The Joy of Creating Tomorrow’s Vehicles

Mr. Yuji Saito

PROFILE

After completing his master’s degree in physical electronics at the Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology in 2004. Yuji Saito joined an affiliate of a major electronics manufacturer. There, he was responsible for development of front-end processes for manufacturing LSI (large-scale integrated) circuits, such as semiconductor device designs, elemental CVD (chemical vapor deposition) technologies and so on. He also contributed to the start of mass production of cutting-edge elements such as an ultra-fine-pitch CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor), CCD (charge-coupled device) and MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) device. In 2012, he joined Nissan Research Center, where he is engaged in studying power electronics devices to achieve small-sized, ultimately low-cost electrical devices such as inverters and chargers for vehicles. Recently he has taken advantage of his experience and expertise in semiconductor technology to launch a new research topic.

Current Duties

Pursuing Dreams at the Nissan Research Center

“What do you think would happen if we told children that cars used to be steam-powered and ran on coal? They wouldn’t believe it. I’d like to create a future in which vehicles keep running as long as necessary, so that people will say in the same way to their children, ‘Did you know that vehicles in the old days couldn’t keep going unless they were charged mid-journey?’”

Yuji Saito smiles as he talks. After completing postgraduate study in physical electronics at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Saito joined an affiliate of a major electronics manufacturer. Although he was dedicated to developing the manufacturing process for semiconductors, he had long had an ambition to play a role in the research field, and finally he decided to move to the Nissan Research Center. “As I was recruited mid-career, I knew I was expected to be an industry-ready researcher. And I was enthusiastic about coming to the fore immediately, but things didn’t go as well as I expected because of new shared perceptions, terms and practices that I hadn’t encountered in my previous job. Now, though, I’m applying my knowledge and experience of physical properties to the goal of building EVs that don’t need to be charged. Creating vehicles that keep moving for as long and as far as necessary means fulfilling one of my dreams of designing something environmentally friendly. I’m really excited about this.”

Personal Growth

The Need for a Business Perspective

Product development can be broadly divided into three stages: research, advance development and preparation for mass production. In his former job, Saito worked mainly on this final stage. “I was expected to provide added values to prototypes. Of course I know the advance development and mass production stages are important, since they focus directly on customers, but I wanted to get a little closer to the source, so to speak—the research stage of creating something new out of nothing.”

Now Saito has found the environment he was looking for. “People at the Nissan Research Center are flexible and receptive to proposals for new research. By contrast, launching the research following the approval of my proposal was a lot harder than I expected. We aren’t simply working to enhance technology for its own sake. My superiors drilled into us how important it is to focus on contributing to the world through what we create, every day. It’s essential to start a research project with a detailed image of what it would eventually mean, rather than just fuzzy concepts like smaller products or better technologies. Now I always consider everything from a business perspective.”

Past Experience

Applying New Knowledge

In his previous job, Saito dedicated himself to developing manufacturing processes for semiconductors to improve product performance, reduce power consumption and enable mass production. Now he puts his knowledge and experience to use in research on power electronics for vehicles at the Nissan Research Center. In this area he targets further reduction in the size of power converters for driving the motor and charging the battery, as well as ultimately lower costs. “Power electronics really is a broad area, encompassing everything from electricity and electronics to aspects like thermal and materials engineering and chemistry—and we must understand them all. The more we learn the better products and technologies we create. Every day, I read books on a vast range of topics as I commute to work, and after I get home too. I don’t feel stressed at all since I know this knowledge will soon be a powerful tool. I’m thrilled that I can study so many different topics and help to bring improvements to society.”

Dreams to Realize

No Limits on Research

One of his biggest goals remains making electric vehicles that do not need to be recharged a reality. “When I think of what car I’d like to drive, in the end I want something that’s environmentally friendly. This means EVs, and they would be even more attractive if they didn’t require any recharging. It may sound like a dream, but I believe it’s technically feasible.” Saito is looking to the future with the goal of realizing the Nissan Research Center’s mission of creating new value to contribute to the mobility society of the future. “This is why I can’t just be satisfied by reaching a certain point in my research. I’m always looking further ahead. My dreams are what drive me on.”

<A Note to Prospective Researchers>

Whether studying chemistry, machinery, electricity or another field, there are a lot of chances to get involved at the Nissan Research Center. Everything is in place for ambitious people who are hungry to perform research.

Based on an interview carried out in November 2015.

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