ceramic diffuser. This small plate ceramic diffuser supplies oxide to bacteria used to purify the water. This was our start. We entered that field through use of that plate. Then we developed additional equipment after research. We initiated this bacterial purifying technique. Also, we developed an incinerator for sludge pollution.

Aspray:

So in something like a sludge incinerating plant, will you just supply the ceramic pieces, or will you be the contractor for building the plant itself?

Fujimura:

We design and construct whole plants.

Aspray:

I see.

Fujimura:

That's how we developed a very big business. In the case of radioactive treatment systems for nuclear plants, we developed very excellent ceramic filters. The filters eliminate radioactive ash from the air. Only smoke goes out the chimneys. We started that kind of filter, and now we design and construct all such radioactive treatment systems.

Aspray:

You had originally been in the metal alloys business?

Fujimura:

First we intended to use beryllium metal for use in nuclear reactors. We began this because we have close relations with the power company. Beryllium copper has very high conductivity, strength, and flexibility. So it is very useful for electronics: springs, for example.

Educational and Career Choices

Aspray:

Why did you go to Tokyo University?

Fujimura:

Because they had the most demanding electrical course, I wanted to be challenged.

Aspray:

Did you find that it prepared you well for your future career?

Fujimura:

No. We didn't learn about insulators much.

Aspray:

Why did you choose to join NGK when you graduated?

Fujimura:

I wanted to join the power utility company, but after the war I was struck with tuberculosis and was an invalid for two years. I was helped by American medicines, but for medical reasons the utility company would not take me.

R&D and Design Departments

Aspray:

You worked in the design department. Is that where the R&D work is done by NGK?

Fujimura:

No. R&D is another division that cooperates with the design division. NGK develops all of its technology in-house.

Aspray:

The responsibility of the design division was to design new products?

Fujimura:

Yes, based on the development done in the R&D division, although they would already be cooperating.

Aspray:

How many employees are in the R&D department?

Fujimura:

500 in the whole company. About 10% of the work force.

Qualifications and Training of Engineers

Aspray:

What qualifications do you look for in new engineers?

Fujimura:

There are no specific requirements because people are trained within the company. We hire graduates straight out of universities. Sometimes we will hire specialists in new areas from other companies or universities, but that is not common. We probably have about thirty university science and engineering departments that we hire people from. We hire people with degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering, and also in ceramics, metals, chemistry, physics and biology.

Aspray:

In the past, a difference between Japan and the US has been the emphasis on training programs within Japanese companies. Can you tell me about this?

Fujimura:

We have various courses for the first two years of new recruits, but they are not continuous over that period. Also, within the first nine years we may move people between departments until we find one that suits them. The broad experience this gives is very useful, but this is not done for every employee. There are regular opportunities for employees to take extra training programs. They teach such things as management, motivation, human relations, and so on.

Aspray:

It is often the case that a good engineer is a bad manager. Do you find this a problem?

Fujimura:

We have many different levels of management, so a person can find a suitable position. It is not a great leap to a management position. If a person shows no management aptitude he can specialize in a technical area. Managers also retain some technical role.

Aspray:

Can someone continue to be promoted if he or she is just an engineer?

Fujimura:

Yes. There are different levels of engineer. They can become a chief engineer, and so on.

Aspray:

Are most of the top management from engineering backgrounds?

Fujimura:

About half of the top management have engineering backgrounds.

Customer Relations

Aspray:

Can you tell me about relations between departments of the company and with the customers?

Fujimura:

In Japan almost all work is strongly attached to the customer: electrical utility companies. We cooperate closely with the customers' engineers before we develop a product. We report to them and have discussions often.

Aspray:

Do you expose your R&D department to the customers?

Fujimura:

Certainly. Cooperation and connection with customers is very important, to bring fresh information inside.

Advantages of Location

Aspray:

Nagoya is known for being a production area for ceramics. How does this help you?

Fujimura:

We recruit ceramics engineers from throughout the country and bring them here. They want to work for us because we are specialists in the field. The mother company of Noritake Co. Ltd. is also located here.

Aspray:

Do you learn from the fine ceramics companies nearby?

Fujimura:

We have connections between companies, but we are generally independent of the competition. [Being here] is also very helpful geographically; this is a central point within Japan, and convenient for many of the raw materials we use.

Relationship to Universities

Aspray:

Can you tell me about your relations with universities?

Fujimura:

Another ex-NGK engineer and I are now working in universities, but the company does not have a very tight relationship with universities. We do have good relations with the technical organizations in Japan and will often form committees with these to investigate problems. We do donate money to the universities. Of course we also want to employ excellent students from universities.

Business with Foreign Companies

Aspray:

Tell me about the big differences when doing business with foreign companies.

Fujimura:

NGK has confidence in serving customers, particularly in technical services. We have a strong regard for the quality of our product. We want to contribute to the customers' designs, and we cooperate to find an optimum design with them. We adopt this philosophy with domestic and foreign customers, cooperating in a contamination research program in Pakistan and Venezuela and giving technical assistance to a program in Taiwan, based on our experience in Japan. In the short term we are helping our competitors, but in the long term it is good for our business.

Aspray:

You said that your quality is of paramount importance. You use factory automation to reduce costs because otherwise it would be uneconomic to maintain such quality?

Fujimura:

We do not merely balance quality and cost. Quality is more important.

Challenges of Senior Management

Aspray:

When you were in senior management positions, what did you find most challenging?

Fujimura:

I tried to prod young engineers to conduct research freely and perform to their ability. I found this most challenging. This was one of my favorite tasks.

Aspray:

Are there any final points you would like to make before I ask one last question?

Fujimura:

I wonder about the purpose of interviewing us in Japan?

Aspray:

The purpose is to let American industry learn about the electrical business and its key figures in Japan, and to develop a body of information so that researchers in the US will have access to data on the work in Japan.

Fujimura:

When we talked earlier, I was surprised that you asked me about my family and ancestors. I have been interviewed many times but never have been asked about them.

Aspray:

Well, my final question is: Could you summarize the key elements that have allowed you to make some of the best insulator products in the world?

Fujimura:

An insulator must be designed from the viewpoint of a power engineer, not an insulator engineer. They must have a wider perspective. This is my motto. Technology moves so fast that we need a philosophy for it. We spent much money for constructing laboratory around 25 years of age although the company at that time was not so large. This philosophy has helped our company to grow and to maintain quality. High voltage electricity supply is very essential to society, so the quality of insulation is very important. This has been a major issue in our philosophy. There is a difference between making a high quality product and meeting a specification. It is not sufficient just to meet the specification.

Aspray:

Thank you very much.

Fujimura:

You're welcome.