Central Glass Co., Ltd. Kawasaki Plant, Production Department, Engineering & Technical Section, Technical Group
Digital cameras, smart phones, cellphones, personal computers, and portable music players are essential to our lives now. Lithium-ion batteries are mounted as a rechargeable battery of these devices. One of the traits of a lithium ion battery compared to other batteries is that it is lightweight and compact. Therefore, many may think that it is usually used in things that are small. However, it is used in things such as hybrid cars, electric cars, airplanes, and rockets. Generally, a lithium-ion battery has cathode (lithium metal oxide) and anode (carbonaceous material such as graphite ). It is common to have a separator and electrolytes placed in between the two electrodes. By the movement of lithium ions contained in the electrolyte between cathode and anode, it can charge or discharge the electricity. Central Glass is manufacturing electrolyte for batteries that are necessary for lithium ion batteries that are expected to expand in the market. Central Glass was first established as Ube Soda Industry Co., Ltd. in 1936 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Ube City. At the time, the company manufactured soda ash and caustic soda as indicated in the company name. In 1958, the subsidiary Central Glass was established and they entered the glass business. In 1963, the Ube Soda Industry Co., Ltd. merged with the former Central Glass and the company started anew as Central Glass Co., Ltd. In 1984, they launched the fine chemical business, moving in to new fields within the market. This brings us to one of the current main products, electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries. This issue focuses on Central Glass, Kawasaki Plant, Production Department, Engineering & Technical Section, Technical Group that makes electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries.
Designing a More Safe and Efficient Manufacturing Process for Electrolytes for Batteries.
Central Glass, Kawasaki Plant is located in Ukishima Town, Kawasaki Ward, Kawasaki City, part of the Keihin industrial district. Ukishima Town is a petrochemical complex district and the Kawasaki Plant was actually used to manufacture vinyl chloride monomer until 2003. However, it withdrew from that business. In the current Kawasaki Plant, they manufacture fine chemical products with high added value such as systemic inhalation anaesthetic, fluoride gases, batteries electrolyte, photoresists for semiconductor, and fluorocarbon products. (Fluorocarbon products are generally used in refrigerants for air conditioners and as a foaming agent for foam insulation materials). Since it is in the petrochemical complex district, there are many petrol manufacturing plants within the area. You can also see Haneda Airport from the west side of the plant which faces the Tama River. You can get to Haneda Airport in about 10 minutes if you use the capital freeway. Also, if you take the Keikyu Daishi Line or the bus to JR Kawasaki Station, you can get to Tokyo Station in 20 minutes and Yokohama Station in about 10 minutes. In this way, it is situated in an extremely convenient location. Because of this, all the employees commute by public transportation.
Mr. Tetsushi Mori showed us around the workplace of the Kawasaki Plant, Production Department, Engineering & Technical Section, Technical Group.
“Our Engineering & Technical Section, is the department in charge of construction of new plants, and maintenance improvement of existing plants. There are three groups: the Technical Group, Electrical Instrumentation Group, and the Mechanical Group. For example, when constructing a new plant, Technical Group is in charge of the chemical manufacturing processes. We have design the manufacturing process by making full use of our chemical knowledge, and consider how to safely and efficiently manufacture high-quality products. Electrical equipment and instrumentation (the placement of control devices and measuring devices in order to control the manufacturing process) are necessary in plants. The Electrical Instrumentation Group is in charge of design of electrical instrumentation devices, and the Mechanical Group is in charge of design of the devices that are necessary for the manufacturing process. In this way, when constructing a plant, these three groups are in charge of their own specific field. Among them, the Technical Group that is in charge of the manufacturing process leads the project. In order to construct a plant, we work together with related departments such as the Production Department, Chemical Research Center. Of course, the maintenance and the improvement, in terms of efficiency and production quality, of existing plants is also a crucial part of our section’s duty. We go to the worksite every day, and talk with the person in charge to check for any presence of defects or hazardous locations, and if necessary examine the improvement.” (Mr. Mori)
The photo is of the work space of the Engineering & Technical Section.
At the Kawasaki Plant, many fine chemical products are manufactured. Mr. Mori is specifically in charge of electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries.
“Currently, the lithium-ion battery’s market for automobiles has been rapidly expanding. For example, they are used in electric cars like the one shown in the photo. One of the important tasks in order to popularize the electric car is to increase the travel distance. In order to do this, companies that manufacture battery related material like us, work on technological development like the densification and increasing the power density, as well as the development of longevity and safety aspect of the lithium ion battery energy.” (Mr. Mori)
The photo shows how electrolytes for batteries are shipped.
“We use hydrofluoric acid (hydrogen fluoride) to manufacture electrolytes for batteries. It is an extremely important material at the Kawasaki Plant. However, hydrofluoric acid is extremely dangerous when contacted skin and is a specified medical-use poisonous substance prescribed in the Poisonous and Deleterious Substance Control Act. Because we handle such dangerous substances, we are always thinking about how to construct the safest worksite.” (Mr. Mori)
“We often go to the worksite. However, there are also days where we will do deskwork all day in order to make a lot of documents.” (Mr. Mori)
They do the most deskwork when they are constructing a new plant. When they construct a new plant, they have to submit various documents to the government office.
“The preparation for constructing a plant, although varies, takes from half a year to a year. For example, there are technical standards that must be followed when constructing a facility according to the Fire Services Act. We must design a plant accordingly, and think about what kind of materials and facilities we must use in order to fulfill the requirements. This part of the preparation takes up around 80 percent of the whole process. This cannot be accomplished by one person since this needs different kinds of information. If there are things that I do not know, I ask my boss and seniors for help so that I can proceed with the project. There are always unforeseen problems that arise, however much preparation you put into the deskwork and planning beforehand. Things do not always go as planned. However, solving these problems is the fun part of the job.” (Mr. Mori)
Although submitting documents to the government agency is the Environment Safety Control Section’s job, they accompany them sometimes, for when they are asked technical questions.
Going to the site and looking over the material and having meetings with the worksite personnel is part of their daily routine work. (Mr. Mori is on the right side of the photo).
They cannot do the Engineering & Technical Section job without communication. The photo is where he is having a meeting with a member of the same section about a new plant. (Mr. Mori is on the right).
“We proceed with our job by communicating with not only members of our section but also people from the manufacturing site, Chemical Research Center who do research development on new substances and processes, Quality Assurance Section, and the Environment Safety Control Section. Moreover, when constructing a new plant, we talk to plant companies and contractors as well. There are also opportunities to communicate with our clients such as businesses that provide batteries. Our clients are not just domestic, but international as well. Our company is proactive in expanding its market overseas. Therefore, English skills will become necessary as well. In this way, communication skill is a crucial aspect of the job.” (Mr. Mori)
We asked Mr. Mori about the charm, the rewarding aspects, and the atmosphere of his workplace, “Central Glass, Kawasaki Plant, Production Department, Engineering & Technical Section, Technical Group.”
Mr. Mori joined Central Glass after graduating from Meiji University Graduate School of Science and Technology Applied Chemistry in March of 2014.
“I participated in research on synthesis as a student. I wanted to use my knowledge on chemistry so I looked for jobs that had to do with chemical companies. I chose Central Glass because of my professor’s recommendation but also because I felt that the work atmosphere was right for me when I took a tour of the Kawasaki Plant. There are a lot of young people at the Kawasaki Plant. 80 percent of the employees are under the age of 40. I could feel the aspiration of the workers and the liveliness of the work environment. I felt that I could take on big responsibilities even as a young employee.”
After being assigned to this department, he has been working on the planning and manufacturing process as well as improving existing plants.
“I feel the most fulfilled when a new plant is constructed and the trial-run goes well. A lot of time is needed to prepare for plant construction. You need at least a couple of months set aside just for construction. There are many problems that could arise in between this time. For example, the temperature of the fluids (※) inside the plant may be higher than calculated caused by chemical properties when executed. When things like this occur, I not only think about how to resolve it on my own, but I also look to other people and their knowledge since I am restricted on time as well. I use my study-aid book from back when I was a student as reference. For things that I did not learn at school, I took the time to revise over and over again after learning on-site. It was a challenge for me to balance and think about meeting the manufacturing requirements and the calculation and knowledge required when choosing what equipment to set up as well as think about the safety of the operator and the disposal method of waste. With the help of many people, I was able to overcome these hurdles and construct a plant. The success of a trial-run is a moment all of us can feel like we accomplished something together. All of the struggles then are changed and converted to fun and enjoyable memories.”
※a general term for fluid and/or gas
Since the Technical Group plans the chemical process, all of the members are from a chemistry background. However, Engineering & Technical Section also has other groups such as the Electrical Instrumentation Group and the Mechanical Group. These groups have people from electrical and mechanical backgrounds.
“I am from a chemistry background. However, that does not mean that I can just use all of what I learned from school at my current job. The knowledge I gained as a student is just the basics. The things that I need to know for my job, I learned mostly after I started working. What is more important is communication skills. At this job, you talk to various kinds of people from different age ranges. At the sites, the worksite personnel may be in their teens. When communicating with clients, they are usually people who are older than you and are your seniors. It is important to be able to talk smoothly with different kinds of people in various positions.”
Lastly, we asked about the work culture and environment at Central Glass, Kawasaki Plant.
“As I felt before I joined the company, people who work here strive to improve and are always moving forward. This is possible because there is a work culture that supports employees to challenge themselves, even if it means failure. I think that is why I can fearlessly challenge myself with such big tasks such as plant construction. Our clients are surprised sometimes about how many young people are thriving and working at our company. The communication within the organization is very open making it easy and comfortable to work in.”
Staying Refreshed by Playing Futsal
There is a futsal field within the premises.
“There are a lot of people that enjoy playing futsal during their lunch break as a means to refresh themselves. We use this field to hold events as well. The other day we had a tug-of-war tournament and it was a lot of fun.” (Mr. Mori)
Three Numbers Related to Central Glass
Established as a soda industry goods manufacturer, Central Glass currently is involved in the chemical industry such as fine chemicals with high added value as well as the glass industry. What do the following numbers represent?
- Approximately 45 percent
- 30 years old