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Winner snapshot – Innovation Award: Epson

Epson PaperLab, for which Epson has just won the 2020 PrintIT Innovation Award, is a product of the company’s ambition to keep driving down the environmental cost of its products, as James Goulding finds out from Epson UK Head of Business Sales Richard Wells.

“We spend around $1.2 million a day on R&D in Japan,” he said. “We are constantly looking at how we can drive things down further – how we can use less energy in the production of print on our devices; how can we ensure there are fewer materials needed in the machines.”

Such is the success with which Epson has already reduced the impact of its products that Wells likens the process to the difficulty of shaving more and more off what are already very thin slices. To support his argument, he points to the famously energy-efficient, heat-free printing technology used in Epson printers and MFPs.

“At trade shows we used to connect a bicycle to a printer that people could power and print from just by pedalling. It’s pretty difficult to shave much off power consumption when you are already that far ahead of the curve, so we will look at other aspects to see how we can improve on those,” he said.

One of these is the ink itself – how it is applied to the page and especially how it is delivered, which on some models includes large ink packs with page yields of up to 86,000 pages. As well as producing up to 96% fewer used consumables than laser printers, having such high yields significantly reduces the number of supplies deliveries that are needed over the course of a printer’s lifecycle.

For small office and home office users, Epson has introduced what it calls the Just Add Paper option, which bundles new printers with enough ink to last three years, so that over that period there is no need for additional deliveries and packaging.

Considering the broader impact of printing in this way also led Epson to address paper recycling and re-use, which fed into the development of the PaperLab system. This innovative on-premise solution takes in used printer paper at one end and outputs clean A4 sheets at the other, thus saving resources whilst also improving data security by keeping printed documents on-site.

Having launched the first commercial version of this product in Europe last year, Epson is working on scaling down the technology, potentially into devices not much larger than a copier. Within the next two or three years, it hopes to bring out a version that turns waste paper into packaging material.

Wells adds that Epson’s focus on sustainability extends to its business scanners, which he also looks after, and which are designed to use much less energy than equivalent products from other manufacturers, while still offering the benefits of productivity and agility.

“The pandemic provides a great example of this. Because some Epson scanners can be used through both a USB connection and a network connection, we have had people take their scanner from the office and use it in a WFH environment. Then, when lockdown ends, the scanner can make the return journey back to the office,” he said.

In the meantime, Epson is leveraging its expertise in projection to transform remote maintenance and support through the continued development of its Moverio virtual reality glasses, which have a big environmental benefit by enabling engineers to support devices remotely without the need to travel to distant sites.

Wells hopes that encouraging people to look at technologies throughout their lifecycle will also inspire more customers to choose projection over heavy, expensive displays.

“Similar to our crusade to get heat-free printers into the office space, I am focused on trying to deliver interactivity to classrooms through the medium of projection rather than flat panels. You can create a much larger image with a projector than you can through a panel and would have to spend many times the cost of a projector on a flat panel or a video wall to deliver an image of the same size. We think that’s important because, with the return to school and socially distant classes, some pupils are going to be further from the front of the class than they have ever been.

“If you are looking at a 65in screen – the typical panel size sold into schools
– it is unlikely that pupils at the sides and the back of the class will be able to see everything. Projecting at up to 120 inches – the typical projection size of our school projectors – is more inclusive. And if you are using areas such as the assembly hall for teaching, to keep more people in the class, our high brightness projectors go up to 500 inches in size.

“You can get that interactive experience through projection without having a very heavy, very expensive and, at end of life, harder product to dispose of that has a lot of glass, a lot of plastic and a lot of metal in it,” he said.