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A Microcosm of Technological Innovation

The story behind the development of flexible print circuits, the key driver of the evolution of electronics

Phase.3 The Dramatic Story Behind … R&D

During difficult times with challenges mounting, what kept the R&D team motivated? Their motivation came from nothing but their aspiration and determination to make the electronic components business a core part of Fujikura.

Fujikura's very first FPC order came from a leading camera manufacturer which asked us to provide FPCs for their print heads. Based on the design specifications prepared by the customer, we completed a prototype after many unsuccessful attempts. When presented with this prototype, the engineers of the camera maker were, to put it mildly, appalled. The prototype we created was the complete opposite of what it should have been. The customer had requested an FPC with a double-sided exposure but the prototype presented was a single-sided fine-pitched FPC. This incident was revealing of the R&D team's level of capability at that time, of their inability to even understand drawings properly. Many subsequent prototypes were also accompanied by "legendary" failure stories. In such hard times with problems piling up, how did the R&D team keep up morale? They were strongly determined that the electronic components business would become one of Fujikura's core businesses.

From its makeshift office?constructed only out of partitions?at the Sakura Plant, the FPC project team made steady progress over the years, but only in technological terms. When it came to profitability, the team faced an uphill battle. Every 100 million yen worth of sales generated a 100-million-yen net loss due to poor yield rates and cost efficiencies. While mired in such a predicament, the team was also under intensifying criticism from within the company. There was even a company joke?not entirely repeated in the spirit of good-natured fun?that FPC stood for the "Furafura Purapura Club," which basically translates as the "Goofing-off Club."

Module for mobile phones: a real turning point in 1993
Module for mobile phones: a real turning point in 1993
A real turning point came when Fujikura received a large order for FPCs to be used by a mobile phone company in their new model. A Singapore-based surface mount equipment company contacted us expressing interest in our FPCs. Two years of aggressive marketing activities had finally bore fruit. We provided them with a sample product, which was evaluated well, resulting in an order of mass-produced FPCs, including mounting, from this Singaporean manufacturer. At long last, the FPC team had the opportunity to utilize the expertise, skills and techniques for improving cost effectiveness that they had been steadily developing over the years of trial and error?not to mention their ability to address customer complaints?and they seized it. The relationship with this customer eventually resulted in a transaction involving four million units. In 1993, the business with this company alone generated eight billion yen in sales. Construction of a new, dedicated FPC factory in Thailand?PCTT?was already opportunely underway and this allowed Fujikura to further mass-produce FPCs. With the greater production capacity, the company aggressively sought and seized opportunities to provide FPCs to other mobile phone companies. Fujikura's FPC business started to see continuous growth.

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