Printer toner and inks are very expensive. Ricoh is using AI to limit the amount that’s wasted

Ricoh, whose printers can be found in homes and offices across the world, is using Microsoft’s artificial intelligence technology to cut the amount of expensive toner it loses in one of its UK factories.

Ricoh is testing Microsoft’s AI tools in its factory in Telford, Shropshire, to reduce the amount of toner lost when its machines fill toner bottles.

The move is predicted to save the global electronics company more than £200,000 a year.

“We import bulk toner produced in Japanese factories, which we use to fill anywhere from 400,000 to 900,000 toner bottles per month in the UK,” said Richard Aston, Digital Operations Engineering Manager at Ricoh UK Products Ltd. “Every bottle has a lower threshold and an upper threshold, and there is a lot of automation and processing equipment used in filling them. We wanted to leverage Microsoft’s machine learning technology and our data to improve the process. Our target was to reduce the toner ‘giveaway’ from 1.3 grams to less than one gram on one machine. We actually exceeded the target, cutting lost toner to 0.9 grams.

“We are now planning to roll it out to the rest of our toner filling lines. Then we will look at other areas where we can deploy this technology and data-first approach. Predictive maintenance is a big area that we want to start getting into.”

Click here for an in-depth look at Ricoh’s use of technology

A typical filling cycle takes around 45 seconds to complete. Within that cycle there is a seven-second window to predict when they should stop to ensure every bottle has the right amount of toner. As the toner’s consistency can be affected by a range of factors, such as the temperature of the room and humidity, the amount of toner needed for each bottle can change over the course of a day.

Now, workers are using Microsoft tools, including the Azure cloud platform, IoT Hub, Stream Analytics, Data Lake, Databricks and DevOps, to capture and analyse factory data and get much more accurate filling levels.

Ricoh, which employs more than 650 people at its Telford plant, has recently hired a data scientist and is looking to recruit a data architect in the near future to help the company broaden its skill set and make better use of information in its business.

Aston added: “It’s about understanding what technology we need for the future, the best way to manage the machine learning algorithms, how to effectively train the data and deploy the models. Moving forward, we can look at the different ways we can deploy machine learning and the supporting technology for each application.

“Microsoft has been very supportive in terms of upskilling us. I’ve been connecting with a lot of the data and analytics experts there. Microsoft is investing in AI and it gives us a lot of confidence that we’re putting our faith and trust into a company that will deliver.”