Products That Help Protect and Improve the Environment
Many of Shimadzu's products include functionality for or are used for applications directly linked to protecting or benefiting the environment, such as instruments to detect or monitor hazardous substances in electrical equipment or the environment. Shimadzu defines such products collectively as environmentally beneficial products and supplies them to the world as a way to contribute to society through development of technologies. The following is from an interview with managers in charge of developing such environmentally beneficial products, regarding the characteristics of such products and what is involved behind the scenes during development.
Specifically what kinds of instruments are being developed and sold as environmentally beneficial products?
Yamashita("Y" below): My department develops instruments that detect and measure hazardous substances banned or restricted by regulations primarily in Europe, such as the RoHS Directive*1 and the WEEE Directive*2, both for electrical equipments, and the ELV Directive for automobiles*3. One of the main instruments we develop is called an energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (EDX). Because electrical products and automobiles include such a wide range of metals, plastics, and other parts, the instrument involves almost every field of manufacturing.
Nakagami("N" below): Our department primarily handles two types of instruments, gas analyzers and water analyzers. Gas analyzers are used to analyze gas emissions regulated by the Japanese Air Pollution Control Law and determine whether emission levels are within the allowable range. Water analyzers are used to analyze whether or not water quality meets the standards specified in the Japanese Water Pollution Control Law or voluntary standards established at each factory and so on. They can assess how polluted water is by analyzing the amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen, and organic matter in waste water.
X-Ray/Surface Business Unit,
Analytical & Measuring Instruments Division
Environmental Business Unit,
Analytical & Measuring Instruments Division
What is the background for developing these instruments?
N:Of the water analyzers I mentioned, I will describe the background of developing the total organic carbon analyzer (TOC analyzer). The TOC analyzer evaluates the amount of organic matter in water based on its carbon content. Because it is able to quickly and reliably perform fundamental analysis to check whether water is clean or polluted, it is used widely to measure the level of water pollution. However, it is rarely used for official measurement parameters, such as in official environmental or waste water standards. Consequently, these analyzers are mostly used for voluntary water quality monitoring.
Y:EDX systems were released in 1998. Back then they were used to analyze inorganic ingredients and materials, such as metals and ceramics. However, because they allowed analyzing elements easily and non-destructively, they gradually began being used for more finished products. As it so happened, a case of arsenic poisoning in curry occurred, which resulted in emergency care centers throughout Japan installing EDX systems as a simple way to analyze arsenic. Then from about 2004, when electrical manufacturers began to implement measures for the RoHS Directive, EDX systems started being used to screen for hazardous substances, which resulted in rapid growth. For example, even a notebook computer is made up of about 1000 parts, which cannot all be precisely analyzed. Therefore, EDX systems have been introduced to provide a simpler method of analysis.
Developing Environmentally Beneficial Products
N:Laboratory model TOC analyzers primarily used for research applications are typically used only during the day, rather than continuously for 24 hours a day. Therefore, these analyzers have already included a timer function that keeps the system in sleep mode at night and then automatically wakes it up so that it is stabilized and ready for analysis before the prespecified time the following day. However, recent models save energy by consuming significantly less electricity during standby in the sleep mode. Shimadzu's TOC analyzers had always offered good energy efficiency, with excellent thermal insulation, thermal efficiency, and so on, but the newest models further reduce energy consumption by 36 %. It also qualifies to have Shimadzu's ECO label, which is a selling point to customers in Japan and overseas.
Y:Due to the RoHS and ELV directives, many EDX systems have been introduced in the electrical and automotive industries, where they are commonly used in purchasing departments or on the production line. We have recently introduced models for parts manufacturers, for example, that allow anyone to easily determine whether an item passes or fails with respect to shipping standards or other criteria values specified beforehand by simply placing the item in the measurement position and pressing a button. That is in stark contrast to the image of someone in a laboratory wearing a white lab coat and swirling a test tube.
What were some of the difficulties experienced in developing these systems?
Y:The first EDX systems released in about 1998 were intended for quickly determining the primary components, rather than for trace analysis. Most models analyzed components present in concentrations down to about 1000 ppm (0.1 %). Then after several improvements, our systems are now able to analyze even trace components of about 10 ppm (0.001 %). It was probably not until our products were placed on the market that it became possible to analyze samples ranging from primary components to trace amounts of hazardous components.
N:One of the advantages of TOC analyzers is their ability to easily and accurately measure organic matter in water, but being able to continue measuring properly is also important. It may seem sound like common sense, but for analyzing plant effluent water, for example, customers also consider whether the analyzers can continue operating reliably in a stable manner for long periods under severe operating conditions.
What advantages do Shimadzu products offer compared to competitors?
Y:For EDX systems it is certainly sensitivity. Early models were more difficult to operate or required pretreatment, such as pressing or shearing processes, but we have kept making improvements to make them easier to use by on-site personnel, without sacrificing analytical performance. I think they have finally transitioned from being analytical instruments to being inspection instruments.
N:In terms of performance, Shimadzu's laboratory type TOC analyzers continue to offer superior fundamental specifications compared to competitors. For online TOC analyzers, we are especially confident of their durability in actual operating conditions and they also have a wide selection of options available for improving the resistance to a variety of specific environmental conditions.
How have laws, regulations, or markets changed recently?
Y:We do not anticipate any major changes to the RoHS Directive itself, but voluntary industry standards are becoming stricter, so we feel that may provide a business opportunity. In addition, we think we can play an active role in energy-related fields, such as batteries, where major electrical manufacturers are currently investing considerable effort. Also, needs are expanding not only in the manufacturing sector, but also in the distribution sector. For example, due to the possibility of lead, chromium, or other hazardous substances being detected in products such as toys, household goods, education materials, and promotional gifts, it is increasingly being used to assure consumers of product safety.
N:TOC analyzers are not generally involved in meeting official regulation standards, but due to their ease of use and reliability, they have been used by local authorities for over 10 years. Therefore, we hope that in the future they will be adopted as a form of index for environmental regulations. Meanwhile, with the steady trend toward using voluntary standards by companies, especially in developed countries, TOC analyzers are increasingly being deployed to monitor effluents in an upstream process as a measure to prevent environmental accidents.
Lastly, what do you think are the future prospects for instruments?
Y:EDX systems used to be instruments that were installed in laboratories, but now that they are used in other areas, such as purchasing departments, we must deal with issues such as the need for quieter fans and the lack of space available for maintenance compared to typical laboratories. These changes are due to the changing user base. In addition, we must satisfy both the need to keep analytical performance at a high level and the need to provide easy operability for newly emerging countries. In terms of global trends, in addition to developing Middle East and African markets, improved portability and smaller size will be important factors as well.
N:For online TOC analyzers, we have kept working to satisfy the requirements of specific customer operating environments. Now we are going to make systems even easier to maintain. I also predict that the current analytical instruments will increasingly become more like sensors that allow anyone to reliably and easily perform analyses. I think systems will become simpler and use only minimal amounts of the gases currently used, without sacrificing analytical performance. For the time being, the next target will probably be China, India, and other newly emerging countries, or areas with increasing environmental regulations, such as Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Thank you so much for talking with us today.