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Products (Chemical - Chemical Compound)

Kuraray: POVAL film


Kuraray was established in 1926 in a bid to develop domestic production of rayon, which was an advanced technology of the time. It was founded by Magozaburo Ohara, who was central in both building up the company and contributing to the economy of Kurashiki, where the company was originally located. Ohara devoted himself to public welfare services, founded hospitals, schools and scholarship enterprises, as well as building the Ohara Museum, which still stands today. His visionary approach was adopted by Kuraray, which went on to achieve world’s first industrialization of vinylon, the first synthetic fiber to be developed in Japan, allowing it to carve its way through the early period of the global synthetic fiber market. Kuraray has also continued to contribute widely to society and community alike through its social enterprise services. Here, we introduce POVAL film, one of Kuraray’s main products.

Liquid-crystal panels are indispensable for the digital displays of various electronic devices, including everything from calculators and digital clocks, to portable games consoles, personal computers, liquid-crystal TVs and car navigation displays. One of the components of these liquid-crystal panels is a polarization plate, comprising a layer of polarization film. Polyvinyl alcohol, or POVAL, is the most suitable type of plastic for this film, meaning that POVAL film is essential for all types of liquid-crystal panels.

Kuraray produces 85% of the world’s total volume of POVAL film for liquid-crystal panels. Put simply, this means that without POVAL film, we would not have the sort of immediate visual access to information that we enjoy all over the world today. POVAL film is a product of Japan’s outstanding technology that is now essential to businesses all around the world.

Kuraray and POVAL film
Liquid-crystal panels made with POVAL film are produced by layering liquid crystals between various types of plates and screens. The polarization plates, each made from a layer of POVAL film, control light waves by blocking them or letting them through. The liquid crystals between the polarization plates allows light waves to pass through when voltage is applied , but scatters the light waves in the absence of voltage. Polarization plates work by using the difference in brightness – light that has passed through the plates and light that has not – to create the beginnings of a display.

There are three main reasons to use POVAL for polarization plates, as follows: 1) it has a high degree of clarity when made into a film; 2) it performs well as a film because there is no distortion of molecules even when it is stretched; 3) it can easily adsorb iodine which causes polarization. For these reasons, any POVAL film produced should maximize the benefits of these features. It is easy to imagine that just how advanced the technology used to stretch POVAL film, without distortion or unevenness, to a thinness of around 0.14-0.4mm and then layer it accurately together up to ten times, has to be. Kuraray has been the key player in pushing this technology forward, using it to produce POVAL that is then put to use around the world.

Kuraray has led global production of POVAL since 1950, when it first industrialized the product and began commercial production. This success has been made possible by outstanding performance in global markets, with the company exporting technology to the USA and Europe and production plants to China. As a result, international sales of POVAL, which amounted to 30% of total sales in 2001, increased to a 50% share in 2008. Kuraray’s matchless manufacturing know-how, cultivated over more than 50 years, gives it a clear market advantage. It’s unrivalled position as the manufacturer of choice for POVAL film is also set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Japanese components makers
As international market competition intensifies, it is likely that outstanding manufacturers of specific component parts for industrial goods, as exemplified by Kuraray, will continue to dominate global markets. The technology required is highly advanced, difficult to acquire, and demands massive amounts of capital investment; this makes it almost impossible for new manufacturers to enter the market. Moreover, companies manufacturing machinery and equipment in which the components are used are unlikely to switch to alternative products as a result of the complications such a switch would result in, such as revising production lines. In other words it is difficult to justify the change to a new product where the current product is high in quality and has a proven track record.

Components made in Japan and renowned in the rest of the world are the product of many years of capital and technological investment. In the components manufacturing sector, Japan’s technology and manufacturing capacity are second to none; Japan is not a subcontractor to be utilized by the manufacturers of finished products, but rather is establishing a position as an equal to these producers. Companies emerging from rapidly developing Asian countries will also struggle to produce products without the support of Japan’s components makers.

Maintaining a high level of global competitiveness is a watchword for Kuraray. As global markets expand and digital information diversifies, world-leading POVAL film will doubtless continue to be dominant. Other Kuraray products of Kuraray are also playing increasingly important roles, suggesting even greater advancement for the company in global markets in the future.

Nov 15, 2011

About the author
Hiromi Jitsukata is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON