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Design, development and commercialization of the operation microscope and its stand that drastically advanced neurosurgical operations

Mitaka-City, Tokyo
Mitaka Kohki Co., Ltd.
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Nakamura, Katsushige  (65)
President

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This company manufactured the various industrial devices including a 3D measurement device and space observation device that was mounted on a rocket and satellite and subsequently used its accumulated technology to produce medical devices. It successfully developed a neurosurgical microscope in 1988 and, always thinking from the standpoint of staff in the medical front, has designed and developed the medical devices, which the neurosurgeons in the world highly valued. Especially the operation environment was drastically improved thanks to the "overhead positioning stand" that held a microscope over doctor's head while the device body was installed behind the doctor so that he or she could move freely. The company had technical alliance with Leica Microsystems in 1990 and started sales in the world market. The company's products account for 15% of the total market share in the U.S. Currently it is developing a carbon-free solar power generation system and seawater desalination system as environmental countermeasures.

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- Mitaka Kohki started its business as a manufacturer of astronomical telescope, didn't it?

Yes, we manufactured special telescopes, for example, that observed aurora in Antarctica and the celestial bodies rotating in their unique orbits like Halley's comet. We produced many space observation devices, including an ozone detector and X-ray telescope that I designed. My father was one of members, who established the present National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, and so the astronomical observatory was my playground and I sometimes observed the universe with telescopes. I always wondered how they manufactured those telescopes. My strong interest in monodzkuri  was raised in such an environment, and the astronomical devices are my original point and textbook for monodzukuri.

- However, later you entered the medical care field...

I thought that I would be able to use my technology acquired in the field of astronomy to manufacture something useful for "terrestrial matters". That is the reason I entered the medical care field. Unexpectedly, the basic principle is the same between a telescope and medical optical devices. One of the examples is the automatic focus function, for which we had high technology. Making use of it, firstly we manufactured an operating microscope indispensable for a neurosurgical operation. We manufactured our fist medical device named "Cygnus" that had point-locking (positioning) function and obtained an overseas patent for it. In a neurosurgical operation, doctors must cope with the problem of patient's bleeding and a conventional microscope had to be focused newly whenever patient's blood was sucked by vacuum and it was moved. However, the Cygnus microscope was always automatically focused correctly and so a doctor could move it freely around patient's brain. Therefore doctors valued Cygnus highly saying, "When Cygnus is focused on an operative field once, it is always focused on it correctly. We started mass production of Cygnus for use in the whole world, and we chose Leica (then known as William Leica) as our partner that had its sales network throughout the world.

- You chose a very big company as your partner, didn't you?

Leica was so happy because it could use our patented technology to produce the product. However, we attached several conditions to our contract that the employees of Mitaka and Leica could visit each other's manufacturing facilities freely, Japanese yen had to be used for transaction and Leica had to guarantee its products. These conditions could not be agreed if we did not have a patent for our technology. However, small and medium-sized companies and big companies must cooperate with each other in the coming years. If small companies that have good technology, and big companies that have sales channels, big market and manpower, work together, "one plus one" will produce "three". Our policy is "We will not reveal our know-how but make our patent public as our weapon." We have to go this far for monodzukuri,

- Advance medical devices are being developed one after another, aren't they?

The overhead-stand microscope we developed is widely used by doctors in the world. Since the device body is put behind doctors and the microscope can be pulled down from overhead, doctors can move freely. If big equipment is located just beside an operating table, doctors and nurses cannot operate freely. I could find such conditions because I observed actual operation many times. We have to listen to complaints of people in field about their "problems" because this is the basis for development of a new product. Therefore I always say, "Basic concept of design drawing is made in field".

- Really your products are very useful for people. They save human lives.

In 2004, we completed a high-definition stereomicroscope, "MM50", that changed the surgery in the world. Having the maximum magnification ratio of 1:50, "MM50" enabled anastomosis of a 0.05mm thick blood vessel although the conventional microscope could anastomose a 0.5mm blood vessel at a maximum. For example, it enabled a fine operation for skin grafting. 
I am most happy when doctors and nurses say, "We could perform the operation because we had the devices made by Mitaka", and when patients are delighted because they have been operated successfully. We also developed a fluorescent microscope that enabled doctors to perform an operation while making clear the boundary between the cancer cell and the healthy parts. The conventional microscope could not make that boundary clear in real image. If a cancer cell can be removed correctly, we can increase the survival rate and prevent a recurrence of cancer. What we wish to manufacture is an "indispensable product", not "convenient product".

- That is the ideal of Monodzukuri for Mr. Nakamura.

Manufacturing a product from nothing is Monodzukuri. In addition, a product must be useful for people in a society. It is meaningless to compete merely in degree of technology. My basic idea of Monodzukuri is to help people in needs somehow. My origin of new idea is "careful watching and observation" and asking myself, "Why and How?" In this sense, primary school students who can see things from the pure point of view are candidates for a genius. When I am at a standstill in development, I return my way of thinking to my young days, so to say, to the Cambrian period (just kidding). I feel that God produced various prototypes in that period…I think that I can find the essence of Monodzukuri in that way.

Mitaka Kohki Co., Ltd.

http://www.mitakakohki.co.jp/

Established:
May. 1966
Capital:
10 million yen
Employees:
50 (as of Dec. 2009)
Brief information:
This company develops various products based on its own idea and precision technology in fields of astronomy, industry, medical care and solar energy. It has 50 patents in Japan and 100 patens in foreign countries.

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This company participated in the SEPAC project of the Space Science Laboratory in 1983. NASA decided to mount a highly sensitive camera that was produced by Mitaka Kohki, not by a major TV manufacturer, on its space shuttle "Colombia" 1983. The photo shows its prototype.

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Sketches of products all handwritten by Mr. Nakamura. A product image comes to his mind instantaneously and surprisingly an actual product is exactly as shown as in his sketches. No bunch of specification sheets is necessary and he says, "There is no border for pictures. People can share an image with a picture". This is a special skill of Mr. Nakamura who wished to be a painter.

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The company manufactures its products including the "overhead positioning stand" while aiming to have high operability and usability for the consideration of the users. Currently it manufactures more than twenty-five types of medical device and delivers twenty sets of it on average every month from its Mitaka factory to the world.

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In this workshop, the employees can produce freely anything they like. They can use this room freely even on Saturdays and Sundays. However, they cannot use a CAD machine except those in a managerial position. Mr. Nakamura believes a computer is a tool and that if we rely on it, we will lose our creativity.