• The 9th Main Meeting of the Association of Hyperdifferent Fields

[Interview with Speaker at the 9th Annual Conference] "Changing Manufacturing by Multiplying Materials, Machinery, and Information" by Prof. Hidemitsu Furukawa, Yamagata University


[Interview with Prof. Hidemitsu Furukawa, Yamagata University, Keynote Speaker at the 9th Annual Meeting of the Association for Hyperdifferent Fields (from Research Support Vol. 16)].

Dr. Hidemitsu Furukawa will be the keynote speaker on the first day of the 9th main conference of the Society for Hyperdifferentiation (March 6 and 7, 2020).

Changing manufacturing by multiplying materials, machines, and information













3D printers have become commonplace in engineering, but before the technology became fashionable, Hidemitsu Furukawa of Yamagata University realized its intrinsic value through his research on soft matter. 3D printer digitization is beginning to change soft matter research significantly.


Experience in the early days of high-strength gel

In the late 1990s, when Dr. Furukawa was enrolled in a doctoral course at a graduate school, research on soft matter, a soft polymeric material as typified by gels, was in a transitional phase. Although soft matter had potential as a functional material, it could not overcome its weakness as a material due to its softness, which made it vulnerable to rupture stress, limiting its range of applications. However, starting with a paper by Yasushi Okumura and Kozo Ito in 2001 on cyclic gels, in which polymer chains are bound together by cyclic molecules, reports of research results on high-strength gels from Japan followed one after another, and the possibilities of soft matter began to expand.

Around this time, Furukawa, who had completed his graduate studies and started his career as a researcher, belonged to the research group of Yoshihito Osada and Chien-Ping Gun at Hokkaido University, who had succeeded in developing a high-strength gel using double-network gel. The double network gel is made through a two-step reaction in which a gel of 2-acrylamido-2-methylpropanesulfonic acid is formed, then an acrylamide solution is soaked into it, and then the acrylamide is polymerized The gel, which consists of two intertwined gels, has a water content of 901 TP3T, which is similar to conventional gels (90-95%), while boasting a breaking stress of 10-40 MPa, far exceeding the 0.1-1 MPa of conventional gels. While engaged in elucidating the mechanism that generates this strength, Furukawa has been running around applying it.


The wall that stands in the way of the best materials

As is still the case, molding of gels is generally done by making a mold and pouring it into it. This is what made the application of double-network gels difficult: deformation occurred during the processing of the second step of the reaction and during the process of swelling the finished product with a solvent, making it difficult to produce a product with the desired thickness and shape. Because it is a gel, it is also difficult to cut. We kept making gels and sending them to companies and universities. I think I sent out a list of 100 cases. Moreover, I had to make the molds myself, so it was very difficult," Furukawa recalls. This difficulty in modeling would later bring Mr. Furukawa a brace of breakthroughs. Unable to find a breakthrough, Furukawa decided to change his approach and moved his base from Hokkaido University, where he had been affiliated with, to Yamagata University's Department of Mechanical Systems Engineering.


A new approach to processing that came to light after diving into a different field

Having worked in the field of polymers up to that point, Mr. Furukawa's early experiences at Yamagata University were all new to him. One of the most significant turning points for Mr. Furukawa was the CNC machine tool, which he controlled with a PC and moved the cutting blade along the XY axis and Z axis of the workpiece, and saw the workpiece being cut in the manner he had drawn in CAD. From this experience, I came up with the idea of replacing the blade of the CNC machine tool with an ultraviolet lamp and curing the gel by UV irradiation, which would enable modeling with gel. It was in the fall of 2009, about three years before 3D printers began to attract worldwide attention, that Mr. Furukawa first learned of the existence of the same concept through the Web. He first learned of the existence of the same concept through the Web. You can make what you draw with CAD, and you don't need a mold. By making full use of the gel modeling device he named the 3D gel printer, Furukawa came up with a series of new applications that could not have been approached from a theoretical research perspective. The 3D Gel Printer is a device for gel fabrication.


Materials Research Evolves

If you focus entirely on materials development research, you will become obsessed with it and will not be able to get out of it, but if you focus on manufacturing, you will be able to think about many different things. On the other hand, if you lean too much toward manufacturing, you will lose focus on materials. These words of Mr. Furukawa are a perspective that can only be reached by someone who has done theory-based research in the Faculty of Science and task-based research in the Faculty of Engineering. Mr. Furukawa sees recent changes as materials research beginning to shift toward usability as well as sharpening and deepening.

Especially in today's world, where the lifetime of new technologies is becoming shorter and shorter, materials research that has been conducted over many years will not stand a chance if it lasts only a few months. How to bridge the gap between theory and implementation is becoming more and more important, and from this perspective, Mr. Furukawa's role in trying to translate materials into a usable form with a 3D gel printer is significant. He said, "To a certain extent, materials research has to come alongside the printer to make modeling possible. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, but it's all fun and games. It's a tough time," Furukawa says with a laugh as he describes the current situation. The "Yawaraka 3D Co-Creation Consortium" has been established with the participation of universities and companies to further accelerate research aimed at early social implementation. As the platform for anyone to consider the use of soft matter expands, new manufacturing that breaks away from the conventional wisdom is sure to emerge from Japan.

<From "Research Support Vol. 16: From Theory to Practice, Soft Matter on the Move" (in Japanese)

To register for the 9th Annual Meeting of the Association for Hyperdifferential Studies, please contactClick here

Related Sessions by Dr. Hidemitsu Furukawa
March 6, 9:20-9:50 Keynote Speech @ Main Hall
March 6, 17:00-18:00 Engineering with Softness @ Session Room A