Japanese manufacturers use creativity, expertise to pitch in amid pandemic
TOKYO — In response to the coronavirus epidemic, small and medium-sized companies in Japan are developing new products one after another, using their established technologies and know-how to help prevent the spread of infections — and also hoping to turn the crisis into an opportunity amid a drop in sales of their usual products.
Tatsuzawa Kasei in Fuefuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, is busy developing curved plastic earpieces to end the discomfort of wearing protective masks, as the masks’ elastic strings often irritate users’ ears. Cutting the strings and attaching them to the comfortable earpieces prevents the strings from digging into the wearer’s ears.
Company President Masahiko Tatsuzawa, 60, had experienced discomfort around his ears when wearing a mask and found out that his employees had the same problem. He then began making prototypes, using trial and error to pursue perfect flexibility and comfort using his company’s long-held skill at molding such plastic products as CD cases. The earpieces are to be released soon.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the company has also developed a foot-operated hand sanitizer pump, selling 1,000 units since its release in April. The company’s acrylic boards for guarding against airborne droplets are also selling well.
Tatsuzawa said, “We want to keep making items that are inspired by customers’ voices of ‘I wish I had this or that.’”
GILD design Co. in Kameyama, Mie Prefecture, has developed an assist hook (¥1,848 including tax) that can be hung over a handrail inside a bus or train. One end of a copper plate is cut into a hook shape to be hung over the rail, while the other end is shaped to be easily gripped, including a finger hole.
GILD’s executive and craftsman Shinichi Matsuba, 45, said it all started in late March, before a state of emergency was declared, when a friend living in Tokyo told him, “I’m worried: I feel holding onto handrails will raise the possibility of being infected.”
The company’s sales, including its flagship aluminum-alloy smartphone cases, were down by half from last year. Matsuba was inspired by his friend’s remark and started designing a piece, hoping the effort to help his friend would “be good for the company as well.”
He chose copper as the material because it is believed to be highly bactericidal and thought viruses wouldn’t be able to linger for long on it. He stuck to the idea of keeping the item portable, at 8 centimeters long and 4 centimeters wide. He developed the item just in two weeks and released it online in mid-April — whereupon he received 25,000 orders in just two days.
“I was surprised by the unexpected response. I’m glad that it is also useful to avoid infection,” Matsuba said.
Akita-based Hokushin Electronics Co., which specializes in making a device to manufacture semiconductors and other electronic devices, is working on making face shields and goggles. The company was asked by the Akita prefectural government to make the gear based on its expertise garnered through making parts for a veterinary ventilator in the past.
Prioritizing the comfort of the wearer, the company has tested a number of different types of resins and has completed prototypes. The products have been shipped mainly to medical institutions. Hokushin’s President Muneki Sato said, “I’m happy to be able to make things that catch people’s attention.”
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