Its position as the world’s leading ignition and sensor specialist was achieved by a commitment to innovation, quality and R&D that has been prevalent ever since its founding and that continues to this day.
The automotive industry is the main business area for NGK Spark Plug, but medical and industrial markets are also served. For example, technical ceramic materials for bone replacement, oxygen concentrators, ceramic substrates for semiconductors and solid-state batteries are just some of the other industries where the company is active.
In order to expand these areas, the company has put in place a bold new ‘open innovation’ concept which will secure the company’s future business.
A team of more than 320 employees based around the world is performing R&D in eight main new business areas. Their main focus centres on providing solutions that improve the quality of life in the world. In addition to the company’s internal development efforts, the Venture Labs manage collaboration with external partners, investment in start-ups and acquisitions.
NGK Spark Plugs (UK) Ltd Managing Director Marko Wowczyna said: “There are exciting opportunities in a number of new business areas that the company is currently exploring. NGK has always been an innovator with an emphasis on quality and R&D and this will continue in the future as we look to face the challenges ahead by working to develop new ground-breaking technologies.”
A history of success
Founded in Nagoya, Japan in 1936, NGK Spark Plug has achieved continual growth and success. With its roots in fine ceramics, the company today is active in the automotive, semiconductor, industrial components and medical industries, employing 16,400 people around the globe and achieving sales of €3.7 billion. In preparation for the future, the company is investing its capital in a $100 million Corporate Venture Capital Fund, which will secure the business in areas that focus on sustainability. The fund is run with support from Pegasus Tech Ventures, a global venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley. Pegasus Tech Ventures specialises in accelerating the success of its portfolio companies by connecting them to its network of multinational corporate partners and cutting-edge technology start-ups to create opportunities for business development, distribution, manufacturing and global expansion.
NGK has created three ‘Venture Labs’ – innovation hubs designed to prepare the company for the future. They focus on three areas: ‘Smart Health’, ‘Smart Mobility’ and ‘Decentralised Utility’. In ‘Smart Health’, research is being carried out in the fields of health treatment using ultra fine bubble technology, health monitoring using ultrasonic devices, and medical procedure using plasma technology. This is echoed in ‘Smart Mobility’, where research in the fields of connected platforms and hardware technologies are being pursued. In ‘Decentralised Utility’, moreover, the fields of decentralised food and energy production as well as new systems enabling a good air quality, provide another insight into the focus on sustainability which will greatly influence the company’s future activities.
Located in Tokyo, Japan, Silicon Valley, USA and Ratingen, Germany, the company’s Venture Labs facilitate collaborative and creative technical thinking for a variety of stakeholders, including partnerships with outside businesses and start-ups. The goal is to create NGK Spark Plug’s future business pillars.
While the future will see the company expand into new and growing business areas, the link to the past will play a key role in lighting the path towards sustainable success. The decades-long expertise gained in the fields of ceramic, sensors, plasma and semiconductor technology will be fully availed of as the company expands beyond its traditional boundaries and explores new industries. Business creation activities including human centred design and R&D carried out within the Venture Labs has already led to some promising developments in the following fields:
Sensors for aquaculture
An increasing global population requires more efficient food production, which can in part be ensured through water quality management. Advanced NTK sensor technology in combination with data modelling is optimising water quality, resulting in more plentiful harvests and minimal environmental impact. Impressive results using the NTK system have already been achieved at several land-based shrimp farms.
With energy demands continuing to evolve around the world, entire industries are encountering increased storage challenges. NGK is currently investing in the development of unique technologies that will lead to batteries and capacitors that offer high heat-resistance, high output and high energy-density. As a result, energy storage will become more efficient as well as safer.
Vehicle maintenance platform
The team is exploring solutions that connect cars to data platforms in order to perform ‘health checks’ on cars. This will enable the data collection and analysis of cars, providing real-time information to car owners so they can take the best care of their vehicle.
NTK lead free piezoelectric technology specially developed for medical use cases is the basis for a number of ultrasonic applications (e.g., transducers) that will be launched over the coming years.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated, access to clean air is of paramount importance. Researchers at NGK will launch a system capable of eliminating viruses from contained spaces. This, in turn, will provide businesses and customers alike a sense of safety and security due to the company’s advancements in air purification technology.
Within the NGK organisation, new business is being created in the following three fields: Internal Projects, Investments and Mergers & Acquisitions. The company, therefore, is seeking strategic acquisitions as well as investing in external partners. This provides an excellent opportunity to creative thinkers and bold entrepreneurs to accelerate their innovative ideas and develop ground-breaking technologies by working with the NGK Spark Plug team.
Entrepreneurship is also being promoted in order to create agile business solutions that lead to stronger partnerships. By collaborating with innovation experts, various sprint programmes have been successfully launched, involving the company’s design thinking and innovation creation teams.
Key to the success of the various programmes within the Venture Labs are their agile decision-making processes, an element that is critical for developing business partnerships and start-up investments. Venture Labs have the ability and authority to make decisions and within them, exists a New Business Development Committee which performs consistent and efficient vetting processes geared towards the timeframes of the participating partners.
For established businesses, start-ups and other stakeholders interested in creating pioneering developments in the areas of health, mobility and decentralised utility, NGK Spark Plug’s Venture Labs offer the perfect platform to accelerate business ideas to the next level.