Mr. Ikuo Sakamoto (director in charge of new business strategy) leads new business strategy at Paramount Bed, a major company dealing in beds for hospitals and nursing care. Always on nimble feet, he travels anywhere and everywhere necessary to find new technologies and business.
“Our company (in Higashisuna, Koto Ward) often appears in exhibitions, partly due to our proximity to Tokyo Big Sight (Tokyo International Exhibition Center.; Ariake, Koto Ward). We also show up in university laboratories, too.”
Mr. Sakamoto has an established reputation for finding new opportunities. Seven years ago, when he was the managing director of sales, he encountered the seed of a new technology while visiting Kasumigaseki.
Mr. Sakamoto recalls, “When I visited the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, I was told about a new scheme: the so-called ‘New Partnership Support Program.’ Specifically, I was shown a cell resembling a small mat as a core technology, and was told that it was intellectual property managed by Shizuoka University’s TLO. Then, when I happened to be in Hamamatsu on a business trip, I dropped by Shizuoka University.”
While visiting Shizuoka University’s TLO (technology licensing organization), Mr. Sakamoto met with Professor Nobuyoshi Morita (currently professor emeritus). At this time, he learned that 1) the intellectual property belonged to Professor Morita and Walking Day Co., Ltd., of Yokohama, and 2) the technology for manufacturing the cell belonged to Softpren Industry, a local company in Hamamatsu City.
“The first thing I received was a shoe’s insole. A water-filled cell was placed inside an ordinary shoe. When I pressed down on it, the swirling water produced a pleasing stimulation. I also understood that it probably had a good pressure dispersion effect. Then, at the same time that I brought the cell back and showed it to our technical development department, our researchers began talking about the possibility of producing products with good pressure dispersion by building cells into mats.”
Not long after, a slightly larger prototype, measuring some 30 centimeters square, arrived from Softpren Industry in Hamamatsu. Paramount Bed had begun testing pressure dispersion effect by building the prototype into a mat around the area of the hips and buttocks, the region that is most prone to bedsores.
In actuality, in the early 1990s, Paramount Bed had developed a bed for hospitals and nursing-care facilities by placing a water mattress made by another company onto its own metal bed frame. However, it discontinued this product after just two or three years.
The product was discontinued for three reasons. The first was its weight. The mattress was completely filled with water, which made it weigh as much as 300 kilograms. This made transporting it difficult. The second was troublesome maintenance. Because the water in the mattress can “spoil,” it had to be replaced once a month. And the third was the problem of “seasickness.” With a 15-cm thick water mattress, one problem was considerable motion that occurred just after a person sat on the mattress or moved to get up.
“Nonetheless, I remember that water had a positive image due to its environmental qualities and that our use of it was welcomed by the medical and nursing-care market. I felt that such a product would be well received if we could eliminate the problems of weight, spoiling, and seasickness. So I felt we really had something when we confirmed numerically the cell’s pressure dispersion effect and its ability to promote circulation to prevent bedsores.”
Even so, building cells into urethane mattresses was not a simple task.
Paramount Bed’s hospital and nursing-care beds are not flat. They are movable, with knee and back portions that can be raised. Because the mattress also bends when the knees or back are raised, meticulous and repeated trials and testing were conducted on such areas as cell production technologies for thorough leak prevention (including the size and positioning of the cell built into the mattress and treatment of materials at bending locations) and prevention of secondary damage in the event that water should leak.
“In our durability tests, we require durability that meets the standard of bed raising/lower six times per day multiplied by a service life of six or seven years multiplied by two. In other words, we demand that our products pass a test comprised of movements conducted several tens of thousands of times. Testing of this product involved two stages. After evaluating the cell itself, we then evaluated the mattress with the cell built into it. These steps took more than double the time needed to test ordinary products. We made some pretty tough demands on Softpren, but they responded well, and the result was a finished product.”
In 2009, sales of this new technology began with the “Aqua Float Mattress,” a product with a built-in cell for hospitals and nursing care. And in 2012, general sales of the cell alone began under the name “Aqua Active Pad.” “Active Pad” was supplied to Japan’s swimming team for the London Olympics and created quite a stir. It is now a product that Softpren Industry steadily supplies at a rate of more than 10,000 per year.
J-GoodTech introduces much information on outstanding top-of-niche or one-of-a-kind products and technologies which Japanese small and medium sized companies possess. Here in Feature Story, we feature dealings actually finalized by small and medium sized companies and major companies that participate in J-GoodTech and also describe their activities which enable to realize those.
J-GoodTech provides an introduction to a host of excellent but lesser-known Japanese companies and their niche-top and one-of-a-kind products and technologies. Here are ten representative examples.