We have brought out ideas for innovative work styles since entering the business machine field in the 1950s. We are now broadening the scope of the value we create from regular offices to worksites in various industries and locations. By digitizing work in various places, we are helping customers work smarter. By providing new value to individuals, organizations and society, we can resolve social issues while generating new growth opportunities.
We are helping to change workplaces and society and continuing to provide value to customers by driving ahead with ongoing workplace innovations through our EMPOWERING DIGITAL WORKPLACES value proposition, in which individuals, teams, and organizations leverage digital technologies everywhere they do business.
We are leveraging two growth strategies to discover new ways to resolve social issues. The first is Growth Strategy #1, through which we are cultivating applied printing that drives printing technology further forward, and we are also pursuing other industrial innovations. The second is Growth Strategy #2, through which we are digitizing offices.
In printing technology, the focus of Growth Strategy #1, applications have expanded to encompass commercial printing, industrial printing, and healthcare. We are going beyond printing on paper to push ahead with inkjet printhead applications for other media, notably for bioprinting and electronic circuit printing.
Under Growth Strategy #2, we seek to support customer knowledge creation by innovating workplaces. We are doing this by using machine vision and other inputs as well as artificial intelligence analysis and by optimally combining displays, controls, and other processes.
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 and streamline the development of advanced technologies.
We are applying our inkjet, machine vision, 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 start-up enterprises to accelerate the creation of new businesses.
Open innovation case study
Ricoh collaborated with Japan’s National Agriculture and Food Research Organization and Nippon Flour Mills Group subsidiary FASMAC Co., Ltd., to use bioprinting technology to control individual DNA molecules.
We are conducting proving tests with AZAPA Co., Ltd., in Semboku, Akita Prefecture, to identify and resolve potential autonomous driving issues.
We aim to foster innovations in pharmaceuticals production by collaborating with the University of Shizuoka and by participating in the Pharma Valley Project of the Pharma Valley Center of the Shizuoka Organization for Creation of Industries.
In November 2017, we concluded a comprehensive collaborative research accord with Chiba University. The goal is to bring together that institution’s comprehensive research capabilities and our commercialization and technological development clout to explore and share ideas for societies of the future.
In March 2016, we set up a fund to support the establishment of technology ventures that will develop advanced industries.
We aim to contribute to industrial development through the fund by financing technology ventures while helping them launch technology seeds-based businesses and swiftly commercialize their fruits. As of August 2018, we had funded 11 companies, and are supporting start-ups.
The Ricoh Group consistently earmarks 5% to 6% of consolidated sales for R&D to ensure a steady stream of innovation. In the year ended March 31, 2018, R&D expenses reached ¥111.0 billion, or about 5.4% of sales. Of this amount, 9.9%, or ¥10.9 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 have undertaken strategies to expand our domains, reinforcing core businesses, globalizing by cultivating operations in emerging nations, and launching new businesses. We have accordingly continued to secure highly effective patents in Japan and overseas. As of March 31, 2018, the number of registered patents overseas exceeded the number in Japan in the year ended March 31, 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 worldwide
Growth Strategy #1: Broaden the potential of printing technology and create new value
We have broadened the application of technologies that originated in office printing to encompass commercial and industrial printing, as well as applied printing.
Ricoh has three key inkjet technologies that work together to deliver top-quality results. Inkjet heads ensure that droplets of a desired size are applied uniformly and properly to print media. Ink supplies reproduce image quality as applications require. Position controls contribute to print precision. Our inkjet technologies provide new value for such media as apparel, food, medicine, and industry.
Structure of Ricoh’s inkjet printheads
● [Clothes] Textiles
The RICOH Ri 100 employs cassettes that print directly on T-shirts, ensuring comfort and wash fastness.
● [Food] Packaging and edible printing
In addition to offering on-demand printing for food packaging, our inkjet heads provide excellent corrosion resistance and employ fluid chambers that are structured so they do not contact piezo elements, and can also print edible inks on food.
● [Housing] Interiors and decoration
We use inkjet technology for interiors and building materials, which typically have short trend cycles and cater to diverse needs. Our proprietary ink provides excellent adhesion to such substrates as acrylics, glass, wood, aluminum, and steel plate. We also enhance designs with three-dimensional feels and textures.
Pushing the boundaries of inkjet to open new world
Our website showcases the broad applications of our inkjet technologies. It also presents our core technologies, as well as our history in this field, and details of our innovations.
Development and applications of bioprinting technologies
Ricoh develops bioprinting technologies employing proprietary inkjet techniques that precisely deposit live cells.
3D printers using these technologies reproduce the structure of biological tissue, and could ultimately create human tissue models that are near matches for living bodies.
In genetic testing, we jointly developed a technology to manufacture a reference DNA plate, a scale for genetic testing, for determining the number of DNA molecules in a single digit to precisely identify any issues with inspection processes, devices, and reagent.* This plate is a benchmark for measurements in which the components of ingredients are clearly specified, and can be used in controlling precision for genetic testing equipment and reagents.
DNA reference material manufacturing process
Ricoh is using its inkjet technology to develop techniques for creating micro particles of uniform size. One potential benefit of applying this technology to inhalants and other medicines is that they could reach targeted parts of the body and suppress side effects.
An inkjet head jets out very fine droplets at a high frequency, with droplets drying very quickly, making it possible to generate uniformly micron-sized particles. Ricoh’s prototype jets out 520 million droplets per second.
One application for 3D printers is to use nano-composit hydrogel with a high water content, to create models with the same texture and physical properties as human organs. It is even possible to reproduce hollow structures, which has been challenging to date. Technical development is under way for organ models for use at medical institutions and in training physicians.
● Manufacturing innovation
Ricoh developed the world’s first actuator incorporating a piezoelectric thin film, which is just several microns thick. This was the fruit of an inkjet printing technique that ejects raw materials to form the desired pattern. Conventional semiconductor processes form patterns by etching. The inkjet approach forms patterns directly by ejecting ink, greatly reducing costs. Prospective applications for this process include flexible displays, printed electronics, and photovoltaic cells.
Growth Strategy #2: Creating knowledge to drive innovation in offices, on frontlines, and in society at large
Since its foundation, Ricoh has provided value to customers in various fields. We currently support knowledge creation for more than 1.4 million customers. We are developing technologies that help create new value for customers by digitally linking offices, frontlines, and society at large.
Workplaces vary among different businesses and fields and are expanding everywhere. With globalization, people in different locations and time zones are connecting digitally and are constantly exchanging information. Ricoh views such interactions as sources of knowledge creation. The Internet of Things organically links inputs from edge devices, processing through artificial intelligence, and optimized visualization. We are drawing on the Internet of Things and other technologies so we can innovate and energize society.
Knowledge creation support
● [Office] Communication and artificial intelligence transforming work
Companies need to seek ways to become more competitive as people’s perceptions about the value of work change. Ricoh is drawing on visual communication and artificial intelligence technologies to offer productivity, economic viability, and work practice solutions.
In October 2017, we launched the RICOH Unified Communication System Advanced. This videoconferencing system enables the use of virtual meeting rooms with different equipment platforms and environments. The system links the equipment of other companies, Web browsers, and smart devices. It makes it possible to invite external guests to sessions and also allows the necessary members to meet whenever they need to. The system greatly reduces the time and expense of moving around, helping to enhance productivity improvement and work practices.
Automated credit approval using AI technology
We developed “credit model” that replaces people with artificial intelligence. Ricoh Leasing Company, Ltd., is already using that setup, which saves manpower in credit operations and very accurately predicts default rates to aid loss projections.
● [Frontlines] Improving productivity and added value by leveraging visual connections between offices
Things change when you can see what is happening in the frontlines. Ricoh brings together input, processing, and visualization technologies to make situations visible at various frontline sites and increase added value by connecting them with offices.
Vibration data visualization system
This system makes it possible to extract the data needed to detect equipment problems by monitoring equipment and machinery and combined proprietary sensors and data analysis technology. The system prevents failures and shortens downtimes and contributes to maintenance by offering predictions.
RICOH open remote services
We will leverage our Internet of Things and big data technologies and maintenance services expertise to initiate business support for manufacturing sector customers. Our first offering in this regard will be a remote monitoring service for inspection, processing, and other industrial equipment.
● [Society] Employing technological innovations to bolster security and safety
Road surface inspection system
The aging of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure has become a major social issue. We can enhance security and safety by systematically maintaining and managing infrastructure.
Ricoh developed a road surface condition monitoring system. This vehicle-mounted camera system measures the deterioration of road surfaces. Because it can be mounted on ordinary automobiles, it can be used on residential roads on which it would be hard to measure changes with large specialist vehicles.
The system uses multiple stereo cameras* to assess the rate of cracks, the rutting depths, and the flatness in a single pass. It automatically decodes images through a model based on machine learning to reduce man-hours. Based on the above three data sets, the system calculates a Maintenance Control Index, which is a comprehensive benchmark for determining whether to undertake maintenance and repairs. The system also supports the creation of inspection records. It can also map results to visualize road surface conditions.
*Stereo cameras: Obtaining depth (three-dimensional) information on objects ahead by using the parallax of two cameras aligned left and right.
Public infrastructure inspection system
We help organize photo taking with spherical shell drones and artificial intelligence to detect damage under bridges and other locations that are hard and dangerous to access, improving worker safety and inspection efficiency.
Our proprietary cameras can take macros and automatically rebuild images to create 3D and panoramic pictures. Our system helps produce records of position information according to inspection procedures.
Environmental recognition technology for autonomous driving
We seek to enhance automotive safety by developing a range of stereo cameras, sensing, image analysis, and other technologies on vehicles. In collaboration with AZAPA Co., Ltd., we are undertaking demonstration tests in Semboku, Akita Prefecture, to use our technologies to verify autonomous driving systems and identify potential issues.
Our setup uses multiple stereo cameras and omnidirectional 3D recognition to eliminate blind spots and identify pedestrians, vehicles, and other objects, assisting with driving decisions in complex environments that are packed with obstacles. Based on image attributes, it is possible to calculate how far a vehicle has moved in real time and estimate its position. The technology also recognizes white lines and road shoulders and determines the legally drivable area. This assists with decision-making in complicated situations such as when stopping, overtaking, and entering intersections.
Our technology will contribute to advances in medical care. With a highly sensitive sensor, we can measure small amounts of magnetism from living bodies and precisely visualize nerve activity through noise removal and signal processing.
Our RICOH MEG magnetoencephalography system helps to diagnose developmental disorders in early stages, which has been very challenging to date. It can also diagnose epilepsy by evaluating a person’s neural state. Potential applications for the system include clinical treatment, the identification of complex brain functions, and applied research using neuroscience.
We are also working on neural activity measurements for the spinal cord, whose generated magnetic field is smaller, to confirm neurotransmission without burdening patients.