Highly functional materials: leveraging photography DNA to add new value

At the start of the 21st century, risk and opportunity lay ahead for Fujifilm: the digital era had arrived in force. Although Fujifilm had already begun to diversify its portfolio of technologies, photographic film had remained the company’s bread and butter since its founding. Demand for film peaked in 2000 and rapidly declined thereafter, at a rate of 20 percent per year. To continue growing over the medium and long term, Fujifilm would have to build new businesses. There was absolutely no time to waste.

Fujifilm took a long look at its history, asking itself, “What are our greatest strengths? Where and how can we offer new value to the marketplace?” One of the answers the company came up with was leveraging the technologies it had developed in the photography industry to create unique, value-added highly functional materials.

Photographic film is a precision chemical product that integrates couplers and nearly 100 different chemical compounds in an ultra-thin layer just 20 micrometers thick. Creating photographic film for high-sensitivity image capture and printing requires technologies that manipulate matter on a microscopic scale. For example, Fujifilm had developed technologies for producing highly uniform, ultra-thin membranes on film substrates. In fact, Fujifilm found that it had a wealth of technologies that could be used in an extremely wide variety of applications.

Such technologies are what Fujifilm now Fujifilm now calls its core technologies. Today, the company works hard to leverage its core technology portfolio to maximum effect, innovating new products at an accelerated pace. One important area of development is highly functional materials, with a focus on highly functional films.

Open Innovation: combining technologies in creative new ways

In the effort to accelerate the development of new products, Fujifilm wanted to go beyond building on the technologies it had developed for the photography industry. The company decided that the best way forward was to combine the widest array of technologies possible, inviting partners outside the Fujifilm Group to share their technologies and perspectives in new initiatives. Fujifilm called its new method of collaborative development “Open Innovation.”

In January 2014, Fujifilm opened its first Open Innovation Hub in its Tokyo headquarters. A nerve center for Fujifilm’s collaborative innovation, this hub introduces the core technologies that Fujifilm developed for photography and other industries and allows visitors to directly experience products that apply them. Moreover, the hub provides a venue for the sharing and combining of ideas, which in turn can lead to the joint development of innovative new products. Since it opened its doors, the Open Innovation Hub has welcomed many interested parties from a wide variety of industries, including those with which Fujifilm had not traditionally had strong ties.

The Open Innovation Hub has been particularly successful in the area of highly functional materials, with many new products expected to reach the market in the near future. In addition, Fujifilm has established Open Innovation Hubs in the US and Europe to leverage local insights and strengths and generate outstanding collaboration and innovative products.