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.
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
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