From: Kyodo News International
Published April 28, 2005 12:00 AM

New Environment-Friendly Technology Developed

TOKYO — The painting industry was regarded during the bubble economy as a typical example of a dirty and dangerous industry and treated as a nuisance to the environment.

But painting artisans' skills developed in the city of Higashi-Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, are going to bear fruit as new environmentally friendly technologies.

"Lead-free electrodes" developed by Teikoku Ion Co. in the city is an electrode painted by a substance other than lead, producing nothing harmful. A technology to make painting film thin to several nanometers (1 nanometer is one-1 millionth millimeter) is applied.

With strengthened regulations on lead painting, the company will try to expand its business, and the technology is also expected to be applied to fuel batteries.

Veteran artisans' high techniques have led to the development of the lead-free electrode. "In difficult paint treatment, experience and intuition are largely required in subtly adjusting the time of soaking in a solution and the amount of electric current," said President Takashi Nakamura.

The fusion of artisan skills and chemical knowledge has led to the extremely thin nano-painting technology, paving the way for the development of the lead-free electrode, he said.

Yoshimasa Kato, a professor of University of Hyogo, stressed the importance of technologies which cannot be made in a manual, saying, "The regional strength is not formal, surface information but the 'depths of competitive power' in tacit information which cannot be expressed in words." But due to advancing ages of artisans and the difficulty to secure successors, their skills have been rapidly fading.

Takeshi Wakabayashi, president of SOUSOU Co. in the city of Kyoto, a manufacturer of split-toed heavy-cloth shoes, was relieved to hear from an artisan who said, "No production could have been made if one year had been late." There are only a few manufacturers of such shoes in the city. SOUSOU once disbanded due to decreases in demand but was reborn.

The company is manufacturing shoes with modern cloth to match jeans worn by young people. In 2003, it opened an exhibition in New York and is now shipping shoes to nine countries, including the United States and Denmark.

The shoes have also been bought by designer Jean Paul Gaultier and movie director Steven Spielberg.

Masatomo Onishi, a professor at Kansai University, said, "In Kansai, matured industries, such as steel and textile, and techniques of traditional industrial arts are concentrated. There should be many growth buds if new materials and fresh knowledge are combined." In industries which have been neglected by the administration and the business community, there may be some whose new technologies and designs can be in common use globally, industry analysts said.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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