We will continue to leverage innovations in creating technologies and products that help resolve social issues.
We have constantly proposed workstyles that deliver new value for customers ever since entering the business machines field in the 1950s. We supply new equipment and solutions that streamline communications at any time and place for people and processes in offices. We continue to innovate technologies that transform the nature of work for our customers.
We are drawing on image processing, optical, chemicals, networking, software and other core technologies accumulated over the years to combine new ideas and techniques in pursuing innovations that contribute to social sustainability.
We are fully leveraging our strengths in manufacturing technologies in undertaking research and development in our priority areas of industrial inkjet products, factory automation, healthcare, and the environmental field.
In the inkjet field, for example, we are broadening our scope of applications to encompass industrial printing, 3D printing, and 3D bioprinters (cell laminating technology) for healthcare.
The RICOH THETA, a fusion of our unique optics and image processing technologies, captures fully spherical shots with a single shutter click. The RICOH THETA ushered customers into a new world of images documenting life.
Development process for core businesses
The Ricoh Group has R&D sites in Japan, the United States, India and China. Each site explores market needs and conducts research and technology development attuned to regional characteristics while deepening cooperative connections among global sites. Our corporate map also includes technology centers and printing innovation centers, and we launch value-creating activities involving our customers through a framework for gathering feedback on market needs ascertained directly through customer support activities to enhance future product development.
Ricoh’s technology development process for core businesses is broken down into three stages—research and technology development, product development, and sales and support. We emphasize system solutions development and customized development to fuel more robust responses, from the development of key technologies based on technology strategy through efficient product development without relying on prototypes, and then to customer needs.
We are drawing on open innovation with universities, research institutions, and enterprises to accelerate efforts to help resolve social issues, streamlining the development of advanced technologies. We are applying our inkjet, optical sensing, image processing, and other technologies in diverse initiatives. They include the Japanese government-supported Funding Program for World-Leading Innovative R&D on Science and Technology and joint R&D with universities and independent administrative corporations. We are reinforcing relationships with venture enterprises to accelerate the creation of new businesses.
Open innovation case study
We are participating in a national project led by the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, which is undertaking joint research with Osaka University.
We acquired the magnetoencephalography (MEG) business of Yokogawa Electric Corporation, setting up a medical business unit in Kanazawa City. We are conducting joint R&D into magnetospinographic devices with the Kanazawa Institute of Technology and the Tokyo Medical and Dental University.
We are engaging in joint development in this area with the University of Tokyo and Blue Innovation Co., Ltd.
We consider it vital to support the creation of tech ventures and undertake social initiatives to foster the development of new industries. In March 2016, we received limited partnership investments from the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan and the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation to establish a tech venture fund with OMRON Corporation and SMBC Venture Capital. As well as providing capital, the fund helps to launch and commercialize technology businesses. It thereby seeks to create tech ventures that can compete in the global market and contribute to industrial progress.
The Ricoh Group consistently earmarks 5% to 6% of consolidated sales for R&D to ensure a steady stream of innovation. In fiscal 2016, R&D expenses reached ¥118.5 billion, or about 5.3% of sales. Of this amount, 13.5%, or ¥16.0 billion, went into basic research.
Intellectual property, the fruit of our R&D efforts, is vital to our competitiveness. We therefore encourage efforts that yield valuable intellectual property and seek to acquire and use intellectual property that protects and grows our businesses.
We have deployed business and technological strategies to reinforcing core businesses, globalizing by cultivating operations in emerging nations, and launching new businesses to expand our domains.
We accordingly continue to acquire patents actively in Japan and abroad. Thereby the number of registered patents overseas has significantly increased since fiscal 2015. We are conducting a review of maintained patent rights by assessing future market and business conditions and determining whether to abandon any unnecessary patent rights.
Changes in R&D investment
Number of registered patents world wide
We are combining our strengths in inkjet head and ink materials technologies to enable printing on an array of media apart from paper.
The heads use piezoelectric elements to jet ink through nozzles. The nozzles and housings are made of stainless steel. They thus offer outstanding durability and long service lives, as they are strong and resist corrosion from ink. Built-in heaters can discharge high-viscosity ink, so they have been employed in many 3D printers recent years. There is considerable flexibility for setting waveforms to drive the piezoelectric elements according to ink attributes, allowing them to accommodate inks for an array of applications, for printing on various media.
We have developed functional inks for a range of applications. They include photo (UV)-curable inks and latex inks that fix pigments thermally. A feature of stretchable photo-curable inks is that they maintain strong adhesion to substrate, while the cured film stretches. Because the ink can flex after printing, 3D decoration is possible, and it has potential in diverse applications. They include automobiles, electrical equipment, construction materials, and 3D painting reproductions.
We have promoted in-house development of automated production facilities since the late 1970s. Through such approaches as the installation of sensor modules at the inspection stage, we have refined machine vision technology, which instantly tracks and assesses information in areas within and beyond human detection capabilities.
We have employed our optical and image processing technologies in cameras with diverse high-precision capabilities. We are now developing intelligent solution services that support automation and rapidly assess the situation to take appropriate action without human involvement, based on 2D and 3D information, and the locations, shapes and natures of subjects, which are obtained from these cameras.
Robot eyes in factory automation
This stereo camera uses parallax information to capture 3D data on subject positions in real time, and is used as a sensor in pick and place robots.
This system uses a super-wide-angle stereo camera to estimate its position and obtain information on obstacles inside warehouses and other large facilities that cannot receive GPS signals, and enables stable automatic flight.
Eyes in public infrastructure inspection systems
To inspect roads and other public infrastructure while traveling, we are developing technologies for systems that measure cracks and ruts on roads by stereo cameras that can measure distances very precisely.
We acquired the magnetoencephalography business of Yokogawa Electric Corporation in April 2016. We will combine the medical equipment development and business knowhow we secured through that acquisition with the imaging technology, systems design capabilities, and production expertise of our core operations to help prevent and swiftly identify and treat illnesses, helping resolve social issues through such value.
We began R&D into magnetospinographic measuring devices in 2014. It was difficult to obtain images of spinal cord neural activity transfers with magnetic resonance imaging and other bio-observation equipment. Accordingly, we used ultrahigh-sensitivity sensors to detect weak magnetic fields from spinal cords accompanying neural activity. Then, we performed image processing on measurement results to visualize neural activity transfers.
Spinal cord neural activity
Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells differentiate into many different cell types, offering considerable potential. This includes regenerative medicine, identifying the causes of diseases, and testing drug and cosmetic safety and toxicity.
It is necessary to arrange different cell types in arbitrary locations and assemble them three-dimensionally to reproduce biological tissue structures that closely approximate those of living bodies. We thus harnessed our inkjet head and ink materials technologies to mix cells with cell ink and disperse them, and stably eject cells without crushing them.
With the use of cell laminate ejected from the 3D bioprinter and cultivated, human function can be reproduced in vitro. It could ultimately support tissue engineering such as the creation of artificial organs and drug development such as drug efficacy study and toxicity evaluation.
In the IoT society of the near future, all sorts of things will have sensors, heightening the need for stand-alone power source technology to enable communication even in places where power may be hard to come by. Consequently, interest has been piqued by the prospect of technology to generate power from the environment—energy harvesting—which draws a tiny amount of energy within the local environment, such as sunlight and illumination or vibration and heat, and converts it to power to run devices.
Ricoh actively pursues new technology development as a key to unlocking the future of energy harvesting.
Solid-state dye-sensitized solar cell
Ricoh successfully developed a complete solid-state dye-sensitized solar cell that can effectively generate power even under a weak light source, such as LED lighting. Based on organic photoconductor technology accumulated in the development of imaging equipment, the solar cell consists only of easy-to-handle solid-state material and boasts more than twice the electric output of existing amorphous silicon solar cells.
Ricoh successfully developed a new material—an energy-generating rubber—that demonstrates polymer’s advantage of flexibility and output as high as that of ceramics through pressure and vibration. Efforts are moving forward on various applications, including sensors.