We sat down with the Epson global president to talk about where technology is taking us

Epson’s global president Yasunori Ogawa was in Sydney last week to celebrate Epson’s 40thanniversary in Australia and Tech Guide got a chance to join him in a fireside chat.

We spoke about the future of printing and other applications for Epson’s print head technology, where the projector market is going and Epson’s commitment to make its augmented reality glasses even smaller and lighter.

Mr Ogawa joined the Seiko Epson Corporation in 1988 and his first task was to design image sensors for fax machines before being assigned to the projector division which would go on to be responsible for commercialising the first Epson projector.

The Epson boss then spent several years in the visual products area where he was appointed CEO in 2017 before being appointed Director and CEO in 2018 and then CTO responsible for Epson R&D and manufacturing technologies.

In 2019, Mr Ogawa oversaw Epson’s wearables and looked after the industrial solutions business.

Since his appointment as global president, Mr Ogawa has always been focused on creating an open corporate culture and focusing on customers and understanding the challenges they face.

Mr Ogawa is also a talented skier, an avid soccer fan who and an accomplished ukulele player.

Here are the questions he answered in our fireside chat.

Q: Epson has invested in a lot of interesting technology over the years – what innovation in the future excites you the most?

A: The evolution of the print head and not just for everyday printers but for various applications. We currently supply our print heads, for example, printing large LCD panels and OLED panels. We are also working on biotech technology – for example, in place of ink, you could fire human cells and biotech chemicals and use it in various testing. That’s what I meant by the evolution of the print head.

Another area is environmental technology, and you may have heard of our paper recycling technology. We have we have a machine called Paper Lab which we now sell in Japan and Europe.

It’s a unique mechanical technology that we can recycle paper with very minimal use of water. So far, we’ve done paper to paper recycling but you can also use the technology to turn recycled paper into like a sponge like substance which you could use packaging in place of polystyrene, and you could but if you harden it up you can make it into a substance that’s very similar to plastic chairs.

You can also use the technology to recycle fabrics. It’s called dry fibre technology so you can recycle cotton from clothing, and you can de-fibre it and make something like a new set of the fibres. We are investing R&D on these technologies, and we hope to turn them into a future business and loads of others as well.

Q: What is the future of printing in the digital world? Will paper always be around and what about other materials such as alloy?

A: Yes, of course the bulk of our printing at the moment is on paper. The majority of office printing these days uses laser technology whereas we have inkjet technology.

Inkjet is much kinder on the environment and uses much less electricity and it doesn’t generate heat.

Our priority is to replace laser printers in the office with inkjets. In consumer printing we’re looking to replace cartridge printers with high capacity ink bottles. This will of course reduce waste from using ink cartridges. So away from paper we’re looking to print on fabrics. The majority of fabric printing is analogue, but we want to replace that with inkjet. And with the technologies involved we could print wallpaper on tiles and all kinds of interior decoration. We see a lot of potential in the non-paper printing sector.

Q: Is laser the future of projector technology and what else is on the horizon?  

A: The light source is changing from lamps to laser. Lasers are much more energy efficient. You can turn them on and they come on instantly and they will have a much longer life. So yes, laser is going to be the future.

Another technology involves shining lasers onto LCD panels, and they project the image.

We are also starting to think the future might be the self-emitting devices.

Q: Is Epson working on a holographic projector.

A: No.

Q: Is there anything about the Australian market that makes it unique globally?

A: The Australian market has lots of similarities with other western markets. Recently there have lots of price rises in Australia so there’s inflation and that’s obviously challenging.

There are similarities between Western Europe countries and North America in terms of printing volumes.

I find Australia adopts trends quicker.  Australia needs to move quickly because it’s a smaller market.

In terms of printing Australia has a higher standard for print quality in other parts of the world.

Australians also tend to buy more higher end home theatre compared to Europeans and Americans. The top end home theatre projectors tends to be one of the best-selling Epson products in Australia and that’s quite unique compared to other countries.

There is also a very high concern for the environment in Australia – far higher concern than other countries.

Q: How far can we push the latest projector technology and will projectors ever match TVs for contrast?

A: With recent projectors, the image quality has actually improved significantly and the contrast is really good.

In China recently there has been a lot of focus on smart projectors that are connected to the internet. They are very compact and offer high brightness. A characteristic of young Chinese is starting to catch on in other places where having a big screen TV is considered a wasted space. They like something compact that they can move and watch wherever they were wanted.

Q: After decades of talking about the paperless office does the current situation give you confidence for the future?

A: There is no doubt that paper will decline but it’s not going to disappear. In 10 years’ time we will still have printing on paper and we hope that our more environmentally conscious inkjet technology will start to become the mainstream by then.

Q: A few years ago Epson produced an augmented reality product. Is that something that the company is still focused on considering big players like Apple have entered the mixed reality, virtual reality space?

A: Yes, we had the augmented reality glasses – Moverio – we still sell them and we’re also selling the optical engines that are the core technology including the very small OLED panels.

One of the main issues is to make the glasses small and light – that’s a big challenge for the future and we’re doing R&D on that now.

Editor