Interview with Koji Tanida (first interview): About the Equipment
What were you doing when you first started developing mercury analyzers?
The company was founded on a small scale, and I was quite young, something which made me hungry to learn as much as possible.
Because I was so hungry to learn as much as possible, I became very aware of the needs of customers.
Since we were such a small organization we were able to respond to development needs in a flexible manner and manufacture the appropriate equipment in a timely manner
That type of response is one of the reasons that we have been able to continue doing business to this day dealing in mercury analyzers only.
Needless to say, you could mention environmental analysis as the primary applicable example of mercury analysis technology, but if we had depended on those types of applications only, we would not have survived.
With environmental analysis, and because of its very nature, all you have to do is meet the environmental requirements, but you would then need to provide more inexpensive equipment and thus end up being involved in an intense price competition.
Nippon Instruments Corporation has provided a group of various units used in quality control systems that have acted as an additional pillar to the company’s business. With the models in the group, the top priority has been placed on the performance rather than the price.
The fact that users who need to identify extremely precise mercury levels choose our products is probably another reason that we have been able to continue doing business up to now by focusing on the single chemical element of mercury.
What are features that are specific to the mercury analyzers provided by Nippon Instruments Corporation when compared to those of other manufacturers?
The principle with measuring mercury is so simple and everything about the method is so open to the public that in fact mercury analyzers can be very easily created.
Without any special features, there would be no difference in the functionality of mercury analyzers made by all the different makers apart from their appearance.
The simple principle of the measurements, therefore, enables anyone to create mercury analyzers; however, Nippon Instruments Corporation produces them while adding the special knowhow that has been cultivated throughout its history.
I would refer to our attitude as “placing our souls in all our equipment.”
Maintaining this attitude has not been easy, but we have achieved that, and, thus, I believe, is why Nippon Instruments can now make such a wide variety of products available.
That knowhow is our intellectual property, which, we are certain, is an integral part of the most important features of the products made by Nippon Instruments, who has been a mercury analyzer specialist for a number of years.
I have committed myself to handing on that knowhow and intend to transfer it to our successors and the younger generations.
Could you tell us about some important incidents in relation to mercury analyzers?
One day, an email was received from the central laboratory of a major oil company in Rotterdam, Holland.
They stated that they had heard about us from the internet, and asked whether our equipment could be used to measure mercury in naphtha (raw or straight gasoline).
We replied that “Yes, it could,” and started exchanging messages with them, upon which they then sent us a sample to be measured. I was in charge of that and dutifully undertook the measurement and sent the results to them.
They are a major company and have a global network and hence had naturally sent the same request to other companies.
I guess our result was the best, but at that time almost everyone in the industry would have said “NIC? What’s that?” The company then said, “We cannot trust the results that easily. Could you bring the analyzer with you and carry out the measurements in our presence. We will utilize your technology if the same results can be achieved.”
Upon hearing that, we grew rather nervous, but we did then take our analyzer on the road to Rotterdam.
We met with their engineers at their laboratory and realized that the measurement would have to be very precise.
According to the specifications they mentioned at the meeting, we took the measurements, and then reported the results on the third day of our stay, based on which we then engaged in further discussion with their engineers on the following day.
Finally, their chief engineer stated “That’s perfect! Could you “deliver” this mercury analyzer on this day?” We were overjoyed to hear that and that night the wine tasted amazing. (laughs)
Another episode would be:
We didn’t know how they had heard of us but a major company, namely UOP from the US, provided us with the opportunity “to develop new standard mercury levels for oil for them.”
We contacted their engineers and sent them some sample measurement results, exchanged more information with each other and eventually they specified in their standards that ‘the mercury analyzer XXX of Nippon Instruments shall be used.’
We believe that the above achievements resulted from the efforts we had made to develop and manufacture mercury analyzers at a level that were usable not only for environmental analysis but also quality control.
It was quite a long time ago that we measured the mercury content in the air above an overseas gold mining area.
The mercury in the air had to be ‘measured not horizontally but vertically, for example, at every 20 meters of height, up to 200 meters above the ground.’
We could easily measure any mercury in the air using a drone or something similar now, but that kind of thing was not available at the time. We therefore placed a special order for a large airship-shaped balloon that was created with consideration of the lifting power needed and calculated for that purpose, from which a mercury analyzer was suspended to make the measurements.
No failure would be permissible at the measurement site, and so we launched the balloon on a trial basis at an elementary school that neighbored the premises of our company.
We carried out the test with regard to the flotation of the balloon by filling it with helium gas from several cylinders.
I clearly remember the balloon was so large that many of the neighboring people, both children and adults, gathered there and wondered what was happening.
Thanks to the test, we did succeed in launching the balloon at the site and carrying out the measurements without any specific problems arising.
Would the absence of mercury analyzers give rise to any negative effects in our lives?
That is a very difficult question to answer.
This is probably not the right answer but I am sure that someone would have eventually developed a mercury analyzer and released it on the market because they are essential.
Do you have any advice to your subordinates or successors who would engage in mercury measurements?
I instruct them to ensure to study both ‘English’ and ‘Statistics’ and ‘to avoid procrastination.’
Languages are merely a form of communication and some people can do fairly well in overseas business scenes by employing interpreters, but the fact is English is the default language for international society and hence English speakers have the advantage over anyone that doesn’t speak it. I therefore wholeheartedly recommend all our people to study English.
As for statistics, I am sure that it can increase in importance across the board.
Expressions that lack objectivity, for example “I feel this way so it looks good” or “it does not look very good,” are not very persuasive.
We currently need to explain things in a manner where “it would be advantageous/ disadvantageous from the viewpoint of the statistical results,” and therefore we cannot discuss data with customers without having studied statistics. I always tell my subordinates to ensure to study statistics.
When people encounter a problem they tend to choose the easiest way, which is passing it on without actually solving it, which was true for me too. But if you do avoid a problem in that way, it will grow to be two or three times bigger and will still be waiting for you.
In my job I often think “This is being caused by the problem that arose before.”
Because of this experience and what I have reflected upon, I frequently instruct my subordinates “to avoid any procrastination” with the solutions of problems.