At the start of the 21st century, risk and opportunity lay ahead for Fujifilm: the digital era had arrived in force. Although Fujifilm had already begun to diversify its portfolio of technologies, photographic film had remained the company’s bread and butter since its founding. Demand for film peaked in 2000 and rapidly declined thereafter, at a rate of 20 percent per year. To continue growing over the medium and long term, Fujifilm would have to build new businesses. There was absolutely no time to waste.
Fujifilm took a long look at its history, asking itself, “What are our greatest strengths? Where and how can we offer new value to the marketplace?” One of the answers the company came up with was leveraging the technologies it had developed in the photography industry to create unique, value-added highly functional materials.
Photographic film is a precision chemical product that integrates couplers and nearly 100 different chemical compounds in an ultra-thin layer just 20 micrometers thick. Creating photographic film for high-sensitivity image capture and printing requires technologies that manipulate matter on a microscopic scale. For example, Fujifilm had developed technologies for producing highly uniform, ultra-thin membranes on film substrates. In fact, Fujifilm found that it had a wealth of technologies that could be used in an extremely wide variety of applications.
Such technologies are what Fujifilm now Fujifilm now calls its core technologies. Today, the company works hard to leverage its core technology portfolio to maximum effect, innovating new products at an accelerated pace. One important area of development is highly functional materials, with a focus on highly functional films.
In the effort to accelerate the development of new products, Fujifilm wanted to go beyond building on the technologies it had developed for the photography industry. The company decided that the best way forward was to combine the widest array of technologies possible, inviting partners outside the Fujifilm Group to share their technologies and perspectives in new initiatives. Fujifilm called its new method of collaborative development “Open Innovation.”
In January 2014, Fujifilm opened its first Open Innovation Hub in its Tokyo headquarters. A nerve center for Fujifilm’s collaborative innovation, this hub introduces the core technologies that Fujifilm developed for photography and other industries and allows visitors to directly experience products that apply them. Moreover, the hub provides a venue for the sharing and combining of ideas, which in turn can lead to the joint development of innovative new products. Since it opened its doors, the Open Innovation Hub has welcomed many interested parties from a wide variety of industries, including those with which Fujifilm had not traditionally had strong ties.
The Open Innovation Hub has been particularly successful in the area of highly functional materials, with many new products expected to reach the market in the near future. In addition, Fujifilm has established Open Innovation Hubs in the US and Europe to leverage local insights and strengths and generate outstanding collaboration and innovative products.
Fujifilm continues to turn its portfolio of core technologies into highly functional materials. One such material is the backsheets the company produces for use in solar cells. Since solar cells are used outdoors in a variety of challenging conditions, these backsheets need to be extremely durable and reliable. The base material of a backsheet is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), to which Fujifilm applies special polymerization, film formation, and coating technologies. The result is a film that has a useful life of up to 30 years rather than the standard 20 years. A highly functional material offering outstanding performance, this film contributes to the stable operation of solar panels, helping to enhance product lifecycles, reduce energy losses, and mitigate environmental issues.
For use in smart phones, tablets, and other devices using touch panels, Fujifilm has developed EXCLEAR touch panel sensor film. This film uses a base of PET polymer film covered with a fine mesh pattern made of silver lines on both sides, resulting in extremely low resistance along with superior transparency and flexibility. Compared to conventional sensor films made with indium tin oxide (ITO), EXCLEAR offers a faster response speed, even in medium- and large-size screens. The touch panel market is currently expected to grow at 10 percent per year, and EXCLEAR is striving to make a strong contribution to this growth.
Leveraging its core technologies for the photography industry to maximum effect, Fujifilm is collaborating with a wide range of companies outside the Group to grow its highly functional materials business. These materials are contributing to the advancement of a wide range of industries while helping to make people’s lives more comfortable and fulfilling than ever before. With the goal of developing these advanced products at an ever faster pace, Fujifilm will continue to innovate!