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NICHICON Ups the Ante of Energy Storage Device Business

ower storage devices generate a lot of attention because of their role in advanced automobiles, which are expected to become mainstream in the future. In this interview with AEI, Shigeo Yoshida, President, NICHICON CORPORATION, details the present performance of their energy storage device business amid the developments in the automotive industry, and the company’s plan to meet the demand for power supplies in an automated environment.

AEI: How has the expansion of power electronics spur the company’s business?

Yoshida: We have seen the demand grew for capacitors, which is our company’s main business, amid the increasing use of electronic components and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) in automobiles. In the Nichicon Energy-Control System Technology (NECST) Business, demand mainly for electric vehicle (EV)-related products, such as energy storage systems and vehicle-to-home (V2H) systems, has been increasing. Although the tone of the market has changed since last fall, the integration of electronic components and ADAS in automobiles continues to advance, accelerating the proliferation of EVs. The trends toward the automation of equipment, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and power storage at households also remained unchanged. However, we are bent on doing more.

AEI: What is the present supply condition of capacitors?

Yoshida: We enjoyed the most robust orders for aluminum electrolytic capacitors for the past 10 years, and we had a backlog of two months. However, the demand for aluminum electrolytic capacitors for white goods has relaxed since the beginning of fall, and the tightness of supply-demand balance has eased. However, supply shortage continues for some large-capacity chip products and special-size products for automobiles. Although there was a temporary drop in orders for aluminum electrolytic capacitors for air conditioners and photovoltaic power generation systems, the market has begun to recover.

Orders for film capacitors have been doubling every year, reflecting the increase in new customers of EVs and hybrid vehicles (HVs) as well as the adoption of film capacitors for smoothing inverters in new car models. I expect that the number of customers and car models that employ film capacitors will further increase in FY2019 and FY2020 globally. Company-wide sales of film capacitors for automobiles, which presently account for 18 to 20 percent, will surpass 20 percent in FY2019.

AEI: What are your present efforts in beefing up the company’s production capacity?

Yoshida: In FY2018, we spent ¥10 billion for capital investments almost as planned, investing ¥17 billion in two years. As a result, we increased the production capacity for chip aluminum electrolytic capacitors with a tight supply-demand balance by 20 percent year on year in Mar. 2018, and that for total capacitors by 10 percent on the year, thereby meeting demand.

As new products, we will begin the full-scale shipment of lithium ion batteries in June. In preparation, we have installed a production line dedicated for compact cylindrical lead type at Nichicon (Ohno) Corporation No. 2 Plant. We will ensure high quality, improve production efficiency, and put in place a mass production system for the new products for them to contribute to our business performance.

In Japan, we have implemented full automated production for snap-in terminal-type aluminum electrolytic capacitors excluding some special products. We have also implemented full automated production for 20 to 30 percent of snap-in terminal-type aluminum electrolytic capacitors in Wuxi, China and in Malaysia as well, and plan to further increase the percentage of full automated production in FY2019. Automation and mechanization of the Suqian Plant in China for conductive polymer aluminum solid electrolytic capacitors have also been completed. We also plan to commence the production of film capacitors at the Suqian Plant within several years. Over the years, we have been transitioning to a manufacturing that primarily depends on perception and experience to a scientific-based manufacturing.

Hiroyuki Sumida, Vice President of Rexxam Co., Ltd.
Hiroyuki Sumida, Vice President of Rexxam Co., Ltd.

AEI: Could you describe the company’s plans on NECST products?

Yoshida: We put efforts in the proposal and sales expansion of the three products of tribrid energy storage systems, single-function energy storage systems with 4.1kWh that cost less than ¥1 million, and power grid-connected V2H systems, as future public systems. Cumulative shipment of home-use energy storage systems exceeded 50,000 units in Sept. 2018. We released a 4.1kWh single-function energy storage system in January, adding momentum to sales.

With V2H systems, we plan to release a new grid-connected product in the first half of FY2019. We expect demand for quick chargers in FY2019 for installation in expressways and automotive service stations in preparation for the proliferation of EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs). In these several years, we have sold V2H systems and quick chargers to countries in Southeast Asia and Europe, and trial demonstrations have begun.

The installation of energy storage systems through official development assistance (ODA) has been advancing overseas, including in an airport in Nepal. We aim to increase sales of NECST products to the same level as those of capacitors as early as possible.