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NDC: The total solutions provider for fire and disaster prevention

Interview - June 2, 2023

Founded in 1955, Nippon Dry Chemical delivers solutions for fire safety across numerous industries and has risen to the challenge of differentiating its products from others on the market.


Could you give us a brief overview of the history of fire regulations in Japan and how they affect the competitiveness of companies in the fire detection and suppression market?

In Japan, the firefighting business historically started right after WWII, with whole systems being introduced to Japan from the United States. Japanese fire regulations have changed little over the past 50-60 years.

In Europe, the fire code is EN (European Norm), and in the United States, it is UL or FM. These are the fire codes. In Japan, fire codes are regulated by a single body called the JFEII - the Japan Fire Equipment Inspection Institute.

All products have to pass these regulations, so in a sense, our products must be the same. Another company’s fire extinguisher must basically be the same as an NDC fire extinguisher in quality and performance because all manufacturers follow the same regulations. The same goes for pump monitors and fire alarm systems.

This is because the JFEII requires us to comply with these guidelines which are very precisely described, in true Japanese style.


In a market where over-detailed regulations make all products effectively equal; how do you differentiate yourself?

How to differentiate our products from others is a key point which demands my utmost attention. This is my presidency’s most demanding challenge. For instance, we call one product the Quick Splasher and it looks like a fire extinguisher.

Fire extinguishers have to discharge foam from concentrate or powder over 10 seconds continuously. Why? Because if you cannot direct the powder or foam accurately against fire, that represents a weakness in suppressing it.

Fire suppression needs quick discharge of foam or liquid in a short period of time. That makes sense, so we called it Quick Splasher. It is unique and fast. It quickly disperses the foam and covers the whole area instantaneously from the two liters of liquid inside. Its two nozzles can discharge two liters of liquid in two seconds. With one nozzle, it is less than five seconds.

By doing it that way, we are able to suppress the gasoline vapor. The danger of gasoline fires is that the vapor is quick. After 10 seconds, it catches fire, and boom, finished. If this product had been discharged in cases where gasoline was an accelerant in the past, the vapor would have been suppressed.

The Quick Splasher is not a fire extinguisher. Fire extinguishers need to be able to maintain their discharge for over 10 seconds, which may be of no use in the case of gasoline. It would be too late. That is why we developed this. These kinds of devices can differentiate ourselves from our competitors.


You also provide different services to petrochemical facilities and such, and we know that in these industrial sites, fire is a very real threat. However, there are different types of fires that can start - combustible dust fires, flammable liquids and gasses, equipment and machinery, even electrical, and they all need to be dealt with in their own specific ways. How are you able to adapt your firefighting solutions to suit these different types of fire hazards?

We ourselves must be equipped with different kinds of firefighting solutions. In case of such hazards, we provide gas fire suppression systems and powder fire suppression systems. In other words, to fight fires involving such combustible materials, analysis of the most appropriate agent is critical in explaining how the fire suppression agent works. Gas, liquid, foam concentrate, powder - it depends on the combustible subjects. Our technical section knows well how these agents are able to suppress fire. We know the logic, we know the chemistry, and we are able to explain to customers which system would be the most appropriate one for them. Whether it be plants, industrial factories, electrical companies or whoever, the most appropriate system depends on the nature of the combustible subjects.


One of your products is the IG-541, which has a CO2 concentration level of 3-4%, compared to more traditional solutions that have a 34% concentration level. How is the IG-541 still able to effectively control fires with a low CO2 concentration level?

Japan is very unique. The Japanese firefighting concept is completely different from the others. Gas fire suppression is one of them. In Japan, 90% of gas fire suppression is done with nitrogen.

Nitrogen and helium are the best gasses for fire suppression, but because of environmental concerns, helium is now restricted. After that, CO2 is dangerous, so Japan introduced nitrogen.

All over the world, many large US and European companies do not use nitrogen. There are very few nitrogen gas fire suppression systems worldwide. Nitrogen is present in our neighborhood, but if you go into a room filled with nitrogen gas, it is dangerous. You can experience health problems and even suffocate within 10-20 seconds.

IG-541 was developed in the United States. A university professor invented it for purposes other than fire suppression. They developed this gas for altitude training instead of going up a mountain. To simulate being at a height of 3000 meters, they put an IG-541 in a room and used it to lower the oxygen content to 20%.

The IG-541 is now utilized for fire suppression, so it saves human lives both in terms of altitude training and fire suppression since the mechanism involved is the same. Gas fire suppression works by reducing the oxygen rate to less than 12%, so nitrogen gas fire suppression in a closed room will reduce the oxygen rate to 20%. Nobody should be in the room at that time, not even firefighters, because it is dangerous.

However, in the case of IG-541, it is no problem. We can go in. We have experimental facilities at our factory where we conduct fire tests. I was the first person to go into the room after the IG-541 was discharged during a test to demonstrate how safe it is.

This safety aspect is recognized by many customers and now there are big data center companies in Japan, some from the US, who are building facilities in Japan and they choose IG-541. Nippon Dry-Chemical is the only company able to distribute and install it, so the fire separation business is exciting. This is a good chance for me to challenge the traditional Japanese approach to firefighting.


You have identified a number of new applications for your product. It seems like there are a lot more potential causes of fire in industrial settings nowadays than there used to be. What applications for the future are you targeting?

Again, this is also a challenge. At the moment, I would say that current Japanese regulations are not able to cope with all the new possible causes of fire, such as lithium-ion battery fires.

It is becoming more critical to find out how to cope with such new developments as the climate changes. Even in Japan, wildfires occur frequently. How do we cope with this using fire suppression agents whilst at the same time protecting the environment?

Environmental concerns are also critical from a firefighting business perspective. Obviously, we are using chemical substances. Have you heard of PFOA? This is a harmful substance and is prohibited from being used in production across Europe, the United States and also in Japan. Actually, our current foam fire suppression agent has PFOA in it. It is harmful, but it is here in Japan. It is a very small amount, but this PFOA does exist in our firefighting formulation.

One Japanese company  also has a program using PFOA. This PFOA is detrimental to health by causing cancer as if it is present in the body, it is toxic.

We tell this to fire brigades, and we tell them that our solution does not contain PFOA. To differentiate ourselves from others and to promote our competitive edge, our most important challenge is to offer such alternatives and be able to demonstrate how our product is good to the environment, to your company, your staff, and to fire brigades. Fire brigades fight fires every day using foam concentrate and they are exposed to PFOA every day from that foam concentrate. It is very dangerous and that is why we developed this firefighting agent that does not include PFOA, and this is another good differentiator for us.


Many fire extinguishers contain highly pressurized chemicals that can accumulate in the environment, and this can make it difficult for fire extinguishers to be recycled. Your NDC aluminum series not only is lighter, but it is also easy to recycle. Can you tell us more about the Aluminum series?

The aluminum series is very light compared to traditional models. Another important angle to discuss is ease of use. This is another feature we have to take care of. Aluminum is non-corrosive, easy to handle, and easy to recycle. It can be expensive though. We like to sell at the appropriate price.

Can you give us a breakdown of your R&D strategy, and are there any products and technologies that you are currently working on that you would like to showcase?

We need to be able to demonstrate our technology to leaders worldwide. We use a pre-engineered fire fighting system, meaning a package system. It uses combined fire detection and suppression capabilities to detect smoke or heat and automatically starts the suppression system. We call it a “combined” or “pre-engineered” package system for small equipment, or maybe a cubicle in a data center somewhere. We are very good at developing this type of system.

This is not within the scope of the JFEII. It is not regulated by the Japanese government or firefighting bodies, but it is useful at protecting the customer’s factory and assets, and can quickly suppress a fire. We are also able to provide customers with a variety of fire suppression agents to choose from. Would you like powder or do you like gas? Or do you like a foam agent, free of PFOA?

To worldwide leaders, Japanese firefighting companies want to be able to demonstrate pre-engineered packages. Worldwide, fire detection and fire suppression are different animals. There is a competition between the two, but our system brings them together.

Fire detection is deregulated, so it is a completely different world conceptually than fire suppression. Being able to combine both and meet customers’ expectations makes this a unique system. In worldwide firefighting, different companies cater to detection and suppression. Company A, for example, handles fire detection but not suppression, whilst Company B does suppression but not detection.


From a business point of view, what do you think is the advantage of having these two combined?

A fire detection company cannot understand fire suppression, and a fire suppression company cannot understand fire detection. Understanding both these factors means we are able to develop integrated solutions. Some companies do not do fire extinguishers, only detection systems like fire alarms. Nippon Dry-Chemical is therefore unique in this segment by offering all round solutions.

Our uniqueness lies in covering the whole area and being able to develop unique products that appeal to customers. Fire suppression always needs a solution agent, and we know gas, powder and foam agents very well. That is the ‘chemical’ in Nippon Dry-Chemical.


Can you explain to us the role that collaboration plays in your business model?

I think it is important for Nippon Dry-Chemical to maintain good relationships with trustworthy partners. As I said, the Japanese firefighting industry is, in a sense, a closed market. Therefore, Nippon Dry-Chemical needs to aggressively communicate with trustworthy overseas partners. We are joining hands with a good Australian company called Xtralis which is a 100% subsidiary of Honeywell. The name of their product is VESDA - Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus.

Also, we are joining hands with Tyco, our previous parent company. We are also joining hands with a Korean company called Masteco. This company is also good at producing firefighting equipment.

By maintaining such good partnerships with trustworthy companies, we would like to introduce their techniques to Japan. In Japan, it is difficult for foreign companies to penetrate the Japanese market, so Nippon Dry-Chemical could be a conduit for introducing these first-class overseas techniques.

We know the JFEII regulations well, and we can tell clients how to modify certain systems to make them compliant with regulations. By doing so, we can introduce higher class overseas technology to the Japanese firefighting market. This is critical.

Japanese fire industry standards do not necessarily match with worldwide ones. To a large extent, overseas regulations go further compared to the overseas UL and EN standards. Western standards are flexible in introducing new concepts and technology, new ideas. In Japan, this is inevitably not the case. To some extent, as I said, nitrogen is still predominant in gas fire suppression in Japan, but it is not used overseas anymore.

There are two types of fire detection. The conventional type is what people are already familiar with. The other type is known as the addressable type, which means we can identify which particular detector is signaling a fire and we are able to know where the fire started and where it is spreading to. Fire brigades will be able to quickly focus on specific locations.

Whilst conventional types only detect the general area where a fire may be happening, such as the second or third floor of a building, they cannot pinpoint a particular location, so the addressable type is better. In Japan’s case, the conventional type accounts for 99% of the market, with the addressable type only 1%.

This again highlights Japan’s differing common sense. Why should it be like this? I wonder whether customers are satisfied with this situation, with 99% of automatic fire alarm systems being inferior to those from overseas.

The addressable fire detection systems are mainly employed by big companies in commercial buildings and factories. Small or medium sized organizations like hospitals and schools all use the conventional type, which is poor from my perspective.

Our customers are entitled to enjoy the maximum safety of the addressable type, so we have to do more to convince customers and society at large to adopt these better solutions. Nippon Dry-Chemical will be able to deliver better quality and more reliability and safety with this solution. This is Nippon Dry-Chemical’s mission.


Moving forward, have you identified any countries or regions that you would like to further expand into, and what strategies will you employ to do so?

The company that we acquired, Shiheung Metal, produces aluminum cylinders. In terms of our overseas strategy, we are focusing on Taiwan and Vietnam. There is a company, Hazard Control Technology USA, that has developed a unique suppression agent called F500, which is a completely  fluorine -free agent solution.

They show their control technology on the home page of the company’s website. They are famous for producing this  fluorine-free agent and Nippon Dry-Chemical is the sole distributor of F500. Hazard Control Technology has a subsidiary in Vietnam with whom we have a good relationship, and we purchase the F500 from them and bring it to Japan. In return, we are providing them with our fire extinguishers equipped with F500 for export.

In Taiwan, we have two agents acting as distributors. Taiwanese regulations are similar to those in Japan, so if we get approval for a product in Japan, we are also then likely to get it in Taiwan.

Right now, we are not able to provide such firefighting equipment services to places like the Middle East or Indonesia. There are no opportunities for Japanese companies to participate in such firefighting projects overseas.

In the old days, we were able to do it, but now we cannot. Many international players are dominating the market. Instead, I would like to emphasize that Nippon Dry-Chemical’s mission is to deliver to Japan’s society – its companies and people – higher safety networks with unique products.

There are many opportunities to harness the trends from conventional to addressable fire prevention systems, and from nitrogen to IG-541. There is more safety and protection. In the Japanese firefighting market, there is lots to do.

We are able to develop and produce the fire suppression agent, not including PFOA, and by doing so, we are able to provide customers with a much more environmentally friendly fire suppression agent, which is safer for fire brigades and citizens alike. Firefighting is connected to society and it is a critical and fundamental part of our society, but it is not usually recognized by society and people tend to take it for granted. We have to educate customers and society to show them that this is a much better and safer method.


Imagine we come back to interview you again on the last day of your presidency. What would you like to have achieved by then?

I would say my remaining time is not long. My mission is to change Japan’s fire protection environment and improve it, and I think we can do it. We have such capable people in our technical department, and they have a good knowledge of firefighting equipment and the solutions we provide.

As for R&D, we have sales segments and they are aggressive. Most interesting to me are the challenging and rewarding aspects of being able to shift trends from conventional addressable fire detection systems, and from nitrogen to IG-541.

VESDA is not affected by current fire regulations. Current fire detection seems to involve shouting “fire!” once a large fire with lots of smoke has already broken out. VESDA can detect small particles of smoke, meaning that a fire can be detected at an earlier stage.

If we are able to detect such smoke at an early stage and quickly go there, we can intervene to prevent the fire spreading. Nippon Dry-Chemical is also the sole distributor of VESDA, and my mission is also to make VESDA the conventional approach to fire prevention. If we were able to achieve this mission, Japanese society would become much safer.

There is this much better apparatus available to enjoy that provides us with a safer life, but customers do not know about it, so our mission is to educate and teach them that there are these new systems available to protect their companies.

The VESDA device is now used in many places in Europe, like subways, museums, hospitals and places of worship, but in Japan, only limited sectors like data centers use it. I am expecting this VESDA device will be further developed more generally. Although this fire detection device is not regulated under Japanese regulations, maybe in the next 5-10 years, it will be. I will be observing developments, and then I will retire.