Approximately 60% of the human body is made up of water. Since water is the foundation of both your body and your life, Panasonic wants to give you the choice of cleaner water. We asked the members of the development team about their pride for products and what secrets they can reveal about their development.
Safe water that has effect on improvement gastrointestinal symptoms
── What are the main differences between alkaline ionized water* and other kinds of water, and what makes you want to recommend it?
Tanaka: Alkaline ionized water is made using a medical-grade alkaline ionizer, and is said to be effective at improving gastrointestinal symptoms. Specifically, it relieves stomach lethargy and discomfort, helps the gastrointestinal tract work and improves bowel movements. And of course the water is thoroughly purifiered, so it is safe. We see the possible positive effects on gastrointestinal symptoms as an added bonus, so we're happy that people are using it in a wide variety of ways, including as a source of clean water and as a way to improve their gastrointestinal symptoms.
── You said you used Alkaline ionizer in your house. How do you use it?
Hirose: 100% of the water I consume is this water. I live alone, and so tend to end up eating instant foods, but I figured that as long as I could improve my health and safety by drinking this water… I use this water to mix Japanese sake.
Tongu: I travel a lot on business trips to Taiwan and China, so I buy some local tea, cold-brew it with this water, put it in my own bottle, and carry it with me at all times.
Uwahara: I bring a bottle of this water with me to work every day. I also rinse the dustcloth I use to clean at work with acidic water.
Tanaka: I have three children, which means we go through a lot of water. Cooking, making rice, brushing the children's teeth, rinsing their mouths... We use quite a lot in the mornings, for example by filling several bottles with water and tea, but have never felt stress. I've really appreciated the high flow rates in my personal life.
From young people to seniors. And for growing children.
── Who would you recommend the Alkaline Ionizer to?
Tanaka: Right now the majority of our customers are senior citizens, but they're not the only ones who drink water. We think it's suitable for young people as well, and everyone in between.
Tongu: Right. We'd of course love for young people to use our devices as well, but I'm aware that the high-end models won't be affordable for most young people. So I'm aware that there are hurdles to recommending the products to people of my generation... However, if you look at the bigger picture, running this machine, even with the cartridge replacements, should be cheaper than buying an equivalent amount of water in disposable bottles. I like to think of it as an investment into my future health and beauty.
Uwahara: Just as Ms. Tongu said, we'd love for young people to use our products. If I were to add anything though, I'd say I'd like for more people to be using water from our devices with their young children. Water is something everyone drinks, and it even makes up approximately 60% of our bodies. In general, eating and drinking things that are bad for you is fine when you're young, but as you get older it accumulates in your body and may start having a bad influence. That's why I think it's important to think about the food and drink you're giving to your children from a young age. I would like our customers to pay more attention to the water they are drinking, especially if they have young children.
Hirose: I feel the same way, which is why I gave my niece one as a present when she was born.
Focusing on "Ease-of-Use" after Listening to the Customers
── Do you have any policies or hints that were used in product development?
Tanaka: We always listen to the users' voice very seriously. We send out a survey to our customers who are actually using our products every year. We are constantly making improvements based on customer feedback, such as enlarging the size of the text, adding voice guidance, and eliminating steps and gaps to make it easier to clean.
The Feeling of Joy and Responsibility When I see product at shopfront
── Do you have any other stories?
Uwahara: Water purifiers clean water and make it safe to drink, which is why they're so highly rated around the world. That's why it can be hard to improve upon the functionality that they already have. We've achieved a certain level of safety and security, so our main goal now is to improve usability and design. For example we've updated the design to match recent trends in kitchen appliance design and have enlarged the LCD screen to make it easier to read.
In other words we aim to develop our technology within the context of the design. As an engineer, the hardest part for me is developing a product with limited or predetermined functions while improving the design.
Hirose: That's why I always argue with the designers. Obviously the design team focuses on the design of the product. But there are times when they come up with designs that are not possible in practice, and so as an engineer I eagerly explain how we can improve their designs. After all, we're both have the same pride; to make a good product. It's a real clash of two professionals.
Uwahara: And that's when we come up with the best products. I believe that the reason this product has been so well received is due to the efforts of the engineers.
── What do you find satisfying or rewarding about product development?
Hirose: Every time I see a product that I've worked on being sold in a major retailer I feel a sense of joy. As I said before, engineering can be a tough job, so any joy is welcome.
Tongu: I also enjoy seeing my products in stores. While the functionality and ease of use of a product are important, the quality of a product, and of its appearance, is also very important, especially for a water-related product like this that will be seen every day in the kitchen. That's why I think it's important to look at the little things, like checking that the exterior color is exactly as designed, or that the LCD is bright enough for senior citizens to see clearly, in order to ensure quality.
This was for a different product, but I remember a request for different parts to be finished in the same color, and we had to go back and forth to the paint manufacturer to make prototypes, making sure that there would be no difference in the color, and we also made sure that there was no gloss or unevenness to the color of the exterior. And when that product made it to the market, I felt a great sense of joy.
I'm also involved in products being sold outside of Japan, so when I see those products being used around the world I feel both a sense of responsibility towards all those users and a sense of joy that they are using a product I had a hand in creating.
Water is Indispensable to Life, Supporting Every Aspect of our Lives
── What benefits do you think there are to caring this much about the quality of our water?
Tanaka: Water is a true necessity to all human life. Of course here in Japan the water from the faucet is drinkable, but I think that if we put a little more effort into it then it will improve the users' health and quality of life.
Tongu: I drink a glass of hot water every morning. Also, as I tend to forget to drink water when I'm working at my desk, I try my best to drink more water there, too. I believe that dehydration is bad for your health and for your beauty, so I try to be careful about it.
Hirose: As a developer, I have a strong desire for people to use our products. I explain the benefits to customers at exhibitions and invite them to taste the water produced by the product, but improving gastrointestinal symptoms isn't something that can be demonstrated on the spot. But I know that it produces clean water, so that's what I try to get people to understand. It's a tough sell since you can't necessarily tell the difference based on taste or color.
Uwahara: It's definitely hard to explain the benefits of something that you can't see. But, for example, if you grow a vegetable using dirty water, it will become contaminated, and you can't wash dishes clean in dirty water. Water is essential to all aspects of our lives. So if the water you use is clean, it will make your life cleaner, which gives our users a higher sense of safety and security about their lives. "It's only water, but so much more." I believe that water is at the heart of everything we do.
Product Development that Satisfies Customers Around the World
── What kind of products would you like to work on next?
Tanaka: We want to continue to develop products that our users want and need. We can look at it from various angles, for example to make our products safer or more reliable, but the development team also considers what it needs to do to make the customers say, "This is the kind of product I want!"
Tongu: We export a number of products under the Panasonic brand around the world, but I feel there still isn't a strong connection between "Panasonic" and "Water." I'd like to raise the profile of Panasonic as a brand that delivers safe and reliable water both in Japan and around the world.
Hirose: The international market is a major part of our policy. We hope to be able to provide more safe and reliable water to our international customers in the future.
Uwahara: One dream I've had for a long time now is to create a device that will produce the right kind of water for a given situation at the flick of a switch. This is a "home water server" that can be used for a wide range of uses, from drinking and cooking to laundry and bathing. It is technically possible to purify water, change its pH, and make it harder or softer with current technology. However, we need to take the needs, water quality, cuisine, and culture of each country into account. We're still not quite there with this kind of soft development, so I don't think it's possible just now, but in the future I'm hoping we might be able to create products like that by combing various technologies.
Tools which makes your family happier
── And finally, do you have any messages for your customers?
Tongu: I know that young people are interested in ecological issues. They're more likely to take measures like reducing the amount of plastic they use or using reusable bottles than other generations. And on top of that, they're also more health-conscious than other generations. If you install one of these ionizers at work as well as at home, you can use it to refill your bottle wherever you are. This will make it both more cost-effective and better for the environment. i would like not only individual people but also company to consider.
Tanaka: As Ms. Tongu said, we need to start thinking about the younger generations, as well as young families like mine. I think that adding an Alkaline ionizer into your daily life will help you feel better and make your life more enjoyable.
Uwahara: I understand that an Alkaline Ionizer might seem like too luxury. But I want everyone to give it some thought. Think about a men's watch, for example. That can only be worn by a man. And cosmetics are products designed for women. But an Alklaine ionizer is a product for the whole family to use. And don't forget, water is a fundamental part of our bodies and our lives. It's not something you're doing for someone else, it's for your own family, and I think we all want the best for our family. It's never too soon to start drinking better water!
This interview was conducted at the Eco Navi House, located on the premises of the appliance company in Kusatsu City, Shiga Prefecture.
─ Developer Profiles ─
Beauty and Personal Care Division, Aqua Product Department, Aqua Product Development Team.
Since joining the company, she has been developing Alkaline Ionizers for both the Japanese and international markets as a member of the Aqua Product Development Team. She has been involved in the development of the TK-AS30 and TK-AS46 as head of mechanism design.
Beauty and Personal Care Division, Product Planning Department, Healthy Aqua Product Planning Team.
Since joining the company, she has been involved in product planning for aqua products, and has also worked on product planning for tempura oil cleaners and water filters, and is currently in charge of product planning for all water products (water purifiers and alkaline ionizers) for Japan and Taiwan.
Beauty and Personal Care Division, Aqua Product Department, Aqua Product Development Team.
When he joined the company, he was responsible for the design and development of food waste treatment systems and 24-hour baths. Later, he was in charge of the design and development of pump-related equipment such as urban water supply equipment (booster pumps). Since 2001, he has been responsible for the design and development of all current water purification equipment.
Beauty and Personal Care Division, Aqua Product Department.
Since joining the company, he has been in charge of the development and design of air purifiers and hot-water washing toilet seats, and has since been in charge of the planning of device pumps and water purifiers/alkali ion water conditioners. He is now the head of the Aqua Product Department.
●Affiliations are correct as of March 23, 2020.