The Ricoh Company is testing out a wide range of tools created by Microsoft at its Shropshire-based factory in order to lower the
quantity of toner it loses when its equipment fills containers.
The toner used in printers is an expensive resource and the
current waste is a costly loss. By taking advantage of Microsoft machine learning, the electronics enterprise predicts it will
save over £200,000 per annum.
The company currently
imports bulk toner manufactured at factories in Japan. This is then used to fill somewhere from 400,000 up to 900,000 bottles of toner each month here in the UK.
Digital Operations Engineering Manager for Ricoh UK Products,
Richard Aston, explained:
“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.”
The company is now looking to roll out the process to all its lines filling toner, and plans to assess other areas that might benefit from this “data-first” approach using Microsoft technology.
“Predictive maintenance is a big area that we want to start getting into.”
standard filling cycle at the factory will typically take about
45 seconds. In each cycle is window of seven seconds to predict when it should cease to make certain each bottle has its correct quantity of toner. The toner consistency is
affected by many variables, including the room temperature and humidity, which means the quantity of toner required for every bottle can alter during a factory day.
Workers at the plant, which
employs over 650 individuals, are now using a selection of Microsoft tools such as the cloud-based platform Azure, Stream Analytics, IoT Hub, DevOps, Databricks to analyse captured factory data, thus acquiring far more accurate bottle filling levels.
The firm has recently employed a data scientist, with a data architect soon to follow in an effort to broaden the company’s technical skills and make the most of information within its operations. Aston has been in close communication with analytics and data experts at Microsoft and stated the company has been highly supportive regarding upskilling Ricoh to use its AI machine learning effectively. He added that Microsoft’s investment in Artificial intelligence made Ricoh feel it had placed its
trust and faith wisely in a firm that delivers.
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