Toshiba at the forefront of international standardization


As one of the leading electronics makers in Japan, Toshiba Corp. has a history of more than 107 years promoting the international standardization of the electro-technology. Ichisuke Fujioka, co-founder of Toshiba, served as a member of the preparatory meeting, and attended the official inauguration of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in London, in 1906. Japan was the only Asian country present at the inauguration meeting and Fujioka made progressive comments there.

Since then, Toshiba has maintained a long-term, close relationship with the IEC. As a multi-tiered maker involved in the production of everything from heavy electric machinery such as power generators through to household appliances, each division has developed its products with international standardization in mind. This trend became especially strong after World War II as Japan’s economy developed tremendously, and the company reacted by becoming more business-oriented.

In 1995, the World Trade Organization was established, settling on the mission of promoting international trade on a global scale. “This became the turning point for the IEC to become more strategic, and under the guidance of the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry of Japan, Toshiba employees have actively attended IEC’s Technical Committees (TC), as specialists and committee members, in whichever fields we are involved in,” explained Atsushi Itsukaichi, Chief Specialist of the Technology Planning Office, Technology and Innovation Division of Toshiba Corporation.

From four TC that worked to standardize the technological terms, units and symbols of electrotechnical items at the beginning of the 20th century, the IEC has grown to have 122 TC, exchanging views on various electric and related technology items, products, systems and so on. Among them, Toshiba serves as secretary for TC120, which discusses the standards on electric energy storage systems. The company also serves as assistant secretary of TC122, where views are exchanged on ultra-high voltage AC transmission systems. Other TC to which Toshiba dispatches its staff to discuss and provide technological assistance include one specializing in semiconductor packaging, as well as TC105 that scrutinizes fuel cell technologies, for which Toshiba also serves as chairman.

On the senior level, Seiichi Takayanagi, former corporate senior executive vice president of Toshiba, became the 30th IEC president in 2002. Additionally, the current IEC president, named in 2014, is compatriot Junji Nomura, corporate advisor for the Energy Solution Business Promotion of Panasonic Corp. “This choice was especially meaningful for Japan as a country, since international standardization competition is intensifying not only among the U.S., Europe and Japan, but also with quickly developing countries. Nomura’s presidency shows many countries approve of our country’s sincere, neutral and humble attitude to pursue the best results for all,” Itsukaichi says.

Behind such balanced personnel appointments is the reality that, regardless of country of origin, each global manufacturer today is aiming to create the social infrastructure and network interface that is applicable to any country. Such movements are known as the creation of the de jure standard, a standard developed after discussions by global experts on standardization proposals, which are approved through voting by standards institutes such as the IEC. This movement contrasts against the de facto standards of products such as DVDs or VHS tapes of 10 to 15 years ago that achieved success as a result of market competition.

A shift from a product-specific system to a de jure standard will expand the profit margin of Toshiba and other makers involved in such activities. Moreover, such expanded movement is so vast that it would naturally come to involve the government or state. One example is the concept and technology to create the smart grid and smart community, an idea that began evolving around 2005. Japan, the U.S. and the EU are all working hard and competing against each other to create a meaningful social infrastructure, energy system, interface, network and so on, according to this concept. This in turn requires justifiable international de jure standards and rules that can be approved by all. “If not, a company or entity can be sued, as once happened to JR East over its SUICA railway pass cards. It was sued by MOTOROLA for not complying with international standards,” pointed out Itsukaichi.

Toward the future, Toshiba thinks the standardization of sustainable systems may become a top priority for the IEC. “But whatever task we take on, we must be aware that the standardization movement takes a long time, and does not directly result in short-term sales or profits. Nevertheless, if we don’t join the movements of other makers and countries now, we might be left out, leaving no room for us to enter after a standard has been established. This would result in a huge loss for us in the long run. In that context, the understanding and support of our corporate leader in the international standardization movement is crucial. This movement comprises our corporate philosophy.”

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