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A unique electrochromic material from Ricoh allows lenses to switch from transparent to dark shades electronically. The change can be made automatically (thanks to an ambient light sensor) or adjusted manually. By making possible lenses that can transition in seconds from 80 percent translucency in dark places to 10 percent translucency under bright light, the material can improve eyesight protection from UV rays through use in convenient “smart” eyewear. In addition, the electrochromic material can be applied to flexible displays and works of art, as it also adheres to curved or spherical glass.
* Technology developed partly under a subsidy from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a national research and development organization.
The discovery of iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells, which can go on to form any cell in the body, was the catalyst for regenerative medicine — the ability to regrow or replace damaged tissue or organs. The production of biological tissue structures similar to those in living bodies requires different types of cells to be assembled three-dimensionally. Having the ability to arrange cells with extreme precision, Ricoh’s inkjet system can be applied to the reproduction of artificial human tissues. Ricoh is developing cell ink formulations and cell inkjet heads for use in a 3D bioprinter system with four functions: cell ink preparation,
precision 3D printing, and cultivation and inspection of cellular constructs.
*Technology developed partly with a research grant from the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED), a national research and development organization.
Unlike MFPs and laser printers, inkjet printers do not require a fuser to fix an image onto the medium (usually paper). And since they eject ink without the nozzles directly contacting the print surface, they are able to print on many materials other than paper.
Recently, 3D printers have begun to employ inkjet technology, and further industrial applications are forecast.
The history of Ricoh’s inkjet technology
At Ricoh, R&D of inkjet technology began more than 40 years ago. In 1984, we commercialized a printer based on the continuous inkjet method for use with Japanese word processors. Subsequently, in 1998, the company launched a piezoelectric-type drop-on-demand color printer. It is the piezo-type GELJET printer of 2004, however, that is the progenitor of our current inkjet printers. Ricoh has ceaselessly refined the inkjet printhead and inks, not just for use in office printers and MFPs, but also for high speed production printers used by commercial printing companies. Today, the RICOH Pro VC60000 high-speed continuous feed inkjet printing
system, introduced in 2015, can output 150m of sheets per minute.Our inkjet technology is also playing a key part in additive manufacturing, as many of the currently available 3D printers that
eject UV-curable resins use Ricoh’s proprietary stainless steel inkjet printheads that feature outstanding durability. As for inks, Ricoh’s newly developed UV curable inks are noted for superior elasticity and adhesion to substrate, offering stable coverage that resists cracking even when the medium is stretched.
This makes them applicable to diverse media such as film and construction materials, with expectations for additional uses within a range of industries.
One use of UV-curable inks is “2.5D reproduction.” The term “2.5D”refers to a quasi-three-dimensional (or relief) image. An integration of image processing and 3D printing, 2.5D replicates uneven surfaces in high resolution. In fine art reproductions, for example, the textures of paint, brushstrokes and canvas are
simulated to a much higher degree than in conventional flat copies.
• Layers are built up through a repetitive process of printing and curing using UV inks and UV lamps.
• First, the surface texture is formed using UV base ink. Color is then applied to the surface using UV color inks.
Toward the future
Ricoh plans to advance the adoption of inkjet technology in the biomedical field. To that end, the company has established a research facility inside the Life Innovation Center* recently opened near Tokyo. There, research and development of 3D bioprinters is under way. This technology, which builds
three-dimensional biological tissue from live human cells, has potential uses in regenerative medicine and pharmacology. With its myriad applications, inkjet technology promises to take on a role in diverse business domains, and is expected to grow as an essential business in Ricoh’s future.
* Life Innovation Center: a hub facility established by Kanagawa Prefecture to develop practical applications and industrialization of regenerative medicine and regeneration of cells.
Drones are playing a part in many different fields such as aerial photography, logistics and security and monitoring. At present, drones can fly unassisted only when connected to a global positioning system (GPS), and must be manually operated by a pilot on the ground in environments where GPS is not accessible. Ricoh has developed an ultra wide-angle stereo camera that can function as the eyes of drones for stable, high-precision auto flight even in places where GPS signals are blocked. Working together with the Suzuki-Tsuchiya Laboratory at the University of Tokyo and drone integrator Blue Innovation Co., Ltd., Ricoh has succeeded in conducting automated flight tests at indoor locations cut off from GPS. The company plans to develop this technology for commercial use and add it to security systems for factories and warehouses and the visual inspection of large-scale infrastructure (such as bridges and buildings) that would be hazardous if conducted manually.
The RICOH RL Series links a stereo camera with a robot arm for automated selection, arrangement and placement of product components. The twin lenses of the RICOH SV-M-S1 stereo camera provide parallax image data used to accurately calculate the position of objects within three-dimensional space.With the stereo camera placed above a robot arm, the system can reliably detect small parts ranging from 10 square millimeters in size to major components with complex shapes.
In June 2014, Ricoh introduced a solid-state dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC) with roughly double the power generation capacity of previous solar cells used under weak light conditions (such as indoors). Unlike conventional dye-sensitized solar cells, which have a risk of leakage or corrosion, Ricoh’s device does not contain liquid, making it safer and more durable. As an efficient energy-harvesting device, Ricoh’s DSSC is expected to play a leading role in realizing the Internet of Things (IoT)
Efficient, durable and safe
Solar cells provide sustainable energy by transforming light into electricity through a process known as photoelectric conversion. They are made of materials that are broadly categorized as silicon, organic and composite. Crystal silicon (c-Si) is the standard material for outdoor solar power generation and amorphous silicon (a-Si) is primarily employed for weak light environments such as those found indoors. The low power generation of a-Si solar cells, however, requires them to be paired with button (or coin) batteries. Another type of solar cell usable under faint light is the liquid-state dye-sensitized solar cell (liquid-state DSSC). These cells convert light into electricity through the action of dyes absorbing light. Liquid-state DSSCs feature greater power- generating performance and lower production cost compared to a-Si solar cells. Their commercialization has been prevented, however, by a lack of resistance to shock as well as safety issues concerning the risk of liquid leakage and corrosion due to their dye easily peeling off. By applying decades of expertise in organic photoconductor technology gained in the development of MFPs, Ricoh succeeded in developing a dye-sensitized solar cell consisting of only solid-state material acting as electrolyte. Ricoh’s solid-state DSSC does away with liquid electrolyte. In its place, an organic p-type semiconductor and solid additive agents function as a “hole-transport layer” (“hole” means positive charge) that conducts ions between the electrodes and creates energy. Packing the porous hole-transport layer with nano-sized titanium dioxide particles was achieved by employing a proprietary film-forming technology for supercritical fluid carbon dioxide. The completely solid-state cell that resulted exceeds liquid-state DSSCs in durability and safety while generating twice the electricity of an a-Si cell and around 1.6 times the output of a liquid-state DSSC.
A key device for an IoT society
Ricoh’s solid-state DSSC is already being put to use, powering a wireless sensor network terminal jointly developed by Altima, Hitachi Maxell and Ricoh that continuously monitors data such as indoor temperature, humidity and luminance. Sensors will be ubiquitous in an IoT-based society, and they will need electricity to function even in low-light environments. By providing the electricity, compact and energy efficient solid-state DSSCs have the potential to change the way we live each day.