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IWATSU: innovation solutions for next generation semiconductors

Interview - June 21, 2023

IWATSU electric continues to support the electronics industry through critical measurement equipment and chemical products.


Could you give us a brief rundown of your chemical business, and how your transparent reflectors can enhance electronic consumer goods as well as infrastructure, whilst leaving less of an environmental footprint?

On 1st October last year, we established a new company named Iwatsu Chemical Cross, that focuses on chemical products. We are pursuing this project utilizing our chemical technology gained through our printing business. Currently, we are placing significant emphasis on the development of our new chemical business, particularly in the area of conductive polymers.

Our conductive polymers find applications in various areas such as LSI trays and containers that require anti-static properties for packaging automotive components. They are also used in transparent heaters, where they can be applied to automotive mirrors to prevent fogging.

Additionally, these conductive materials can act as the electrode of dimming glass for windows, allowing for the transparency to be controlled by applying a voltage. Although the sample we have here still has thick wires, we are working to reduce their size and increase transparency.

Usually, there are two ways of creating circuit patterns. The conventional method involves placing copper foil on a surface and then etching away the copper. However, this etching process involves the use of harmful chemicals containing chromium, and it results in the wastage of copper from melting.

Iwatsu adopts the Full Additive method, creating electrostatic patterns on substrate by Iwatsu's unique technique and selectively places copper only where it is required. This technology offers advantages for touch screens, transparent heaters, wireless charging, and other applications. Currently, we are conducting R&D with the aim of applying our technology to 5G and 6G networks.

We are working on the development of transparent reflectors to mitigate dead spots in high frequency 5G and 6G environments. While there have been advancements in signal reflectors, they often utilize metallic materials that do not offer aesthetic appeal. Our technology allows us to manufacture thin, transparent meshes that can be used as reflectors.

We are currently in the prototyping stage, using one-meter by one-meter sized reflectors. By placing them on walls or other surfaces, we can effectively reflect signals and improve communication within a given space.


One of the major challenges in deploying 5G networks is the utilization of frequencies which inherently have a short range. Consequently, building infrastructure for 5G in urban areas, such as the densely populated city of Tokyo, becomes significantly difficult due to the abundance of buildings. How can this technology help overcome this hurdle and enable the effective use of limited spectrum frequencies, making 5G more usable in such urban centers?

We believe that by applying our technology to windows and rooftops, we can contribute to overall 5G signal enhancement. While other companies in Japan, are conducting similar research, our uniqueness lies in our environmentally friendly and cost-effective approach. The price of copper is rising. Given the increasing costs in the industry, making the most efficient use of resources without waste is a crucial factor for success.


Two years ago during our previous interview, we discussed the challenge of creating synergies among the different units of the company at the time. With the historical presence of the telecoms, testing and measurements, and printing divisions, and the recent addition of the chemical division, I would like to know the progress made in fostering collaboration and synergies within the group. Are you satisfied with the level of collaboration among the now four business divisions?

Our company originally focused on verbal communication equipment, and our strength lies in communication technologies. Building upon this strength, we have expanded our business. In our previous interview, we discussed our latest technology, which offered a comprehensive solution for meter reading and communication applied in agricultural field control. This solution allowed for automated monitoring and maintenance of temperature control in greenhouses that use heavy oil for heating, thanks to our system.

As a natural progression, we have further evolved by establishing a chemical division alongside our printing division. This allows us to leverage our knowledge and apply it to our core business of telecommunications.

Our main business of wireless telecommunication remains. For instance, within our office environment, we have implemented a smartphone system that utilizes technologies such as Wi-Fi 6E or local 5G. By incorporating our chemical expertise, we can enhance signal reliability and provide a comprehensive solution that surpasses conventional approaches.


In January of this year, you invested in a company called Nextgen Incorporated, which creates software related to telecommunications. That investment was made in partnership with NEC. Can you tell us a little bit more about this investment? What pushed you to invest in Nextgen, and what are some of the positives that you expect from this this investment?

Nextgen specializes in cloud business and provides cloud systems for call centers on a subscription-based model. As part of our mid-term strategy, we identified the development of cloud systems as one of our pillars. However, the timeline for our own development extended beyond our initial schedule.

To expedite the process, we decided to invest in Nextgen and entered into a capital agreement. Thanks to this agreement, we were able to accelerate our progress and launch a new service called Blue Compass on April 17st this year. This investment has effectively saved us around one year of development time, allowing us to work more efficiently with Nextgen.

CS-8000 Series semiconductor Curve Tracer

If we could shift the conversation to your semiconductor-related products, I find your CS8000 series particularly intriguing. This product specifically targets semiconductors with a wide band gap, such as SiC (Silicon Carbide) and GaN (Gallium Nitride). Could you provide us with more details about this product, including your expectations for it, as this is quite a growing market, especially for power electronics?

In our test and measurement equipment business, we have been developing equipment for high-speed and accurate measurement of semiconductors using SiC and GaN. While curve tracers measure the characteristics of semiconductors, in addition, there is a need for a high-performance probes to measure the circuit operation of those semiconductors that operate in combination, such as inverters.

Circuits using SiC and GaN are operating at higher voltages and higher speeds, and to support these measurements, the latest model focuses on optical isolation technology. It is important for measuring instruments to continuously improve their measurement technology with the technological development of semiconductors. In the case of power semiconductors, advanced probes are required to enable accurate measurements. To achieve this, we have established a collaboration with a German company to develop cutting-edge probe technology specifically tailored for power semiconductors.

We are collaborating with them, and are now discussing capital investment with them. The name of the latest probe we developed is ‘FF-1500’ and it has been receiving a lot of attention since the last US exhibition APEC(Applied Power Electronics Conference) in Orlando, US.


The electronics and semiconductor sectors ae currently at a turning point. After two years of disruptions caused by the covid-19 pandemic, we witnessed governments implementing loose monetary policies, injecting significant amounts of money into the markets. However, the situation has now changed, and we are currently facing a downturn in manufacturing, specifically in the electronics sector. This is due to the increasing interest rates in the US and an oversupply of semiconductors, leading to high inventory levels and a drop in prices. Samsung's latest earnings call provided a detailed analysis of this situation, revealing a $1 billion loss in their semiconductor division. Despite these challenges, major foundries like TSMC remain optimistic and expect a strong recovery in the second half of this year. This recovery is anticipated to be driven by increased consumer purchasing in China and the adoption of new technologies for AI, electric vehicles, and autonomous driving. I would like to hear your personal opinion on the outlook for the manufacturing industry and electronics over the next 12 to 16 months. How do you perceive the industry's trajectory amidst the current market conditions and the anticipated recovery in the second half of the year?

Regarding the outlook for the next 12 to 16 months, the manufacturing and electronics industry faces challenges due to oversupply, as evidenced by Samsung's excess stock and temporary investment halts by companies like TSMC.

 This may pose a concern for the weaker electricity semiconductor sector in which they operate.

On the other hand, our semiconductor measurement system, the Curve Tracer, is designed for high-voltage measurement of next-generation power semiconductors such as GaN and SiC, which are similar to high power semiconductors. Curve tracer can measure leakage current and various parameters, which are static characteristics of power semiconductors.

In addition to this, the dynamic characteristics can be measured by using an oscilloscope to measure the electrical losses of various processes, which is useful as an analysis tool to solve problems. This will have the effect of extending the increase the mileage of EVs by, for example, reducing electrical losses through improved conversion efficiency and increasing power density, thereby making them smaller and lighter.


The penetration with EVs is different from country to country. In China, for example, the boom has been unprecedented, with large new players like Neo. In the United States, of course, there's a very big push in EV driven by Tesla. What's your international strategy for these types of products? Are you also looking to push them in foreign markets with booming EV sectors across the world?

To further expand the presence of our measurement devices given the advent of EVs around the world, we have been developing new kinds of probes. Germany has Mercedez-Benz and many other automotive manufacturers. Working with a joint venture company, we are planning to penetrate the US market. Once we have a consolidated plan with our partner, we will dispatch it to our US office.


One item of big news that we read that has happened since our last interview is that you announced that you will sell your Malaysian factory. I remember two years ago you sold the office, but you still had the factory. I have two questions here. First, why do you think this is a strategic moment to sell the factory right now? And secondly, can you run us through your updated international strategy?

However, factors such as the advent of covid-19, the depreciation of the Japanese yen (which reached ¥150 per dollar), the dispute in Ukraine, and the rising costs of fuel and electricity have made it burdensome to maintain the factory.

Consequently, we have made the decision to sell the factory, and it has been announced that it will be sold to the Walsin group, in Taiwan. We have had a long-standing relationship with them as a supplier, with an annual transaction volume of about 50 to 100 million yen. Walsin wanted to strengthen its Malaysian base by leveraging the high quality standards of our factory's production and employees. Therefore, handing over our factory to them has been a favorable arrangement.

Digital Oscilloscopes DS-8000 Series + High Voltage Optically Isolated Probe FF-1500

It's quite interesting that you talk about the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Japanese yen because this is creating a very interesting moment for Japan. There are some negatives like the cost of materials going up, but generally it seems that this has been taken positively by Japanese industry. Manufacturing in Japan is cheaper than it's been for the past 20 to 30 years, and it's also making Japanese exports extremely competitive. As such, we are seeing a resurgence of ‘Made In Japan’, as exemplified by your company. We saw from fiscal year ‘21 to ‘22 that your sales increased by 6% and you had a 15% increase in your electronic measurement devices. How is the current macroeconomic condition under the Japanese yen and the US dollar impacting your business? What challenges is it creating? What opportunities is it creating and is it redesigning your strategy a little bit for the next one to two years?

In terms of the effect of the fluctuation of the yen and the US dollar on our business, our business model primarily involves domestic sales and imports. The fluctuation of the yen has a significant impact on our import business, but we are expecting to increase our export business to compensate for that loss and achieve a positive balance.

As for manufacturing in Japan, while the technology and product quality in Southeast Asian and other Asian countries may appear elevated at first glance, it often lacks consistency. Many Japanese companies prioritize stability and quality assurance and are therefore interested in bringing manufacturing back to Japan and collaborating with Japanese manufacturers. We often receive inquiries from domestic companies asking if we can produce their products at our Fukushima factory.


Let's imagine we come back five years from now, and we have this interview with you again. First of all, what would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for this company and how would you like your company to be seen globally?

Our company has three main business pillars: communications, printing(chemicals,) and measurement devices. If I‘m still here in five years, I‘d like there to be a fourth pillar of our business by then.

Speaking of our global presence, we currently have an ongoing project to expand our measurement device operations from Germany to the United States. Our goal is to develop and establish our products as the standard in the global industry, applicable not only in Europe but also in the North American region. To achieve this, it is crucial to elevate our human resources, particularly by encouraging young generations to actively pursue opportunities overseas.

Aside from the interview, I would like to share an interesting story about one of our suppliers with whom we have collaborated for over 60 years. This supplier, like us, is an SME, but they have also ventured into a unique business: shark farming. They provide caviar to high-end establishments such as first-class and Michelin-starred Japanese, French, and Chinese cuisine restaurants. They work closely with around 20 renowned chefs who infuse their own flavors into the caviar. This diversification beyond the core scope of their business is very interesting.