Failure is but a stepping stone to success. The proverb rang dramatically true in the process of developing a new product at Toto Ltd., the major toilet manufacturer based in Fukuoka Prefecture.

In February 1995, Yoshimitsu Saeki, general manager of Toto Research Institute in Kanagawa Prefecture, was experimenting to create a tile panel capable of repelling water, but instead created a partially absorbent one.

“I was disappointed with the failure, but I came to realize that the property would be useful for a new product that we were trying to develop,” Saeki said.

Toto was trying to develop an outer tile panel that could be cleaned by rain, thereby reducing the cost and time required to clean building exteriors.

Before Saeki’s experiment, Toto had already recognized that the self-cleaning effects of titanium dioxide photocatalysis, the chemical reaction between titanium dioxide and sunlight, would be a useful application for tiles. The reaction, which was discovered by the University of Tokyo in the 1960s, works to decompose organic material, including oil, germs and bacteria, with oxidizing power.

“Just placing on the market a tile boasted as being self-cleaning was in itself not sufficient,” Saeki said. “So we tried to develop another self-cleaning function.”

Saeki and other Toto researchers had initially thought tile with water-repellent properties would help keep dirt off. But from the failure of their experiment to create such a tile, they realized that an absorbent property may also be effective in keeping dust off.

The property of absorbing water resulted in formation of a thin layer between the wall and dust under sunlight, which helps keep dust out, Saeki explained. It took another three years to develop a self-cleaning tile with the dual property of decomposing organic materials and cleansing itself of dust when there is little sunlight, he added.

“If we had just considered the experiment a failure, we would not have developed the self-cleaning tile,” Saeki said.

Toto began selling the tile, named hydrotect, in 1998, boasting that it could keep the exterior of new buildings clean for more than 10 years with little cleaning maintenance.

Since then, the tile has found its way onto various new buildings, including the Marunouchi Building in Tokyo, KDDI Shibuya Data Center in Tokyo and Hotel Kintetsu Universal City in Osaka.

Toto has also developed a hydrotect coating material in cooperation with Okitsumo Inc., a coating materials producer in Mie Prefecture, leading to their September 2000 creation of the joint venture Japan Hydrotect Coating Co.

In March 2002, the venture started marketing hydrotect clear coat, a material that can be applied to already-constructed buildings and houses.

Japan Hydrotect Coating has since expanded its product line, including the debut last October of hydrotect color coat, featuring various colors, and hydrotect glass coat for windows last month.

“Hydrotect color coat is the best seller of the hydrotect products because of its various colors, while hydrotect glass coat features a thin coating, as if windows were not coated,” said Ryuichi Matsumoto, chief of sales at Japan Hydrotect Coating.

Hydrotect clear coat has been applied to Kyoto National Hospital in Kyoto Prefecture and JR Kumagaya Station in Saitama Prefecture, while hydrotect color coat has found its way onto the outer walls of a cottage at Hotel Laforet-Shuzenji in Shizuoka Prefecture and a Yokohama outlet of McDonald’s.

Hydrotect coating has been also attracting homeowners because of it reasonable cost, Matsumoto said.

Japan Hydrotect Coating has set prices ranging from 4,300 yen per square meter for coating a wall and about 6,000 yen per square meter for coating windows. It takes at least a day for the coating, depending on the size of the area to be covered.

“We receive nearly 600 orders a year from homeowners for coating walls and windows. Sales of the coating service have increased by about 50 percent compared with six months ago,” Matsumoto said.

Toto’s Saeki said that total sales of hydrotect products in Japan amounted to 35 billion yen in 2002, up 5 billion yen from 2001.

“We are creating a new market for hydrotect products in Japan and even overseas by licensing foreign companies. We will attract even more customers by explaining the products’ properties,” he said.

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