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Jul 3, 2023
Tackling the challenge of SOEC commercialization with enthusiasm to take responsibility for the period of the second founding of DENSO
Forward-looking manufacturing opens up the future
By meeting outside of the workplace with ambitious, hard-working associates at DENSO—as well as those who just seem to be fascinating individuals—it’s possible to break down the barriers of formality and talk openly, listening to their heartfelt concerns along with their unfiltered dreams and goals.
In this “Interviews with Employees Who Get Results” series, we talk casually with a wide range of professionals at DENSO to learn what truly drives them in their work, as well as their ambitions and dreams.
For this interview, we talked with Takayuki Yamahara. After joining DENSO, Yamahara started out as an electrical equipment designer involved in design and other operations of renewable-energy devices and equipment. Now, as a member of the Production Eng. Div., he is working on commercializing SOEC※systems used in plants for producing hydrogen by water electrolysis, to achieve widespread carbon neutrality.
Yamahara says, “It may take 20 or 30 years to achieve carbon neutrality. When I am older, I hope to look back on what I’m doing now with pride. My goal is to make stable, reliable energy available for the future generations, and this goal makes all of my hard work now worth it.”
Yamahara is passionate about the manufacturing work he is involved in at present, but he is also constantly thinking about the future, motivated by the excitement of creating something new, and his dedication to take responsibility for the period of the second founding of DENSO.
Let’s hear from Yamahara about his current work on making this vision a reality, as well as his attitude toward work in general.
Contents of this article
Changing direction to carbon neutrality looking ahead to what’s going on in the world
───Mr. Yamahara, please tell me about your current project at DENSO.
Yamahara：I work on commercializing our SOEC system in the Production Engineering Division. When I first joined DENSO, I was involved in designing electrical equipment in any types of buildings such as power receiving and transforming equipment, electrical outlet devices, lighting equipment and so forth. During that period, I also had the opportunity to work on solar panels and other renewable energy equipment, which got me interested in renewable energy. Through this kind of work, I felt the trends in the world that R&D of electric vehicles has made progress recent years and realization of carbon neutrality would play key role in further progress. I wanted to be involved in work directly related to such trends, and I asked for a transfer to my current division.
───I see. I heard you majored in electrical and electronic engineering as a university student.
Yamahara：That’s right. Actually, I took the major not because I was interested in it, but by seeing the trends of the market. Looking to the future, I felt that electric vehicles, renewable energy and the like would become widespread in the coming years.
───You realized it when you were a college student. That’s impressive! It seems you have always looked to the world in a calm way and chosen your way to live.
Yamahara：Well, now that you say so, you could be right, because I’m not aware of it so much. [laughs]
However, what I do unconsciously may be seen as “my strength which is different from others’” from others perspective.
───Exactly. Did you decide to join DENSO because it would give you the opportunity to utilize what you studied at university in your work?
Yamahara：Yes, I’ve been interested in doing infrastructure-related work since my student days. As you know, infrastructure is what enables people to live their daily lives, and I wanted to be involved in it. Even now I still have my will that I would like to support people’s daily lives.
───It’s great that you have had your consistent will so far. Do you think that hydrogen will eventually play a key role in our daily lives?
Yamahara：It’s a real possibility. For example, if we can use hydrogen to generate electric power, it would be very useful in times of disaster. Actually, I went to Kumamoto after the 2016 earthquakes to provide onsite support for some of our group companies, and I learned the hard way how hard our daily lives would be when the infrastructures break down such as electricity, gas and water supply services. I thought that I wish I could use at least electric power in times of emergency. Visiting Kumamoto inspired me to work toward a better future in which people have reliable access to energy at all times. When I think of the near future in which hydrogen could be usually used by the people, it really motivates me to work on commercializing hydrogen products.
Widespread collaboration with experts to maximize results
───Let me know what you value in your work.
Yamahara：I always try to work with a wide range of experts in order to utilize their viewpoints and ideas to achieve the best results.
For example, no matter how well a product is made, users will be dissatisfied if it is hard to use, and it cannot be established as a business if its business perspective is missing. There’s more to development than simply completing the product; it’s necessary to evaluate and verify it from multiple perspectives in order to optimize it as a system.
To this end, we hold weekly meetings with various experts in a variety of fields such as planning, design, manufacturing, commercialization. I think it’s my role to look over the project as a whole rather than focusing on its single and specific part.
And team collaboration is essential to succeed the project. Though it’s nearly impossible for anyone to complete all of their jobs perfectly, usually communicating with each other enables us to make up for each other even if some of us make mistakes. I believe that daily accumulation of such communications lead to the success of projects.
───I understand that you have combined the strength of experts in many fields necessary for success of projects. Can you give me an example of a recent project in which collaboration between members led to good results?
Yamahara：Well, in one overseas project on which we bid, we had to design a massive hydrogen production plant system in a very short time, which is capable of generating 100 tons of hydrogen per day. It was much larger in size than the automotive products we had experienced at DENSO, and some of the project members struggled to grasp even the true difficulty of the task we faced. Therefore, in order to ensure that everyone was on the same page, I arranged for team members to take a plant tour so that we could share the same vision for the final system design plans. This helped us kick off the project with the same goals in mind, and I made sure that we all had the same understanding regarding the work to be done and the goals along the way. As a result, we were able to complete the system design plans in a very short time and submit them by the project deadline. In order to get the most out of each person’s specialized knowledge, ensuring good communication as the project proceeds is key.
Tackling the challenge for the future with enthusiasm to take responsibility for the period of the second founding of DENSO
───I understand that DENSO will face a lot of tough challenges as it strives to commercialize its SOEC system. What will drive you to overcome those challenges?
Yamahara：I’m working hard to lay the new foundations for business in new fields. It is estimated that the hydrogen market will grow to 300 billion yen by the year 2035, and I’m sure that DENSO focused on the projects and wants to steadily grow its share in that market.
While closely monitoring hydrogen-related trends within DENSO and throughout the wider world, I will work on the project with the determination that I will take responsibility for the period of the second foundation of DENSO and I will grow the SOEC products to a core pillar of its business.
───It’s inspiring to see you aiming so high.
Yamahara：Truthfully, the pressure to succeed is at least as strong as my desire to succeed. Regardless, I think my desire to keep building something new from scratch is motivated by my love of the challenge itself. If my hard work results in a better future for the environment and people everywhere, then I’m happy to take on any challenge.
Although building something new from the ground up may seem difficult, my experience so far has been very useful for that, and so I’m moving forward one step at a time, in trial-and-error fashion.
Pursuing work that will affect coming generations, and putting one’s goals into words
───Finally, I have one more question: what are your personal dreams and ambitions?
Yamahara：Well, it goes without saying that I hope to succeed with commercializing SOEC products, and to overcome any problems that emerge thereafter as I continue with my day-to-day work. Many technologies other than SOEC products are supposed to spread in future toward the realization of the carbon neutrality. If it becomes necessary to coordinate with and adapt to those new technologies, we’ll likely have to face new and unimagined challenges as a result.
Each new era brings with it unique new challenges. In my work at DENSO, I want to continue thinking about that future—how particular products are likely to be used, and in which situations and to which types of users they will be useful.
───That’s another example of your ability to look ahead into the future in your work.
Yamahara：Thank you. It takes a long time of 20 or 30 years to achieve carbon neutrality. Even if I can’t change the world now, I hope I will be able to take pride in having been involved in our SOEC commercialization when I look back to now in the future. If I can create something useful for the next generation, it is worth making efforts so far. I want to keep it in mind that we are building a better future through manufacturing.
───Thank you for those inspiring words. I would be happy if you could give any useful advice to others who are trying to discover their own dreams and ambitions.
Yamahara：I think it can be useful to put your desires into words. It may take courage, but I have never been criticized for expressing what I really want to do. Whether your goals are for the benefit of yourself, the company, or society as a whole, it’s always good to take a proactive approach toward your ambitions. DENSO has a corporate culture which supports it. In the past, I often took advantage of one-on-one consultation opportunities at the company to talk with my bosses about various things I wanted to try out including off-the-job things. It helped me get to where I am today, so I hope you all will try it, too.
Ultimately, the desire to try new things will help you realize your dreams.
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