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Kansai manufacturers aim to solve global issues with homegrown tech

Kansai manufacturers aim to solve global issues with homegrown tech

TOKYO: In the Kansai region, where the Group of 20 summit meeting will be held, there are a large number of manufacturing companies with unique technologies that can contribute to solving global issues. The combined gross regional product of Osaka Prefecture and seven nearby prefectures in the region is about ¥80 trillion (about $730 billion), comparable to the gross domestic product of the Netherlands. Local companies hope the summit in Osaka will be an opportunity to herald their technological strengths to the world.

In the food industry, Fuji Oil Holdings Inc., based in Osaka, produces foods that taste like dairy products, such as whipped cream made from soy milk, as well as butter-like and cheese-like products. The company also produces soy meat, which tastes like real meat.

“Foods made from plants will solve the possible global food shortage in the future,” Fuji Oil President and CEO Hiroshi Shimizu said, expressing the company’s intention to contribute to achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, one of which is the Zero Hunger challenge.

According to the United Nations, the world population is projected to grow from 7.7bn in 2019 to 9.7bn in 2050. As a result, “animal products such as milk, meat and fish are feared to be in short supply worldwide,” Shimizu pointed out.

Fuji Oil sees the United States and Europe, which have many health-conscious consumers, as current major markets for plant-based products, but also expects Asia and Africa, which may lack sufficient food supplies, as promising markets in the future.

Fuji Oil is renowned for its advanced technology in vegetable oils and has a globally high market share in the production of professional-use chocolates. The technology is, for example, being used to make things like ice cream chocolates that melt in the mouth at relatively low temperatures. The company is trying to produce products that taste better than real meat and butter, Shimizu said.

Shikoku Kakoki Co., based in Tokushima Prefecture, also does business with food companies, aiming to contribute to resolving global issues such as aging society.

The company offers a wide range of products, such as machines for the automated filling and sealing of special paper cartons that keep out air and light, packaging materials for foods, and even food products including tofu. By developing a machine to fill foods aseptically, the company has made it possible to safely refrigerate tofu — an essential ingredient for Japanese cuisine — for 180 days, preserving its fresh taste. The company’s long-life tofu is eaten at restaurants overseas and on cruise ships.

“As demand for nursing care products increases in an aging society, the need for technology to package foods aseptically will increase because of their high nutritional value and perishable nature,” an official of the company said.

Japan’s magic machine: Shima Seiki Mfg Ltd., based in Wakayama Prefecture, is the manufacturer of unique computerised “WholeGarment” knitting machines. The company’s machines contribute to making the products of global brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

The Shima Seiki’s latest machines can knit sweaters and other clothes in three dimensions. Therefore there is no need to cut the fabric and sew on sleeves. The machines enables clothing manufacturers to not only make clothes that are comfortable to wear, but also to save resources by eliminating wasted fabric.

According to Shima Seiki, the oil crisis in the 1970s in Japan triggered the company’s efforts to conserve resources and energy. As a result, “sustainability” became the keyword of the company’s management policy.

Chairman Masahiro Shima, called “Japanese Edison” because of his many inventions, said “our products have been described as Japan’s magic machines. They enable the apparel industry to transform from a labour-intensive industry by eliminating the sewing process.”