WITH UNSUNG LEADERS   -Stories of behind-the-scenes leaders who take on challenges for a better future-

Aiming To Make Resonac the First Choice When It Comes to Automotive Exterior Parts

January 1, 2023

In the automotive industry, where further weight reduction and environmental consideration are required for products, Resonac Automotive Products Corporation (Hitachi Chemical Automotive Products Co., Ltd. at the time of development) has created long-awaited automotive exterior parts using resin foamed injection molding technology. In Part 1, we asked about the many struggles in new technology development.

In Part 2, we asked Shingo Nakano, Senior Engineer of the Design Department, and Naoko Mitsuishi, Engineer of the Design Department, who are aiming to move on from lightweight foam technology for exterior parts to develop further new technology, about their enthusiasm for new technology and their future vision

Gaining “Trust” as a Partner Led to Wide Recognition

In Part 1, we asked about the struggles leading up to the completion of the “lightweight foaming technology for exterior parts.” Later, in 2018, the technology was adopted by Toyota Motor Corporation for use as exterior parts of Lexus.

Nakano: Needless to say, the technology itself was highly evaluated by Toyota, but I think that winning their “trust” as a partner was a big factor. We have done business with Toyota Kyushu for many years, and I think they recognized our meticulous work. Thanks to the person in charge at Toyota Kyushu, we were given the opportunity to make a proposal for Lexus. Human connections led to the results we have now.

Being trusted as a partner must give you a lot of confidence.

Mitsuishi: Exactly. Of course, being able to clear the strict quality standards also gave us a lot of confidence. And we were very happy when one customer said, “You’re the number one supplier to watch.” Since then, we have received many inquiries from domestic and overseas customers, and of course it has continued to be used for Lexus.

Are overseas manufacturers also paying attention?

Nakano: Yes. We are also focusing on global expansion, and a European automaker has shown a particularly high level of interest. They were surprised that we had already established high-level weight reduction foam technology for exterior parts.

Many manufacturers in Japan are also interested in our technology, and we have received requests such as “We would love for you to establish a base nearby” and “We would like to apply the technology to bumpers, so please teach us the technology.” Hearing those comments and requests makes us realize that we’ve really created something valuable.

Without a doubt, Resonac’s lightweight foaming technology for exterior parts is world-class. In the future, we would like to further advance this technology and contribute to the weight reduction of automobiles around the world.

Further Technological Development for the Next Era

Please tell us about what you would like to work on in the future.

Nakano: First of all, we would like to work on achieving further weight reduction. At present, we have achieved a weight reduction of about 30% compared to conventional resin molded products, but we would like to increase this to 40% within three to four years. To that end, we are currently working on the development of resin materials in collaboration with group companies.

Mitsuishi: In terms of materials, we have used “polypropylene” so far, but we have also succeeded in using “ABS resin,” which is glossier, for the back door garnish (decorative part of the back door) and rear spoiler (projection at the rear end of the trunk). Since these parts are installed in more conspicuous positions than parts around the undercarriage, it is required that they have better exterior appearance. The demand for ABS foam is expected to increase further in the future.

Recently, the words “SDGs” and “decarbonization” are being used everywhere. Are there also requests to reduce environmental impact?

Mitsuishi: Yes. I can’t talk about the details yet, but we are investigating whether we can reduce the number of processes by combining foamed molding technology for exterior parts with additional technology. We have started the challenge toward this goal, but so far, it hasn’t been successful. It’s a pretty high hurdle, but we’d like to continue the research without giving up and perfect a technology that meets the need to reduce environmental impact.

Nakano: The weight reduction foaming for exterior parts itself is actually an environment-friendly technology. Since it’s in a sponge-like state, the amount of resin used is less than usual. The reduced weight also improves fuel efficiency when transported by truck. We intend to actively promote this as a product that helps reduce the environmental load.

Automotive exterior parts using resin foamed injection molding technology

We Want to Continuously Create Technology That Surprises the World

Finally, please tell us about the challenges you would like to take on as an engineer in the future.

Nakano: From the beginning, our company has promoted research and development with the goal of creating “three pillars.” First, we produced a “resin back door module” that is lighter than the conventional steel one and allows for free molding. This has also been highly evaluated by many manufacturers and has become one of our main products. Next, we succeeded in the practical application of the “lightweight foaming for exterior parts” that we have been talking about. In the future, we would like to dig deeper into this technology and expand our market share.

Now, as the third pillar, we are refining a technology that will surprise the world. I think we will be able to announce it soon, so please look forward to it. Even when we complete the third pillar, we won’t be satisfied, and we will continue to challenge ourselves to develop new technologies for the fourth, fifth, and so on. Our goal is to make Resonac the first choice when it comes to automotive exterior parts.

Mitsuishi: I want to develop new technology – technology that will surprise the world. I’m also dreaming that if we combine the lightweight foaming technology for exterior parts with helium, one day we’ll be able to create a car that uses the buoyant force to float. (Laughs)

What makes me happiest as an engineer is being able to devote myself to researching things that I find interesting. This is an environment where that’s possible. It’s really reassuring to have friends who listen to me and say, “That sounds interesting,” even if I say something that sounds like a fantasy. Since the weight reduction of automobiles is an eternal theme, I would like to continue to create technologies that can contribute to that, together with my wonderful colleagues. We will continue to do our best as unsung heroes who support the Japanese automobile industry.

Shingo Nakano

Design Department, Resonac Automotive Products Corporation Kyushu Plant

Joined then Hitachi Chemical Automotive Products after working in design at an automotive manufacturer.
Continued to gain experience in technical development and design of automotive interior and exterior parts up to the present date.

Naoko Mitsuishi

Design Department, Resonac Automotive Products Corporation Kyushu Plant

Joined then Hitachi Chemical Automotive Products.
Continued to gain experience in the design and production preparation of automotive interior and exterior parts and general molded products up to the present date