The Challenges of TANAKA Precious Metals – Strategy for Rapid Expansion in Automobiles and Semiconductors –

  • Technology

(2)The underlying strengths of precious metal materials for automobiles

Feb. 25, 2021, Electronic Device Industry News

TANAKA Kikinzoku Kogyo is well known for its pure gold ingots and precious metal jewelry. It is safe to say that a golden ring is definitely worth more than talking about some dream. TANAKA has been handling gold and other precious metals for 135 years, and with the industrialization of Japan, the company has shifted its focus to the industrial application of precious metals. It has been supporting the industrialization of modern Japan by developing series of platinum industrial products including platinum wires and platinum mesh for catalysts.
TANAKA Precious Metals has grown into a company with total group sales of about 1 trillion yen. Although this figure includes the raw material bullion, it demonstrates the large operational scale of this company. The key point, however, is that TANAKA has been handling industrial products much more than the bullion trading for asset management for which it is commonly known. At present, about 70% of the company’s total sales are of precious-metal-related materials for industrial use.

The world’s largest industry is the automobile industry. It forms a 400 trillion yen market globally including manufacturing, services, and other related industries. With Toyota Motor Corporation’s return to the world’s number one position after several years, automobile users around the world may have an stronger impression about Toyota’s resilience than ever before.
“TANAKA has numerous gold technologies for various materials used in automobiles. Precious metals such as gold and other materials are the first materials to be considered for technical innovation, and many of developments have made full use of these materials. Platinum and silver have been actively used depending on the required characteristics and functions. Precious metals are materials with high durability and outstanding properties. TANAKA’s products will continue to play active roles in the automotive world.”
So says Mr. Noriaki Hara, General Manager of the Marketing Department, Global Marketing/R&D Division. Mr. Hara was born in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, studied at the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Tokyo University of Science, graduated from the Graduate School of Engineering, Yamanashi University, and joined TANAKA Kikinzoku Kogyo. Mr. Hara also has a Ph.D. in engineering. The title of his graduation thesis was Examination of Direct Gas Phase Synthesis of Ammonia.

Noriaki HARA,
General Manager, Marketing Department,
Global Marketing / R&D Division

Success in through numerous and varied contacts
TANAKA’s components are used in large quantities in automobile drive trains. Among these components, contacts are widely used in terms of quantity. Materials such as gold, silver, and copper are used in the contacts of accelerator position sensors, brake position sensors, steering wheel heaters, and electric power steering systems. PGM materials including platinum are extensively used in spark plugs, injectors, and other components. TANAKA’s products are also widely used in the field of engine temperature sensors (reed switches).
TANAKA’s products also play a vital role in automotive electronic devices. Various pastes and wires are extensively used in ECUs. Heat sink cooling fins for IGBT require aluminum ribbons. Hybrid ICs for AC/DC converters use aluminum wire. Gold wire as well as aluminum and copper are needed for inverters. While advancing the processing of precious metals such as platinum, gold, and silver as its core technology, TANAKA has expanded its product lines to include base metals such as copper and aluminum to enable application of its core technologies in response to market demands.
“With regard to automotive materials and parts, we face the dilemma of maintaining high quality while reducing the amount of precious metals used. We receive requests to reduce the use of precious metals from customers. However, since reliability is extremely important for automobiles, it is obviously impossible to completely eliminate the use of precious metal materials that have highly durable and highly reliable characteristics. There are many customized requests, and we need to closely fulfill these demands also,” said Mr. Hara.
The automotive industry has been paying close attention to environmental issues, which have become a global concern. Exhaust gas purification is now an important feature, and TANAKA is providing compounds for exhaust gas purification catalysts and also recycling precious metals from used automobile purification catalysts.
TANAKA’s precious metals are used in various sensing components that contribute to fuel efficiency and environment protection such as exhaust temperature sensors, O2 sensors, NOx sensors, PM sensors, exhaust gas recirculation, and valve sensors.

Next-generation automobiles also utilize gold and silver
“For next-generation automobiles, gold and aluminum wire will be used in CMOS on-vehicle cameras, and silver paste will be used in antennas. A typical hybrid automobile has about 33,000 parts, and the number of components will continue to increase. In the cockpit, LED display elements and driver ICs for displays will be important devices. Plating, wire, and paste, made primarily of gold, will also be important materials here,” said Mr. Hara.
Aluminum wire is an essential material for the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs, which are experiencing increased global demand. TANAKA’s products are playing an active role in this area also. The variety of TANAKA Precious Metals on-vehicle product lineup will continue to expand as the trend toward next-generation automobiles continues to surge forward.

(Wataru Izumiya, Special editorial board member)

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