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Business trends

Japan chemical makers to tap AI in joint materials project

Patent pooling and informatics expected to drastically cut development times

An employee inside a Mitsubishi Chemical research center: The joint project hopes to reduce yearslong development times to several months.

TOKYO -- About 20 chemicals companies in Japan, including Mitsubishi Chemical, will start joint management of an artificial intelligence-based system in fiscal 2021 for developing advanced materials using in-country patents.

The system will use AI to analyze a broad range of information to manufacture special materials needed by the respective companies.

The companies expect the system to vastly shorten development times for new materials, from about a decade to only several months.

Demand has been particularly strong for new durable and heat-resistant materials destined for fifth-generation communications equipment and other digital devices.

A growing trend in the field of materials development in Europe, the U.S. and China is use of informatics -- employing artificial intelligence to try out new materials by analyzing big data from past experiments and research papers.

Materials development has traditionally relied on researchers' experience along with trial and error, sometime based only on educated guesses.

Efforts between Japanese businesses to cooperate in development has been growing in this field. For the proposed system, the participants have agreed to share a common database.

About 20 companies will develop the system with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The companies include Sumitomo Chemical, Mitsui Chemicals, Toray Industries and Asahi Kasei, in addition to Mitsubishi.

The system will be managed by the National Institute for Materials Science.

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