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Development and practical application of natural wood sheets and fabric that are flexible and durable, by impregnating sliced veneers with resin

Tennoji-ward, Osaka-City
Zeroone Products Inc.
Other award winners
TOYO tsukiita kougei, Ltd. / Kazuhiro Oseki
Ryukoku University / Mitsuyuki Oyanagi
Tachinoya / Masahatsu Tateno
Yamamatsu Orimono / Yoshinobu Yamamatsu
Marusaku / Masahiro Yamamoto
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VentureLabo Inc.
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Higuchi, Shinichi  (55)
President

'A bag I myself want.' Motivated by the inquiring mind, he went into the new material development.
summary

They developed "Tennâge," which are natural wood sheets that are flexible and resistant to bend, by impregnating sliced veneers that are sliced Japanese cypress, ebony or the like with high-molecular compound resin. They do not change in dimension and can be sewn. In the conventional type, because their surface is covered by a plastic or film to retain the strength, it is a shortcoming that the texture of natural wood is lost. On the other hand, the beauty and warmth of the wood grain are retained in "Tennâge." They are used for a wide variety of industrial products such as interior decoration, cell-phones, personal computers, and automobile interior. Additionally, they developed "Ki-ori Tennâge," which is Kyo orimono (fabric) that reproduces wood grain. The product is fabricated by an innovative method in which the sheets are cut into pieces of a certain width and used as warp with the technique for Nishijin ori (brocade). The "Ki-ori Tennâge" has wider application than "Tennâge" and its commercialization as high-class fabric was also achieved. It is expected that they will be used in various fields like the traditional leather and fabric products.

summary

Isn't there any "wood that can be sewn" in the world? If it's not in your field, ask a professional in the field about it. The long-awaited material development by a collaboration among industry, government and academia.

Mr. Higuchi has liked bags since he was a student and he hoped that he would make bags by himself in the future. When he was looking for a bag he would make, he had a fateful encounter on a business trip in Geneva. It was a wooden brief case. He was attracted to the warmth and beauty of the wood at a glance.
"But when I picked it up, I was surprised at the weight, though it was natural because it was made by hollowing out wood (laugh)."
He wanted to make a light-weight bag that he himself wanted and after he came back to Japan, he visited various wood working companies and sewing plants. He thought if a coated paper is attached to the back of a sliced veneer to strengthen it and the sheet was sewn, a bag can be made as intended. However, every person he asked about it rejected the idea, saying "Wood can't be sawn."
"One day, a certain sewing mechanic said 'Since you insist' and sawed wood and show that to me. A needle for professional use was inserted through it and I thought "It can be sawn!", but the sliced veneer cracked. He laughed through his nose, saying 'I told you it wouldn't go well, didn't I?'"
After the failure of the sewing, he came up with an idea in an opposite way and attached a sliced veneer to the surface of a bag with an adhesive. But it turned out to look "like far-fetched" and he couldn't be satisfied with the finish.
"I had thought I could find wood that can be sewn but I couldn't find it. Every person I asked about it said that I could not find such a thing anywhere. I thought 'Can nobody make wood that can be sewn in Japan that is a technology-oriented nation?" My policy is 'If there's something you don't know, ask a person who knows it.' So eventually I consulted with a professor at a university. The professor encouraged me, saying 'It's great to think of a thing that other people don't,' and told me that I might be able to find a professor who I could conduct cooperative research with. So after that, I meet a lot of people."
And he sought Ryukoku University's cooperation and made a presentation at a faculty meeting for more than 20 professors.
"At the beginning of the presentation, nobody expressed an interest so I became depressed."
But then Oyanagi professor offered a helping hand. They started with basic research at a rental laboratory of Ryukoku University. And after two years, they succeeded in the development of flexible sheets made of natural wood, "Tennâge." Introduced by a patent licensing advisor, they signed a contract with TOYO tsukiita kougei, Ltd. in Kyushu for manufacturing license, and prepared a production line. And a long-sought bag made was manufactured by his company. But....
"We obtained a patent in Japan and the US, and I thought 'All right! Our bags will be sold!' But the sales was not good as we expected. We made the wood that can be sawn, but we needed to evolve it into a material that can be flexibly designed."
"Can't we make it like cloth?" Mr. Higuchi started to meet various professionals again. He could not stop also for the people they had cooperated with him.

A team made of six professionals from various areas and fields. The crisis was overcome by a "connection among people."

Just when Mr. Higuchi was struggling, some craftspeople were also struggling with wood in Kyoto.
"Can't you make fabric with thread made of wood?" Requested by a trading company, Mr. Tateno from a fabric company, Tachinoya was trying to respond to it with fellow craftspeople (Mr. Yamamatsu from Yamamatsu Orimono and Mr. Yamamoto from Marusaku). Cutting wood into thread while winding it up at the same time, and weaving cloth using it, in order to reproduce the original wood grain as it is. This extremely difficult challenge did not go smoothly even by the techniques of three skillful craftspeople. They rejected the request from the trading company more than once, but the company did not give it up.
"They said 'Do you quit it though we have already reached this stage?' It ignited my spirit as craftsperson (laugh). I had rejected the request because I had wanted to avoid business investment, but I decided to continue it as long as the financial situation allows it."
Mr. Tateno bought and altered a new weaving machine. After much trial and error, finally he succeeded in obtaining a satisfactory result.
"Just then, my acquaintance told me 'I heard about a person in Osaka who is asking around whether there's any way to weave fabric using thread made of wood that can be sawn. And I wondered if you could handle it.' And I answered 'I can do it if it's possible to do embroidery on the wood'."
This is the background of the encounter of the material and fabric teams. Six members visited the other member's office to discuss and develop the product, seeing each other's techniques. And eventually "Tennâge" was completed. Started from the enthusiasm of Mr. Higuchi, the spirit and techniques of six members were connected. They are securely woven to make rings like the wood grain with a beautiful weave pattern.

Zeroone Products Inc.

http://www.zeroone-pro.com/

Established:
Feb. 1998
Capital:
10 million yen
Employees:
5 (as of Dec. 2009)
Brief information:
The company manufactures and sells natural wood sheets and fabric as well as deals with brands of original design products made of those

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"Tennâge," whose fibers are flexible and strong, is made by impregnating sliced sheets made of natural wood 0.1 to 0.3 mm thick with resin to saturate the duct of wood with it. It can apply to various industrial products.

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"Ki-ori Tennâge" enables reproduction of wood grain and weaving by automatic loom by cutting "Tennâge" into 2 mm-wide pieces and weaving them into sheet as warp. One of its advantages is that the sheets have different textures depending on the kind of tree species as well as the material and kind of weft.

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"VEGATWOOD," a brand for women made of "Ki-ori Tennâge" will be took to the market in the spring of 2010.

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Every time the six members meet, they start a discussion. They are trying to improve their products while respecting each other's technique.