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Story 40: Taiwan and Climbing Yushan

  • MPA Series
March 1, 2016

Taiwan and Climbing Yushan
Naoto Izumo
R&D Division 5, A&D Company, Limited

This is the 40th story in my ongoing Development Story series which I started writing almost 6 years ago in April of 2010. Today I would like to describe the electronic pipette development process and talk about mountain climbing.

It has been nearly 20 years since I first visited Taiwan for work. At that time A&D rented a single room from a firm in Taipei. This representative office was manned by 3 people charged with part procurement for balances and other products. I was the technology observer in charge of procurement for balance related parts and had to visit Taiwan multiple times a year to call on die-cast and cutting manufacturers in Taichung. After these meetings, I attempted to introduce completed parts to Japan.

However, at that time Taiwan's production technology was not sufficiently developed which led to both the failure of all of our attempts at procurement over the years and a failure to develop continued business. From our experience of losing tens of millions of yen on molds and a significant amount on travel expenses, I learned the fact that essential parts that were difficult to procure in Japan were even more difficult to produce overseas. It may be obvious to some people but from our failures I also learned that the culture and disposition of people from different countries differ, and without understanding this, it is impossible to build cooperative relationships and pursue meaningful business with peoples from other countries. After having this realization not only did I do my work, I began to truly experience the culture and history of the country and also began to make an effort to eat foods that could only be eaten where I visited because food is an important cultural element. The gusto of the food a person eats is related to the identity of a person. In my opinion, the decision to eat or forgo eating foods that one had never eaten up until that point would manifest in one's development work. That is, a developer who is reluctant to eat the local foods will also likely fail to come up with new development themes. A developer must have the spirit of the adventurer and that will most notably appear in the way they eat.

Since then, through an agent in Taiwan as our collaborator, we also continuously promoted the expansion of sales centering on the market for our new products. For the sales of micropipette volume testers in particular, we turned from Europe to Asia for developing new markets. As part of this plan I visited pharmaceutical and food companies as well as materials manufacturers in various locations in Taiwan, and to finish the tour I paid a visit to a pipette manufacturer in Taipei. That day I had already visited 3 companies demonstrating our new micropipette management tool. The customers I visited made no judgment or evaluation about the device and as with the previous day we were having no significant results. At the end of the day we proposed our pipette management tool in a meeting with the pipette manufacturer arranged by the agent.

We were amateurs with only a few years of experience with this technology and our demonstration was to a longtime industry pro. It was also our first time proposing the pipette management tool to a pipette manufacturer. I was quite worried about this particular visit as there was no way to predict their reaction, however, I carried out the demo reluctantly hoping that there would be some benefit even to failure.

I was anticipating rejection so the success of the demo was unexpected. Our client company was a modest collection of engineers who could talk frankly about technology. Often relationships between manufacturers in equivalent positions end up poorly. This is because each company's ideas regarding culture and technology are not aligned and the engineers at these manufacturers are arrogant and extremely pigheaded and in general they express no interest in what the other party has to say. Even with the language barrier, I felt that our last customer that day was the most compatible manufacturer that we ever worked with, including companies in Japan.

Through our pipette management tool sales promotion activities, we planned and brought unprecedented new products to the market but experienced failure with sales. However, through our sales activities we came to have a greater understanding of pipettes and also the many problems facing them. Then during these activities we were lucky and stumbled across this very friendly pipette manufacturer in Taipei.

Meanwhile, two foreign competitors dealing with weighing and related instruments had invested billions into the purchase of Western pipette manufacturers, to make into subsidiaries. This resulted in pipettes being sold by our competitors, leaving only us with an incomplete product offering for several years. I believed it to be my responsibility to fix this state of affairs. 

On the return flight from Taipei to Japan, I was thinking on the recent developments, my desire to do something mixed with thoughts about this pipette manufacturer in Taiwan and I had a good idea, to develop a new pipette with original specifications and request them to do the production. This inspiration led to the release of the MPA Series of electronic pipettes two years later. I immediately sketched a design of the new electronic pipette on the plane and finished the product concept when I landed in Japan.

Afterwards we started to visit Taiwan frequently as the only Japanese manufacturer to develop general purpose electronic pipettes. One time when I was in the airport before returning I saw a large picture of Yushan and was instilled with a desire to climb that mountain. This thought grew stronger and stronger. During the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, Yushan was regarded as the new tallest mountain (called Niitaka-yama in Japanese), as it was taller than Mt. Fuji (the tallest mountain in Japan). The phrase "Niitaka-yama nobore" is famous as the code word used to order the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Yushan stands at 3952 meters, 176 meters taller than Mt. Fuji and when viewed from the western ridge is similar to Mt. Kita and Mt. Shiomi of the Minami Alps of Japan, with splendid buttresses just below the summit. Last September, mass production of the MPA series took off and sales were an order of magnitude greater than our first predictions. At this time the president of the pipette manufacturer in Taiwan helped us apply for permits to climb Yushan. Out of the two groups that applied one group from Japan was able to participate and in total five people went to Taiwan. We took a car to the entrance of the trail at 2600 m and started the 1300 m ascent which sprawled a length of 10 km.

A group climbing Yushan must be accompanied by a guide, and the climb is a two-day trip with a night in a hut near the summit. The tree line cut off at 3600 m leaving the last 300 m rocky and steep. Fortunately, the trail was well maintained taking most of the peril out of the journey. However at the mountain hut we stayed in near 3600 m, the oxygen in the air is only 60% of the amount at sea level so staying for too long increases the risk of altitude sickness. I became quite tired from the altitude, which I blame on my age and the next morning at 2 A.M. when we woke up I felt nauseous. I struggled to eat the meat bun that was our breakfast and left the mountain hut a little after 3. As our surroundings were beginning to get brighter we cut past the last few boulders and reached the summit. Yushan's shadow lie on the surrounding mountains painted blue by the morning sun giving us an awe-inspiring panorama.

As the difficulty of a climb up a mountain or the development of a product increases there is more satisfaction when the goal is reached at the end. Currently, the pipettes we developed are not yet what I would call a success. However, I believe the strengthened technology and production relationship with the manufacturer in Taiwan, the expansion of our product lineup, and creation of new relationships with distributers will lead to future expansion of sales.

                                                    Facing west on Yushan's main peak
                                         2015.09.24 AM6:00 Facing west on Yushan's main peak
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