Investing in Japan
Success Stories UL Japan, Inc.
Industry: Service / Others
UL was founded in Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1894 to conduct objective safety assessments and risk analysis against the background of the frequent fires that were occurring in the country as electrical products rapidly spread. The company's mission, "working for a safer world," has reached Japan, beginning with the establishment of a base in Tokyo in 1993 which has since expanded to seven offices including a headquarters in Mie. We spoke with Masahito Hashizume, General Manager of UL Japan's Consumer Technology Business Division, which supports the development of technologies and products by Japanese companies through provision of standards and certification tests, about its business development in Japan.
One-stop service provision
Established in Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1894, UL is currently helping companies introduce their safe and reliable products to markets. The company was established by the founder who had investigated fires caused by electrical failure, and is currently active in more than 20 industries centered on fire and electrical safety. With the remarkable development of technology, its scope of product certification has expanded, and currently more than 22 billion products display a UL mark. UL has formulated more than 1,600 standards, and the company has over 14,000 employees worldwide.
UL established its base in Tokyo in 1993 and established its Japanese subsidiary, UL Japan in 2003 (with headquarters in Ise, Mie). With multiple bases in areas where manufacturing industries are concentrated, such as Mie and Aichi, UL Japan provides services mainly to Japanese companies attempting to acquire certification when developing overseas markets, while also supporting overseas companies wishing to sell products in Japan.
UL has offices and test laboratories in more than 40 countries and regions. At most of the bases, as in Japan, there are testing facilities adapted to the industries and technologies that each country excels in. Many Japanese manufacturers have factories overseas, but even if they develop products domestically and produce them overseas, they can utilize UL’s services through its overseas bases.
Masahito Hashizume, General Manager of UL Japan's Consumer Technology Business Division, says “Domestic manufacturers with extensive in-house equipment tend to believe that they should conduct the necessary testings which they are able to conduct in-house, and that this also applies to their quality assurance operations.” On the other hand, he points out, the trend over the last 10 years or so has been that fewer manufacturers are able to complete all the testings in-house. In the process of manufacturing one product, various complicated electronic parts are needed, making the in-house handling of quality assurance operations for all the parts difficult. One domestic parts manufacturer used to deliver more than 70% of its products to domestic manufacturers, but now it delivers over 50% to overseas manufacturers. The number of standards to meet has increased dramatically with the increased overseas sales, and it has become impossible for a company to carry out all the quality assurance operations on its own.
Therefore, the importance of organizations that provide services like UL to develop standards and verify products as a third party is increasing. Mr. Hashizume emphasizes, “More and more companies ask specialized organizations to handle the quality assurance operations so that they can allocate more resources to other activities that add value to the company.” UL has the facilities and knowhow to conduct various tests in the fields of electricity, electronics and fire prevention and provides “reasonably priced one-stop” certification services as well as verification and testing services based on requests from manufacturers. UL Japan has acquired many customers in Japan by pursuing the idea of business.
Working toward being a true partner of Japanese companies
“The reason we set up business in Japan is that we wanted to provide services in places near customers in Japan in our own language,” says Mr. Hashizume, explaining the background of UL’s expansion to the country.
UL Japan has seven bases, in Mie, which has its headquarters, Kyoto, Aichi, Kanagawa, Tokyo and Chiba Prefectures. It is important to be physically close to the customers to carry out measurement, verification and certification operations in accordance with the needs of the customers. In fact, the automotive-related facility, ATC (Automotive Technology Center) that opened in 2017 and the reliability testing laboratory that opened in 2019 are located in Aichi and Mie Prefecture respectively, where many automobile manufacturers and related parts manufacturers are located.
“It's important for us to align ourselves with the direction of Japanese industry and technology development and to be a true partner of customers. Although we are a foreign-affiliated company, we have a strong desire to revitalize Japanese industry together with Japanese manufacturers and the government,” says the general manager. In addition, there is a complementary relationship between the client companies and UL Japan, whereby “our customers focus on developing new products and UL Japan helps them achieve quality assurance.”
For UL Japan to provide services that meet the needs of customers, it is essential to share information with the government and standard-related organizations. The government’s goals and the accompanying changes in laws and standards greatly affect UL Japan’s testing methods. It is necessary to anticipate changes in the environment in order to respond to requests from customers and to make appropriate investments in facilities at the appropriate time. In addition, with the development of new technologies such as wireless technology used in areas like automobiles and energy harvesting that captures small amounts of energy from external sources around us, UL Japan participates in committees and subcommittees that verify and certify new technologies as they are developed and serves as an active player in a wide range of discussions on the establishment of evaluation methods and the development of standards. He believes that, as a company that receives requests for certification work, participating in such activities can provide customers with a sense of security.
By quickly acquiring information and grasping trends related to the government, standard-related organizations and companies, UL Japan can provide services that support new technologies and new standards in a timely manner.
Testing as a product sales strategy
UL has traditionally been providing verification and certification services based on existing international standards, UL standards and the standards established by the manufacturer that the supplier delivers its products to, but Mr. Hashizume says that recently many service requests are from companies who hope to conduct tests for marketing. There is a growing need for the tests and evaluations customized through a discussion with UL that help manufacturers promote added value.
As a result of these verification services, UL issues the UL Verified Mark. This is more persuasive means of promoting a product because UL, a third party, has evaluated the features that the company wants to emphasize when bringing the product to market. UL works with customers to develop a test plan and verification method to determine what product functions need to be tested to promote the product best, before UL certifies and verifies the product. The customer can emphasize the product’s performance by describing the acquired certification or standard in the product press release, catalog or instruction manual.
For example, the charger “SoftBank Selection” launched by SoftBank Commerce & Service Corp. (now SB C&S Corp.) in 2018 passed strict tests on the suppression of electromagnetic noise generated from the AC adapter and was the first charger in Japan to receive the UL Verified Mark. Scientific verification by UL, as a third party, enabled the company to market its reliable performance.
One of the strengths of the Japanese market is the automotive industry
Describing the strength of the Japanese market, Mr. Hashizume says, “The automotive industry is one where Japan is currently strong. If you look at UL globally, in terms of the automotive field, UL Japan is at the top and is running the largest business.”
Within the automotive industry, one of Japan’s leading fields is automated driving technology. Laser technology for illuminating an image around the vehicle, called LiDAR, is very important for automated driving, and Japan leads in this field with its own technology. UL is also actively working to provide services in this area.
“There are always industries where Japan has strengths, and they are constantly changing and evolving. The strategy of manufacturers is to develop high value-added technology and bring it to market quickly. So, I think that new technology will continue to be developed in Japan. We consider that measurement, verification and certification of these new technologies are a part of the development process in a broad sense. When customers develop a product and bring it to market quickly, there can be a variety of issues, and we want to continue to help them solve those issues,” says the general manager.
In this way, when there are technologies where Japan leads, UL Japan sometimes gives insights to the UL headquarters. Recently, an electronic cigarette standard, UL 8139, was formulated based on suggestions from Japan. The EHV Chamber (an anechoic chamber with a fixed dynamometer for EV/HV equipment) that was established in the ATC in Aichi Prefecture in September 2018 is unique in Japan and, even including other institutions, there are only a few examples in the world. UL Japan is the only UL base in the world to have such a facility, and the investment could only be made because UL Japan has high domestic demand. In addition, a next-generation mobility laboratory with two EHV Chambers will be established at the Kashima EMC Laboratory in Chiba Prefecture in January 2020. This is evidence of the high expectations the Japanese automotive industry has for UL.
Taking Japan’s innovation overseas as quickly as possible
UL Japan cooperates with “39MeisterTM,” a program jointly operated by NTT DoCoMo and Hatapro, to support not only major companies but also venture companies.
39MeisterTM support commercialization, from hardware design, development to mass production, of IoT products that use advanced technologies such as low-power, wide-area (LPWA) communication methods that realize long-distance communication with low power consumption. With the increasing number of IoT products equipped with wireless communication technology, companies are forced to develop technologies more quickly, and there are cases where it takes more time and money than expected to comply with regulations before a product is released on the market. Even companies unaccustomed to product development can quickly and efficiently develop a product, obtain compliance with regulations and smoothly bring the product to market globally with the support of UL Japan, which has abundant knowhow on legal compliance and certification of wireless communications in Japan and overseas.
Securing talented human resources is the challenge
For UL Japan, which employs over 500 Japanese people, securing talented human resources is essential at its bases in Mie and Aichi Prefectures.
Japan has unique laws such as the Electrical Appliances and Material Safety Act and the Radio Law. The technical standards specified in these laws are often JIS standards, which are based on international standards but include deviations formulated in consideration of Japan’s special circumstances. For example, IEC 62368-1, which is a standard for ITE/AV products relating to many Japanese companies, had to be converted into a Japanese standard called JIS C 62368-1. UL Japan actively participated in the committee that is responsible for this process and contributed to the creation of the standard. This process was not simply a matter of English to Japanese translation; rather, it needed experts with technical understanding who could consider what kind of wordings would be best to use to specify the requirements, supported by deep understanding of the technology. While UL Japan employs many scientific personnel, who are skilled in specialized technologies, Mr. Hashizume says that securing high-quality personnel who can handle new fields such as software is a challenge to continue business in Japan.
In the US academic community, there is a field called human factor engineering (HFE) that aims to prevent human error by conducting behavioral analysis to prevent machine malfunction caused in situations such as when a person loses control with panic. HFE is a technology that can be applied not only to the operation of medical devices but also to automated driving, and it became more important with the development of automated driving technology. However, since there is only a few university in Japan where one can learn HFE, UL Japan hires Japanese and foreign staff who have studied abroad in order to offer verification services in this field in Japan.
Focus on services for 5G and automated driving in the future
A typical challenge related to compliance that Japanese companies trying to expand overseas and foreign companies trying to expand in Japan are facing is the difficulty in obtaining global regulatory information and the Japanese standards which are often written only in Japanese. UL leverages its network and knowhow to support companies facing such issues in Japan.
UL Japan also participates in JETRO’s export support service, the “Consortium for a New Export Nation,” and provides information on regulations. UL Japan is supported by JETRO, for example, with the introduction of local government officials and the implementation of press releases, and at the same time supports the overseas expansion of Japanese companies together with JETRO.
Going forward, the company will focus on providing services to areas in which Japan must focus, including technologies for which measurement methods have not yet been formulated, such as 5G, and software for automated driving. “I hope that new and exciting technologies and products will come out. We want to support our customers not only domestically but also globally to make their new products accepted in markets in more attractive way and more quickly,” says Mr. Hashizume.
Masahito Hashizume, General Manager, Consumer Technology Business Division
（March 2019 interview）
|2003||Establishment of UL Apex through merger of UL Japan and A-PEX International|
|2007||Name changed to UL Japan|
|2017||Establishment of ATC Laboratory for the automotive industry in Miyoshi, Aichi|
|2019||Establishment of reliability testing laboratory for vehicle equipment in Mie Headquarters|
UL Japan, Inc.
|Business overview||Safety authentication and technical standard creation for electronic and electrical products|
|Parent Company||UL LLC (America)|
|Address||4383-326 Asama-cho, Ise City, Mie 516-0021|
Support from JETRO
- Information (on real estate)
- Referrals to local government officials
- Assistance with public relations (inviting the company to speak at business seminar and PR support)
- Invitation to participate in a JETRO event