Developer spearheading sales of cutting-edge containers providing cool solutions in logistics
Researcher-turned-salesman Takeshi Yamanaka remembers growing anxious this year as Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. (DNP) conducted a chilled transportation test using his brainchild, a multifunctional thermal insulation (MFTI) container.
The test involved transporting water cooled to 5 C and placed inside the container for a distance of more than 2,000 kilometers from Hokkaido to Kyushu. Inside the container were ice packs designed to keep the water's temperature at 5 C during the 12-hour journey.
MFTI containers use no electricity but can do as good a job as refrigerated or freezer vehicles by applying a vacuum insulation panel (VIP) that uses DNP's high-performance barrier film. The container is essentially a thermos that can keep the inside temperature at a certain level with the use of ice packs or heat storage materials.
“I was slightly worried because the container was exposed to freezing air in Hokkaido and then to a temperature of around 20 C while it was being transported,” Yamanaka said. “Above all, I knew it is generally very difficult to keep refrigerating goods in a box not powered by electricity at between 2 C and 5 C during transportation.”
But simulation software DNP developed calculated exactly how many ice packs were needed to keep the water temperature at 5 C flat for the 12-hour journey. “Of course, we did everything to ensure success, but I was really impressed that the test went precisely as the simulation had indicated,” Yamanaka said. “At that moment, I was convinced our product had an edge over our rivals' products.“
Yamanaka, manager of a division at the High-performance Materials Operations department, was transferred to his current post in April 2014. Since then, Yamanaka has introduced and sold MFTI containers to clients mostly in the logistics industry. At DNP, it is common for a researcher or a developer to be transferred to a sales department, and the position seems to suit Yamanaka, who has solved many problems through patient discussions as a product developer. Although he says he feels humbled when experienced DNP salespeople sell products, Yamanaka's exhaustive knowledge about the product he developed allows him to provide convincing explanations to clients. Yamanaka's background as a researcher and developer also helps him communicate smoothly with the development team tasked with customizing the product, as necessary, and providing operation support to clients.
MFTI containers were developed based on technologies used in DNP's high-performance cooler bag for transporting medical specimens. DNP modified these technologies based on feedback from logistics companies about problems they encountered during their day-to-day business. The product comes in four sizes: “Roll-box type” for roll-box pallets widely used in the logistics industry; “Roll-box (small) type” for small roll boxes used widely at the dock of Japanese supermarkets; “Pallet type” for T11 pallets that can be loaded onto minivans and compact trucks; and “Handcart type,” which is the maximum size that can fit in ordinary condominium elevators in Japan. Such large thermal insulation containers are without peer not only in Japan but also elsewhere in the world.
Vacuum insulation panels, a key component in the containers, are also found in large home-use refrigerators and vending machines. Their core materials, such as glass wool, are wrapped by DNP's high-barrier films and vacuum-sealed.
Breakthrough comes with Yusen Logistics purchase
Initially, however, Yamanaka struggled to sell the product. One reason for this was MFTI containers must be handled differently from conventional containers, such as polystyrene foam boxes. A breakthrough came in 2015 when Yusen Logistics Co., Ltd. decided to introduce MFTI containers for transporting temperature-sensitive products as it tapped innovative technologies created by other companies. DNP and Yusen Logistics then conducted a test in which strawberries were flown in such a container to Singapore.
“There is no index to gauge the freshness of fruit or vegetables,” Yamanaka said. “But as soon as the boxes were opened at the destination, the sweet aroma of strawberries filled the air. We were able to export the aroma, too. That shows how fresh we had kept the strawberries.” Transporting Japanese marine and farm products to foreign countries presents a good business opportunity for MFTI containers at a time when the Japanese government is trying to increase exports of such products to ¥1 trillion in value in 2019.
Furthermore, MFTI containers have already been introduced in Southeast Asia, which has yet to build the infrastructure to reliably transport refrigerated or frozen food. “A square popsicle won't melt to a round shape, for example, because MFTI containers will never sever the cold chain during transportation,” Yamanaka said. (Cold chain is a logistic method to transport perishable food, medical products and other temperature-sensitive goods from the producer to the consumer at a low temperature.)
Simulation software a “source of strength”
Selling products is not the ultimate goal in DNP's business model: The company will provide detailed support to clients so they can use DNP products effectively. The aforementioned simulation software is a powerful tool for giving support to clients. DNP engineers spent a year adjusting the software to allow DNP to input detailed information gathered from clients, such as the temperature surrounding the container during transportation, the size and volume of goods to be shipped, and the transportation distance. The software calculates the necessary amount of ice packs based on information including the container's surrounding environment during transportation and shipping time.
Development engineer Tomofumi Katashima of DNP's Advanced Business Center, who helped develop the software, was pleased to hear many customers were amazed by the precision of the software. “It is the source of our strength for marketing MFTI boxes broadly and for years to come,” he said.
Katashima said there are many issues that clients become aware of after DNP proposes the use of MFTI boxes. When introducing the product to customers, Katashima makes a point of visiting them to observe where goods are stored, boxed and loaded on vehicles. He especially wants data about the temperatures at which goods are stored and then packed into boxes for loading. Clients have differing requests on each shipment, but Katashima uses his experience to estimate the conditions under which goods will be transported once he knows what goods will be shipped, how and their destination. He often does not need to bother clients with detailed questions.
Pursuing solution businesses
Yamanaka has redesigned sales pamphlets from the viewpoint of the product developer, making separate leaflets for land, air and sea transport and shipping chilled items in Southeast Asia, to pitch sales in the logistics industry. His goal is to find solutions to clients' problems by asking about their difficulties or exploring their latent needs.
Clients' challenges and latent needs include environmental protection, cost cutting, securing transportation vehicles and reducing the rate of freight loss.
- Environmental protection and cost cutting
While conventional thermal materials, such as polystyrene foam boxes, are disposed of after the freight reaches its destination, the MFTI container is returnable and can be used repeatedly, enabling environmentally friendly transportation and cutting costs in the long run. The container reduces the use of CO2-emitting dry ice, whose price has risen in recent years.
- Securing transportation vehicles
A driver shortage has strained consignors and logistics companies in recent years. Compounding this problem is the difficulty in securing refrigerated or frozen trucks, in particular during summer. MFTI containers allow all kinds of goods that need to be refrigerated, frozen, kept at normal temperature or kept warm to be transported in the same truck, thereby reducing the number of trucks needed.
- Reducing loss rate
Japan's food loss and wastage amounted to about 6.23 million tons in fiscal 2017, according to the Environment Ministry. MFTI containers stably maintain the cold chain, helping reduce the rate of food loss. They also prevent temperature-sensitive electronic goods from degrading by keeping them at a certain temperature even when the containers are exposed to heat as high as 50 C during transportation.
Eyes set on foreign markets
MFTI boxes are now used for transporting temperature-sensitive industrial goods to foreign countries. DNP plans to market them for various purposes, and in Southeast Asia, which does not have the sufficient infrastructure to transport refrigerated or frozen goods despite being a high-temperature zone throughout the year.
One of DNP's challenges is to make arrangements to retrieve the containers after use. The containers can be folded and returned, but using them to ship goods on their way back would be more efficient. Yamanaka and Katashima are involved in discussions with their counterparts at DNP Logistics Co., Ltd., a DNP subsidiary, to establish an efficient system for container retrieval.
“We have to promote sales on the B2B basis, but I think we can tap the B2C business model as well,” Yamanaka said. “I think about sales ideas all the time, including in my private time, and I'm constantly exploring ways to tell more people about our product.”
- * Publication date: Jul. 18, 2018
- * DNP department names, product specifications and other details are correct only at the time of writing. They are subject to change without prior notice.