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The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) aims to resolve social issues through collaboration and by providing technical support


AIST, which is the largest national research institute in Japan, conducts research and development related to science and technology in mining and industry. Further, it actively promotes corporate collaboration aimed at the social implementation of technology to spread research results and solve various social issues. This article introduces the content of AIST's technical support for companies and the status of the establishment of cross-organizational collaboration that has spread in recent years.

The Role of AIST

AIST, established in 2001, is one of the largest public research institutes in Japan. The purpose of the institute is to improve industrial technology and disseminate its results by conducting comprehensive research and development related to science and technology in the mining and manufacturing industries. It thereby contributes to the development of the economy and industry and ensures the stable and efficient supply of mineral resources and energy. It is focusing on "bridge" functions to create and commercialize technologies that are useful to Japanese industries and society and to translate innovative technological ideas into commercialization. As a system, there are "Five Departments and Two Centers" that constitute AIST's core technologies and demonstrate their comprehensive strengths. About 2,300 researchers at 11 research centers nationwide conduct R&D from a core and pioneering position in the National Innovation System. The R&D is based on changes in the environment surrounding innovation and the national strategies formulated considering these changes. It is also actively building global networks by exchanging memorandums of understanding (MOUs) for comprehensive research cooperation with major research institutes around the world.

As Japan is currently facing various social issues such as energy and environmental constraints, a declining birthrate and aging population, natural disasters, and a pandemic, there is a strong need for solutions. To solve these problems, AIST believes that it needs to play an important role in expanding the social implementation of research results, which will also lead to the implementation of economic activities. Furthermore, as an initiative to build a sustainable society, it aims to create innovations that will lead to social and economic value by deepening the collaboration between industry, society, and the government to resolve social issues before the rest of the world by comprehensively utilizing each research department's diversity. There are eight regional research centers (regional centers) nationwide, centered on the Tsukuba Center, which comprises many research units. The centers actively ascertain the needs of local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and are working to promote innovation aimed at stimulating economic activity in their regions by cooperating closely with the Bureaus of Economy, Trade and Industry, public testing/research laboratories, and universities.

Moreover, regional centers are contributing to regional innovation by expanding projects that utilize technical human resources and facilities of regional corporations, universities, public testing/research laboratories. Further, they respond to regional needs in "highlighted research themes" while maintaining a balance between the role of "creating world-class research results" as research centers that play a core role in regional innovation and as collaborative bases that connect regional needs to all AIST.

Introduction of AIST's supporting activities

AIST maximizes the value added by research personnel and has set up a contact point on its website to respond to technical inquiries from the industry. This is a free service for obtaining advanced technical advice from researchers, and inquiries are received daily. AIST receives technical inquiries through mediums other than the Internet, and inquiries total more than 2,000 cases a year. Technical consultations are provided free of charge and consist of providing publicly available information; therefore, the range of information that can be provided is limited. However, if consultations on more advanced content are required, technical consultation can also be obtained for a fee starting from 500,000 yen. This advanced service is essential, and it contributes to the resolution of issues faced by specific companies. Confidentiality agreements are also concluded to ensure content confidentiality. This technical consulting has been increasing in recent years, reaching about 700 cases per year. More than 90% of the enterprises that received technical consulting indicated that they were satisfied with the results of the consultation. Furthermore, more than half of those enterprises have pursued further collaboration and technological development, such as joint research with AIST.

Additionally, AIST's has highly skilled staff who support collaboration known as Innovation Coordinators (IC). The IC understands technological seeds and corporate needs and conducts marketing and matching activities. There are also technology transfer managers who are familiar with legal affairs and contracts related to science, technology, and intellectual property, key enterprises, and SMEs. A variety of "concierges" respond to industry requests, such as SME collaboration coordinators (SCETs). They provide support for proposals to acquire external research funds. Requests are also responded to by intellectual property officers (IPOs) who conduct intellectual property development, intellectual property surveys, and the strategic formulation of results. Additionally, standardization officers (SOs), who perform the standardization of results and formulation of strategies, also respond to requests. There are also "AIST Innovation Coordinators (AIST ICs)," who are officials from mainly public research organizations and industrial support agencies. They support local companies by bridging AIST's technology introductions. The staff totals 200 people, and they are indispensable in promoting business collaboration.

AIST encourages companies to approach them with technological challenges not only through their study resources, but also through their technical consultation service, where they have a wealth of collaborative experience.

Establishment of New Cooperative Relationships and the Future Outlook for Institutional Collaboration

In July last year (2020), AIST concluded an agreement to support startups (Plus - Platform for united support for startups). Further, it has participated in liaison conferences hosted by four ministries and four national institutes since September. Information and opinions relating to sharing information and supporting startups, and SMEs are exchanged between each institute. They disseminate information on the websites of each institution and through e-mail newsletters for companies, distribute flyers during corporate events, and handle their support content. They also publicize AIST's corporate support, including technical consultations. Additionally, through the cooperative relationship formed from this agreement and the liaison conference the technical issues faced by participating companies may be raised by relevant organizations. This has resulted in the corporate support structure being further strengthened through horizontal collaboration among organizations.

Going into the future, it will be particularly important to support the acquisition of public funds for technological development, and provide technical and collaborative support, including public trials, research facilities, standardization support, and driving-type corporate support; this is so that companies can implement the technological potential of SMEs by using AIST's research resources and thereby revitalize the economy by resolving regional issues. By building new cooperative relationships, AIST hopes to enhance the value and attractiveness of their services so that it can function as a platform that can realize even greater support and reliability for companies.

Naoki Inui, Regional and SMEs Collaboration Office, Regional Collaboration Division, Research and Innovation Promotion Headquarters, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology

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