Major Japanese Printer Manufacturer Shifts Focus: Ricoh Turns to 3D Printing

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riclogonew_186cmyk-orangeyRicoh, the Japanese imaging and electronics company which specializes in the manufacturing of printers, is seeing a significant decline in demand for traditional computer and office printers. To ensure long-term prosperity of the company, executives at Ricoh are directing the firm to 3D printing, an industry that is growing at an impressive rate, and in which Ricoh has been involved since 2014.

The Japanese 3D printing industry has seen the emergence of innovative 3D printing startups and service providers targeting a much larger market in comparison to the traditional office printer industry. 3D printing companies are targeting multi-billion dollar corporations in manufacturing-reliant sectors, including automobile, aircraft and electronics.

In fact, as covered by 3DPrint.com in November, International Data Corporation (IDC) Japan revealed that the total sales of the domestic 3D printing market in 2015 reached US$310 million, demonstrating a 104.4% annual growth. In comparison, the electrophotographic printing market in Japan is struggling to grow, with over 75% of the market share controlled by the color-printing segment which according to Ricoh is showing a decline in demand.

Colin Weaver, managing director of the European operation, stated:

“People don’t print any more. Office print is definitely on the decline as we all know, as we have tablets and phones. But everything in this room is printable – the carpet, the table, the pictures on the wall.”

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Ricoh factory in Telford

Weaver, who also oversees a major Ricoh factory in the UK, stated that the establishment evolved from a manufacturing site to an innovation and development lab, wherein Weaver and his team discuss potential alterations or changes to the company’s business model. Weaver’s team, which is based in Telford, is leading various research initiatives on discovering unique business models using Ricoh’s existing resources and technologies. Essentially, the company is looking for alternative applications of its technologies outside the realm of electrophotographic printing.

“This was purely a manufacturing site five or six years ago, and we have really concentrated on changing our business model from so we are also supporting sales organisations and developing new business. Our journey was one of finding a new role within the group. It’s really centred on focusing on how we can use Ricoh’s own technology in new ways, and industrial applications. There’s a lot of work being done on technological development,” said Weaver.

The Ricoh factory in Telford has already made progress in targeting the global 3D printing market. The company secured a contract with a private company in Spain that is using 3D printing technology to rapidly produce custom-built prosthetic limbs. Like many healthcare companies, the partner firm of Ricoh is experimenting with 3D printing technology to develop a method of producing prosthetics on the spot and within the facility, to ensure patients receive necessary help at their convenience.

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Weaver inside the facility

After seeing commercial success in collaborative efforts with its partner companies, Ricoh is planning to introduce a 3D printing hydrogel, which can be used to print out replica of organs for practice operations. This allows educational institutions or hospitals to perform experimental operations in real-life simulation, as the gel’s physical attributes reflect those of real organs.

“We are doing some work for a company in Spain that are customising prosthetic limbs. They want a bespoke customised cover for a prosthetic leg, and are using 3D printing to do that. We have technology that we will soon bring to market using a material called hydrogel, for mimicking organs to help surgeons practice operations. It is 3D printing using data from an MRI scan or CT scan,” Weaver explained.

Over the past few months, the global 3D printing industry has seen successful partnerships between 3D printing firms and healthcare developers especially in the UK. In December of 2016, UK-based startup Open Bionics secured a partnership with the National Health Service (NHS) to manufacture prosthetics with 3D printing, similar to the joint effort between Ricoh and its partner firms.

The rapid emergence of healthcare companies and university hospitals targeting the utilization of 3D printing technology in creating custom-built prosthetics has led to the formation of a promising market, which may evolve into a multi-trillion dollar market in the near future. The development and manufacturing of prosthetics were relatively inefficient prior to the introduction of 3D printing technology, as manual manufacturing processes lacked the level of precision and accuracy required to create a custom-fit prosthetic.

The real emergence of a major Japanese electrophotographic printing company into the 3D printing market should be seen as an optimistic sign for both the global 3D printing market and the prosthetic sector, as active research, development and collaboration in this niche market will allow it to grow and expand at an exponential rate. Discuss in the Ricoh forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources/Images: Ricoh, Shropshire Star]

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