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FrontRunner SPECIAL [Round-table talk]. Real Success Rests on Three Axes: People, Environment and Efficiency

Ricoh has developed dry washing equipment to remove solder flux fixed on flow palettes quickly, without emitting waste fluid; the company introduced it to a full-fledged mass-production plant in China in October 2009. This new equipment was developed based on Ricoh’s proprietary dry washing technology that was introduced in 2006 to help remove toner from parts during recycling of products. This equipment, which significantly reduces environmental impact, workload and cost was made possible by close coordination between R&D and production. This is the story of how the equipment was born.

INDEX
01.Counseling Offered on Nothing-to-lose Basis
02.The Perpetually Accelerating Site vs. The Responsive Research Lab.
03.Motivation Enhanced by Happy Faces
04.Environmental Technology with Worldwide Acceptance
PROFILE
Taizo Sakaki

Taizo Sakaki:
Group Leader, 2nd Development Section, Environmental Technology Development Lab. Graduate, Metal Material Engineering

Yohichi Okamoto

Yohichi Okamoto:
Chief Researcher, 2nd Development Section, Environmental Technology Development Lab. Graduate, Mechanical Engineering

Akihiro Fuchigami

Akihiro Fuchigami:
Chief Researcher, 2nd Development Section, Environmental Technology Development Lab. Graduate, Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Takahiro Iida

Takahiro Iida:
Group Leader, PCB Production Group, Electric Component Technology Department, PC Units Products Company

Yasuhiro Moriya

Yasuhiro Moriya:
Specialist, PCB Production Group, Electric Component Technology Department, PC Units Products Company

01.Counseling Offered on Nothing-to-lose Basis
Sakaki: Wasn't it 2006, when Iida and Moriya of the production site contacted our research lab. On dry washing?
Moriya: That's right. I wondered if PCBs (printed circuit boards) could also be cleaned if the cartridge for recycling was cleaned. However, when we actually tried it on the dry washing equipment for a toner cartridge, it didn't work. Film chips crawled into crevices between mounted components; we were also concerned about static electricity.
Fuchigami: I was afraid we’d have to give up. Then you pulled out a flux(*)-adhered palette and asked if it would be possible to clean it.
Moriya: I came into the project with a nothing-to-lose mindset. The result was nice, better than anticipated, and I felt there were possibilities. I felt we had a random chance.
Okamoto: On our lab. side, I thought "Wow, this is difficult; it may be impossible to remove the flux."
Moriya: Since flux became considerably thinner when cleaning time was extended, I was sure the flux could be removed, and devised various ways to do it.
Iida: I knew Moriya was strongly motivated, seeing how cleaning was done onsite everyday, and he wanted to make the work easier, so you would probably have proceeded if there were any possibility at all.
Moriya: I myself had experienced the cleaning work, but cleaning with sticky solvents was really tough. And fluid waste exacted environmental impact that added time and cost. Flow palettes (*) were introduced and automation was advanced, but palette cleaning continued to be pretty primitive.
Fuchigami: I was moved when he spoke with passion, "I want to make onsite work easier." But I must confess now that we left it unattended, taking care of more pressing research themes instead. Several months later, I received a phone call from Moriya asking "How is the work going?" So the pressure was on. The test prototype was assembled immediately.
Okamoto: I know you were in a panic to collect materials that were lying around (laughter).

The first prototype assembled
with plastic carton box,
aluminum material and aluminum tape.

* Flux: Organic material to promote soldering. It has a surface cleaning effect, viscosity deposition effect and metal oxidization inhibitive effect.
* Flow palette: Masking jig to convey PCBs (print circuit boards) automatically to the soldering unit

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02.The Perpetually Accelerating Site vs. The Responsive Research Lab.
Taizo Sakaki

Taizo Sakaki:Joined Ricoh in 1980. After working on manufacturing technology development in the production division, he devoted to himself to this field, as well as R&D planning, and environmental technology development.

Sakaki:
As you had already experienced trials and errors with the toner cleaning device three years ago, I think you foresaw a possible direction, fundamentally, on what kind of cleaning mechanism was needed. You saw what was needed to make the volume small to raise energy density. At least, you didn't need to find a breakthrough without a plan.
Fuchigami:
We took a short route compared with the time it took for toner cleaning.
Sakaki:
I had a stomachache during the toner days (smile). And it was the first time we were trying to make something so mechanically complicated. Although I approached it as "Simple is Best," when I saw the prototype, the result was just the opposite. I worried that nothing would come to fruition.
Fuchigami: Looking back, I know Sakaki watched us patiently. In the end, we were able to change course and make it simpler. We may not have found the simple way if we had acted only as directed. We had many difficulties up to the last moment, staying onsite for a while even after introduction.
Sakaki: I have to say that such a painful experience paid off this time. However, I suppose there were other difficulties since cleaning conditions are completely different between toner and flux.
Fuchigami: We started from the point of how to design a space to blow off the cleaning material (thin film chip) to make its volume small, against the palette, which has a large area. Brainstorming meetings were held and members argued a great deal. As a result, a parallel translation system of the palette above the concave, cylindrical cleaning-tank was introduced, without putting the pallet into the tank.
Okamoto: On the other side, we also started investigation and research into the film material. We knew we needed thicker film than that used for toner cleaning, but it should never be so hard that it damages the object. Further experiments revealed that the material, whose performance deteriorates over use, becomes useless even if the initial performance is good. We couldn't easily find a material having those properties. We tried as many as 100 kinds in all.
Fuchigami: Since expensive material could not be used, it became all the more serious. We even visited garbage dumps during our search.
Okamoto: As we progressed, information that polylactic acid (PLA) film might work came in from a researcher who was studying polylactic acid in the same lab; we got hold of some. We also liked the fact that the material is biomass, which is environmentally friendly.
Akihiro Fuchigami

Akihiro Fuchigami:Joined Ricoh in 1997. Worked on R&D of automatic assembly robots, production technology of recycling and development of environmental technology.

Fuchigami:
Yeah, we then tried it on the prototype (mock-up), and we got the positive result we wanted. So we went with it and ordered more from the material supplier. But we found it useless this time. We wondered why and asked the supplier, who proudly said "The material, which was hard and brittle before, was improved to be flexible and hard to break, through our technology development.” I wanted to say "the older one was better, so DON’T CHANGE IT! " (smile). So we discovered that inferior properties for an ordinary film are important for our application.
Okamoto:
After this trial and error and helter-skelter, everything moved quickly.
Sakaki:
Success or failure of a technology depends on how soon you grab the vital point; advances come quickly from there.
Okamoto: The next task we worked on was unevenness of cleaning. I couldn't predict the behavior of film chips in air currents and couldn't find a way to control high-speed air currents. I tried air current simulation, but it was difficult because the air current circulated at high-speed.
Fuchigami: While examining simulation methods, we concluded it would be easier to build a prototype, since the purpose is not to carry out simulation but to find a method of control. Moriya and others urged us saying: "Why not yet -- why?" (smile).
Moriya: Whenever I went to check on the status, I found it advancing favorably. Now that it had come this far, I didn’t want to miss anything (smile). Anyway, since I see the pain onsite every day, I was desperate for any help.
Iida: I feel the same way you do. I asked to report development status at our operational division, and made it a well-known fact.
Okamoto: I felt myself walking into an ambush, having gone too far to retreat. (smile). But it led to good results.

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03.Motivation Enhanced by Happy Faces
Iida: The people of the research lab truly did their best. I especially admire their hard struggle to reduce cleaning time at the last stage.
Okamoto: What had taken more than a dozen minutes in the first mock-up became five to six minutes in the PLA experiment, falling to three to four minutes after completing the prototype. And then, repeated revisions of air current and injection nozzles reduced it further to below three minutes. And finally, we increased airflow velocity and brought it down to two minutes. The people onsite said it has to be “two minutes” from start to finish.
Takahiro Iida

Takahiro Iida:Joined Ricoh in 1990. Worked on production of electrical components such as PCBs, operation assemblies, and system units;. Also worked on quality management in manufacturing.

Iida:
Taking into account working efficiency (lead time), we wanted to achieve two minutes by any means. This was our target because the time a palette returns after dipping into the solder tub is two and a half minutes. If it can be cleaned during that time, cycle efficiency not only increases, but the number of used palettes can also be suppressed, thereby reducing initial cost. That's why we insisted on “still more” even after shortening to five and then three minutes. (smile)
Sakaki:
Your attitude focused on thorough efficiency, adhering to goals of the production division. If we had not proved cost effectiveness, we may never have been released, even if we had reduced workload and environmental burdens.
Iida:
Our office has a theme called “the conquest of three major challenges”: the first is the workload, the second is the environmental impact and the third is the cost burden. If we pay attention only to reducing workload, we may be able to introduce a commercial ultrasonic cleaner, but cost and environmental issues will remain unresolved. Then, once reduced workload and environmental impact is achieved, pressure to reduce cost will gain momentum.
Okamoto: At the beginning of 2008, we introduced the prototype onsite. Although it was a version 1 prototype, we could not resist Moriya’s and others’ request that it be immediately shown and used onsite. (smile).
Moriya: Workers who used it heaved a big sigh of relief: "Finally. Help has arrived!" When Okamoto said they would take it back to the research lab for adjustment, because it was still under evaluation, the workers vigorously resisted: "Don’t you dare take it back; adjust it here!" (smile). Once they’d used it, they were not willing to part with it.
Okamoto: I was very glad to see them happy. I felt honored and privileged to be an engineer.
Sakaki: We can say the site and the research lab worked in tandem to achieve these results.
Iida: That's so true. We were of course delighted to complete “good work,” since we were able to see the realization of our thinking . The last spurt in which cleaning time was shortened, for example, as mentioned before, reflected our input. The delight expressed at introduction was also very special.
Yohichi Okamoto

Yohichi Okamoto:Joined Ricoh in 1995. After working on R&D of automation equipment and recycling related technology development, currently in charge of environmental technology development.

Okamoto:
The development of new technology is not always successful. While most cases are in fact unsuccessful, this theme succeeded splendidly. Success resulted because of the strong wish of the people onsite to achieve it at all costs. They have worked on how to improve the prototype, sharing their thoughts with us, the researchers, without criticizing faults observed in the prototype.
Fuchigami:
Although environmental impact, workload and cost reduction were the themes, I feel that I worked so hard because I wanted to please the people onsite, including Moriya. Our target was not just the end result; we wanted to help our partners. That was our deepest motivation.

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04.Environmental Technology with Worldwide Acceptance
Sakaki: Although our research lab has increasing opportunities to work in cooperation with production sites, the keyword I see is “environment.” The predecessor of our lab (Environmental Technology Development Lab) was the Manufacturing Engineering Research Lab, which was charged with improving the efficiency of mass-production technology, such as of robots or automation. However, the mass-production base moved to China or Southeast Asia late in the 1990s. We were much distressed and argued about the direction of future research and development. Under these circumstances, the whole Ricoh group committed itself to developing environment-friendly technology to reduce the global impact; I was sure this was the future path: “Nothing else matters. The environment is the future."
Iida: Onsite, we started by reducing waste, then rapidly and steadily advanced by reusing materials, recycling and more environment-friendly shop-floor production (monozukuri). This also reduced cost and led us to today's "Environmental Management." Regarding the environment, we must not only reduce impact onsite, but also in subsequent processes such as reducing discharged CO2, which is inevitable with waste treatment. In this sense, I think this waste fluid emission-free washing equipment has a large ripple effect.
Yasuhiro Moriya

Yasuhiro Moriya:Joined Ricoh in 1991. Worked on the assembly and production of notebook PCs, disk drives and PCBs.

Moriya:
In October 2009, this equipment was also introduced into SRO (Shanghai Ricoh Office Equipment Co., Ltd.), one of our overseas production bases. Beyond that, we have decided to introduce this at other production plants in the future. All have volume-production facilities, using a much larger number of palettes than our site, so I expect a huge introduction effect. If this can reduce the environmental impact, not only in Japan but also globally, my ultimate dream will have come true.
Okamoto:
I think the timing was good since environmental concerns have also increased in China over the past several years. Although return on investment is an issue when introducing new equipment, early recovery is possible if costs for solvent, waste fluid treatment and working hours are taken into account.
Moriya: Factories using flow palettes should welcome this. It can also be used for jig cleaning and, beyond that, can be applied for cream solder paste cleaning on metal masks (*) etc. in the future.
Sakaki: The fact that it is used in China and other Asian countries, which form the production base of the world, will have a large ripple effect, you might agree. Now we also intend to provide the technology outside the company. The great advantage of this washing technology is its high versatility. I consider expanding the development of application into other areas, to cleaning adhering objects not limited to flux. In fact, we received many inquiries immediately after we announced this dry washing technology to the public. Now, I really feel the strong desire for eco-friendly technology.
Fuchigami: These interests increased the load of new research themes, but we are more than happy to work on them if results contribute to society.
Sakaki: As I said before, in mass production, Japan has already lost the chance to show off. For Japan to show presence under these circumstances, environment-friendly technologies must be developed. Although we, in our lab, have mainly focused within the company, I intend to turn our eyes outward. To that end, we need to raise the level of our technology significantly. Some of our colleagues may have made excuses for us, saying we cannot expect the outside world to indulge us. Technology is validated only when the outside world agrees. Using the combined power of the site and the research lab, let’s accelerate expansion from inside the company to the society outside and from Japan to the world, using this dry washing equipment as the first step (Everyone nodded in agreement).
*Metal mask: Metallic plate used when printing solder paste on to the board.
"Responding to World Expectations: the Future of Environmental Technology" by Nobuhiko Umezawa [Corporate Environment Division]
COMMENT
Taizo Sakaki:
"I would like to create something I can be proud of, not only as a Ricoh employee, but also as an engineer with conscience. That’s because I believe all engineers will be rejected if their creations are not environment-friendly in the future."
Youichi Okamoto:
"Since an environmental problem is also an energy problem, I would also like to work toward further energy savings and the creation of new energy sources. I want to avoid such accusations as: ‘The globe faces disaster because of you’ from future generations."
Akihiro Fuchigami:
"My aim is to develop washing equipment for versatile uses. If it can be as sophisticated as a household dishwasher in the future, for example, we can expand the range of what environmental impacts can be reduced much further."
Takahiro Iida:
"Whenever I came across a new technology, I used to imagine how it could be applied it in my work, wondering if it could help solve problems onsite. I'm glad this led to good results this time. I would like to form an even closer coalition with the research labs, and continue developing environmental technology from the onsite viewpoint."
Yasuhiro Moriya:
"The development this time led us to expand the stage of our work overseas. I would like to continue trying to solve problems onsite from the onsite point of view. I am glad if it contributes not only to the company but also to the community and society at large."

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