Process Innovation in Electrochemical Power Generation Devices

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2017)


A-U model, Electrochemical Power Generation Device, Process Innovation, reciprocating production, rotary production


Process Innovation in Electrochemical Power Generation Devices
Takuya Hasegawa (Nissan Motor)

A combination of the Electrochemical Power Generation Device (EPGD) and the Electric Motor has gained popularity as a main power source to provide vehicle propulsion, aiming to replace the conventional combination of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) and the Transmission. However, the diffusion of EPGD powered vehicles is still far lower than that of ICE powered vehicles despite efforts by car manufacturers and governments. In previous papers (Hasegawa 2014, 2015, 2016), we discussed refueling infrastructure and potential demand. In this paper we discuss process innovation and potential productivity per investment.
The changing character of product and process innovation has been studied by Abernathy and Utterback. It is well known as the Abernathy-Utterback model (A-U model). The authors mentioned that “the shift from radical to revolutionary product innovation is a common thread in these examples. It is related to the development of a dominant product design, and it is accompanied by heightened price competition and increased emphasis process innovation” (p.6). However, the pattern of product and process innovation of EPGD seems to be different from that of ICEs: Process innovation is mainly transplanted from existing industries, is incremental rather than radical, and has not inherently changed over 20 years.
Our purpose is to propose an insight which will specify and fix problems and attempt to trigger radical innovations in EPGD production, as explained by the A-U model. Our research questions are: why has process innovation of EPGD been stagnant (RQ1), what are the barriers which have been disturbing process innovation in EPGD (RQ2), and how can we gain an insight to stop the stagnation and activate the process innovation in EPGD (RQ3).
Firstly, we review and analyze the history of ICE and EPGD – the business environment, strategies for competition and growth, and production technology, focusing especially on the early business years.
Secondly, we conduct a dimensional analysis to specify inherent technological differences between 3 dimensional product (“3D product”, ex. ICEs) and 2 dimensional product (“2D product”, ex. EPGDs). Price per weight of raw materials, intermediate products and final products are calculated from Japan’s trading statistics as an index of productivity per investment. Advantages and constrains of 2D products are discussed based on environments and economics evaluated from these factors.
Finally, we propose a general framework to understand the difference between 2D and 3D production. The framework has 2 aspects “parts feed” and “parts assembly” and each aspect is further categorized into “reciprocal production” and “rotary production”, respectively. Productivity per investment and minimum production capacity are also evaluated.
We reaffirmed that the inertia in technological development prefers complexity to simplicity as a means to solve problems. It is reasonable for 3D products, because they are normally assembled by many types of 3D parts, however, it is not so for 2D products which are normally assembled by few types of 2D parts or sheets.
Since we have been surrounded by 3D products for over hundreds of years, it is not all that surprising that the trajectory of the discipline has been fermented. On the other hand, 2D products are inherently different from 3D products, preferring simplicity as opposed to complexity as means to solve a problem, disregards to whether it is a product or process innovation. However, so far the main actors of EPGD selling 3D products are electrical appliance manufacturers and car manufacturers. And in the 21st century, each of these 3D product has been well matured. This implies that the focal point has moved from product innovation to process innovation. Under the discipline of 3D production, the incremental innovation (including KAIZEN) has been the main cost reduction driver.
We concluded that the dimensional difference between conventional 3D products and emerging 2D products has stagnated radical innovations in 2D process innovation.
Practical implications
The practical implications of the production process of fuel cell stack is discussed. Pure 2D production is defined as both “parts feed” and “parts assembly” by “rotary production”. In the case that “parts feed” or “parts assembly” is fully or partly replaced by “reciprocal production”, the productivity per investment will be drastically reduced. A set of preliminary calculation of fuel cell stack productivity per investment is shown together with gasoline engine productivity per investment.

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