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Automating the Toner Cartridge Production Line

Automation technologies deliver the same high quality and productivity worldwide.

Background

Ricoh multifunction printers (MFPs) are widely used in many countries and regions around the globe. To provide customers with a productive printing environment, Ricoh must deliver its toner cartridges quickly and in perfect condition.

Ricoh has been producing MFPs for a long time. Back when the number of products was small and monochrome printing was mainstream, Ricoh used large machines to quickly fill toner bottles in large volumes with the same kind of toner powder.

As color printing became popular and customer needs diversified, the variety of toners and cartridges increased significantly. Accordingly, Ricoh had to develop a toner filling machine for high-mix low-volume production to deal with varying customer demands. Our current toner filling machine is swift and space-saving; compared with conventional machines, the time taken to switch to a different product is 40 times faster and the space required for the machine is 1/40th of the space needed before. Because of its compact size, this machine has been introduced not only into toner production plants but also to logistics bases and sales companies. Ricoh now manufactures and ships its toner from locations much closer to customers than ever before, thereby reducing the environmental impact associated with the transportation of toner cartridges and shortening lead times.

To further enhance quality across the world, as well as to solve the issues of labor shortages and cost reduction, Ricoh is continually striving to further automate its toner cartridge production lines.

Changing toner cartridge production (large to small, manual to automated)

Large machine, Small machine

Automated line

Solutions

In previous toner cartridge production lines, employees filled bottles with toner, assembled the toner cartridges, and inspected them using sensory tests. Quality depended greatly on the skill of the individual employee. Today, toner cartridges have multiple functions and, accordingly, complex structures, making it difficult for people to work on them and ensure consistently high quality.

Ricoh has introduced robot-based assembly systems, camera-based automated inspection, and IoT (Internet of Things) technologies to increase the quality and productivity of toner cartridge production lines.

In order to deliver consistent quality globally, Ricoh pays particular attention to the design phase, especially for those parts that have the biggest impact on products quality. Toner filling lines of the same design are used across the world, helping to further reduce lead times.

Technical highlights

Our toner cartridge production lines comprise a series of processes:

  1. Filling product-specific toner bottles with toner
  2. Attaching parts to toner bottles
  3. Inspecting products for quality (e.g. checking for leaks)
  4. Packing products into packaging and cartons with the product names printed on them

Filling

Attaching parts, Inspection

PackagingProcesses on a toner filling production line

To replace conventional human tasks with robot-based automated systems, Ricoh has implemented several techniques:

1. Filling toner

Compact sifter

Bulk toner goes through Ricoh's original compact sifter, which uses airstreams. A compact toner filling machine then fills the sifted toner into product-specific toner bottles. The energy- and space-saving system boasts high efficiency.

2. Assembling toner cartridges

Robots attach plastic parts onto the toner bottles, assembling them into toner cartridges. The robots monitor data with devices such as a pressure sensor, checking the condition while the assembly is in progress. The system boasts consistent high quality and a lower workload.

3. Inspecting products for quality

In previous toner cartridge production lines, people used sensory tests to ensure quality. They shook a toner cartridge and inspected it for any leaks. Today, both the required precision and production speeds are too high for people to cope with. Thus, robots work in combination with dedicated inspection systems, which are stable and far more uniform than human hands. The systems prevent defective products from reaching the customer.

Inspection then and now

4. Packaging

In the past, the packaging process depended on human hands to handle soft materials like corrugated cardboards and plastic bags. The workload was difficult to reduce. Through a combination of robots and jigs, Ricoh has reproduced human manipulation and automated the packaging process.

During the packaging process, on-demand printing is used to print product names and barcodes onto packaging and cartons alike. The system is flexible enough to support the variety of packaging types.

Packaging then and now

Ricoh's vision

Toner cartridge production technology is used in Japan and other areas throughout the world. Ricoh is committed to maintaining the same high levels of quality across the globe, and to further improving QCD (quality, cost, and delivery) with leading-edge technologies like AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT.