May 25, 2009


Worldwide Use of LED Printers Helping Conserve the Global Environment -- How OKI Data Corporation is Making an Impact

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.80 (April 2009)
Towards a Sustainable Japan -- Corporations at Work Article Series No. 78

Along with personal computers, printers are now accessible to almost everyone in the industrialized world, and anybody can easily print documents at home. If you look back through history, however, one can see that this has been achieved after a long process of technological innovations at each stage of development. OKI Data Corp., a leading Japanese company that develops, manufactures, and markets printers for both office and professional use, has seen its businesses and those of its predecessors develop along with the history of the development of printers. The company's operations have expanded globally, with representation in 120 countries worldwide, while its technological development dates back to Japan's Meiji era, in the late nineteenth century.

In 1881, shortly after the establishment of OKI Data's parent company, Oki Electric Industry Co., formerly known as Meikosha Ltd., an auxiliary device of telecommunication equipment was developed to mark paper tape with dots and dash with black ink to record Morse code. This was the first step in the process of the development of the printing machine. It was then developed into a teletypewriter, and then through the development of a simplified teletypewriter in 1932, a full-fledged typewriter-derived printer was launched in 1953. In the 1980s, with the advent of the personal computer (PC), a dot impact printer for PCs was developed, which gained explosive popularity in the United States market. OKI Data was spun off from the parent company in 1994, when the OKI Group had already expanded its overseas share, with factories in the United Kingdom, Thailand, and other countries. Now, the company has head offices in Japan, the U.K., and the U.S., while having 64 bases in 36 countries.

World's First High-Speed, High-Definition, Energy-Saving LED Printer Developed

In 1983, the company unveiled the world's first light-emitting diode (LED) printer. As LEDs, which are semiconductors that emit light, consume less electricity than other materials, they have been attracting attention recently as a useful lighting device to curb global warming due to the greenhouse gases released by electricity generation using fossil fuels. The company introduced this latest technology at an early stage. Kazuhiro Tanaka, General Manager of Oki Data's Public Relations Department, in the Strategic Planning Office, explains the company's "digital LED method," which incorporates LED technology into a printer head, saying, "It has a very good reputation among printing and design experts, not only because it saves energy but also because it can print even small, fine letters very clearly. Also, its color area is broad and the colors printed are beautiful." Also, the printer head is very small, which makes it possible to reduce the size of the printer. The body mechanism is so simple that it can be easily disassembled, which leads to improved recycling efficiency.

In 2006, OKI Data successfully developed a new LED printer head with thin-film semiconductor material. The commercialization of epitaxial film bonding technology, in which thin films are bonded on dissimilar materials, contributed to the launch of the new printer head. Compared with conventional LED printer heads, the new one produces higher-density prints at the same power level, nearly doubling energy efficiency. The new LED printer head also allowed a dramatic downsizing of printer size. In 2007, the company won the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Award's Fifth Prize for Promoting the Machine Industry, which recognized the company's contributions to the development of the machine industry, because the company was successful in the practical application of this technology for the first time in the world to mass produce an LED printer head.

Environmental Targets Focus on Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions

In April 2009, OKI Data established the Global Environment Department in its Strategic Management Office. General Manager Yasuyuki Kato says, "Nowadays, our environmental strategies now include urgent measures to counter global warming, in addition to conventional toxic chemical management, and ISO 14001 environmental management systems." The four items listed under the company's environmental policy of fiscal 2009 are (1) environmental targets focusing on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reduction, (2) development of environment-friendly products, (3) recycling policies, and (4) collaboration with environmental non-governmental organizations.

The current estimate of the company's total global CO2 emissions from its business activities is 53,000 tons per year. Of that, emissions from factories and offices come to about 32,500 tons, while those from the transportation processes, including delivering products from factories to distributors worldwide, is about 20,500 tons. The first thing the company did was set a target to reduce the total CO2 emissions of the OKI Data group by 6 percent from the 2007 levels by 2012, with the strategy of reducing electricity and gas consumption at its business outlets and offices. Achieving its annual emissions reduction goal each year will lead to an overall reduction of 50 percent by 2050, the target set at the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit.

Some of the company's concrete countermeasures include the reduction of power consumption at the warehouses of Oki Data Americas Inc., switching to green electricity at all business establishments in Europe, and the reduction of power consumption at factories. In fact, OKI Systems (U.K.) Ltd. built an environment-friendly factory in 2005, which reduced its power consumption by 43 percent in 2008 from the fiscal 2004 levels, by utilizing natural light and saving energy on air conditioning by utilizing outside air. If the 6 percent reduction target is not achieved, the company is thinking of offsetting any shortfall by investing in CO2 absorption through tree planting and emissions trading.

The company also aims to reduce 6 percent of its CO2 emissions from its environment-friendly products from the 2007 levels by 2012. The printer is a complex of high-level semiconductor technology, mechatronics technology, and software, and various energy-saving technologies have been consolidated for power conservation during use and in standby mode, as well as in the use of materials. In addition to using energy-saving LED technology, the company developed a powerful micro-capsule toner that made speeding up of the printing process possible. The micro-capsule toner consists of two layers: a shell layer that softens at high temperatures, and a core layer that softens at low temperatures. Since there is a correlation between printing speed and power consumption, the temperature of the device that fixates toner to the paper must be raised, which increases power consumption, but the powerful micro-capsule toner allows fixing at lower temperatures and substantially reduces power consumption.

By introducing a "quick-start system" that requires no preheating process, the company aims to cut power consumption by 40 percent. For its new 2012 product lineup, it also aims to reduce total CO2 emissions throughout the product's lifecycle by 6 percent from the 2007 equivalent, based on a lifecycle assessment.

In terms of recycling in Japan, the recovery rate of consumable goods is high, at over 60 percent. In 1997, the Oki Data's Fukushima factory implemented measures for dealing with industrial waste. In 2006, it achieved a collection rate of 99.94 percent, by implementing a factory-wide reduction and recycling initiative, as well as carrying out thorough separate materials collection. As the company becomes increasingly global, it needs to develop a unique recycling system suited to each local community, and according to different laws and regulations.

Wide Range of Environmental Initiatives Being Implemented

To conserve the paper, indispensable for use in printers, the company puts much emphasis on developing recycled paper and planting trees. Since 1999, they have promoted the Children's Forest Program, a tree-planting initiative at schools in 17 countries around the world, in cooperation with the international non-governmental Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (OISCA)-International. Their local employees are also engaged in tree-planting activities in the U.K. and Thailand, with the aim of offsetting their carbon emissions. They planted mangroves in the coastal area of southern Thailand in September 2008, and planted teakwood in the northern area of the country in October 2008, with over 250 employees participating. In Malaysia, it also promoted its "One Printer, One Tree" campaign on the occasion of releasing a new line of LED printers, where they plant a tree for each printer sold. A total of 103 trees were planted in January 2009 at a tree-planting event initiated by the Malaysian Landscape Advisory Panel.

In Japan, the company attracted public attention when they adopted the use of uniforms that come with CO2 emissions credits, at its Fukushima Factory in December 2008. The uniform is one of the carbon-offset products offered by Fukushima Midori Co., and the credit was gained through a Clean Development Mechanism project by Marubeni Corp. As five kilograms of CO2 emission credits are incorporated into each uniform, the factory gained about 2.5 tons of CO2 emission rights from buying 492 uniforms.

Thus, OKI Data has made environmental contributions in many aspects of its business, both in Japan and around the world. The company has promoted all-out environmental activities at every step of its research, development, sales, and recycling efforts so far. In fiscal 2009, they are taking a new approach towards global warming countermeasures as a target. The global company, a front-runner in the development of LED printers, is expected to realize even more technological innovations.

Written by Taeko Ohno