What are some of the special features of the RA-5 you helped develop?
Simply stated, the RA-5 is a “compact, high-performance and stylish” device.
It’s biggest advantage, however, is that it requires less space but, in spite of that, has a higher level of performance than the RA-3A, the former model. We designed the new model to support the pertinent accessories and all of them are housed in a very compact space.
The RA-5 alone only requires 50% of the installation space when compared to the conventional model, and, in the case of the model being connected to some of the optional accessories, we aimed to reduce the total installation space as well.
The previous model needs to be connected to a PC but the RA-5 has a built-in computer, and is operated via a liquid crystal touch panel. We focused on improving the appearance of the GUI and its ease of operation.
As the engineer in charge of the development of the RA-5, I have been particularly satisfied with its flexibility in terms of its installation, including its form. It only weighs about six kilograms and hence can be easily moved around.
What challenges did you have to overcome in the commercial production of the RA-5?
I struggled to fulfill two major conflicting requirements: making it smaller but more precise.
In addition, we utilized a mercury detector that totally differed to that of the conventional model, and renewed the control system. We could only utilize a few of the elements of existing models, and thus basically had to start from scratch. We had nothing to consult when creating it, which was quite a challenge.
The development of a new mercury analyzer requires that we not only pursue greater precision and ease of use but also ensure it conforms to differing laws in, of course, Japan, and other countries too, for example, Europe and North America. I consider it to be important for engineers to also research and know the relevant laws and regulations.
What scheme did you utilize in the development of the RA-5?
We always work on new product development projects as an internal team.
All the team members submit their own individual ideas that they consider the best from their point of view. Every individual member thus focuses on their own points that they don’t want to compromise. We therefore sometimes fail to reach an agreement and arguments arise.
We hold discussions and arguments until a consensus has been reached before the development takes place.
I am an electrical system and control specialist engineer, but all the other engineers involved in developments and designs at NIC have their own areas of expertise.
NIC does not have very many employees, and hence the creation of new products requires that we utilize not only our respective expertise but also all the other various related matters.
We have a specialist chemical group but we, design engineers, also still need to a certain extent some chemical knowledge when developing new products. I sometimes work on mercury measurements.
But, to be honest, I am not very useful in that field (laughs).
Managing the schedule is another important element in new product developments.
Depending on the model, it can take from one-to-two years from the start of a development and its final release.
The RA-5 took us 10 months from initiation to release.
We had so many things to do immediately before releasing the new product, which overwhelmed us.
Could you tell us about some major incidents in relation to the development of mercury analyzers?
The performance of the RA-5 would inevitably be compared to larger-scale models such as the RA-4300 and the RA-4500, which posed the challenge of achieving at least the same performance as the former models but at the same time decreasing its size.
Solving that challenge gave us all headaches and hence we were more than delighted when we eventually solved it.
Downsizing a mercury analyzer makes removing any internal electrical noise difficult, which can interfere with the signals involved in measuring mercury.
Larger-scale analyzers allow space for parts or wiring devices that mitigate the noise, whereas smaller-scale ones only have limited space. We had to take that into consideration as well.
Do you ever think about mercury in your daily life?
I had never even considered mercury.
I have been slightly aware of the fact that “food can contain mercury” since I started this job.
But I don’t really worry about it and I don’t eat much tuna anyway.
I have had the mercury content of my hair measured and the result posed no problem.
What do you have to keep in mind with your job?
I ensure thorough documentation and records are made.
With engineering designs I ensure to record everything so I can use it later, for example, why something happened, and why and how we had to change the specifications, etc.
I forget the details of a model I have been involved in developing over time, even if I designed and developed it myself. I document all the details to ensure I can understand why I designed it that way later. Documentation is actually of the greatest importance to me.
It’s a practice that I have used since first starting a career as a design engineer. Documentation and records may seem a waste of time, but I know from experience that documentation and records will eventually save me time, and hence I never neglect it.
What do you do to relax?
I try not to think about my job after finishing for the day and leaving work, so I guess I can actually state that “I relax once I leave work.”
Otherwise, my work would linger on my head forever, and wear me out both mentally and physically. I consciously keep my work and private life apart, in a way just like turning a switch on or off.
I consider that method to be the way to ensure I can relax.