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Some 50 years of innovative thinking has helped Epson push boundaries

Since the time it was appointed official timekeeper for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Epson garnered numerous achievements in large part due to innovative thinking – from creating the first analog quartz watch to being part of the STS-95 space shuttle mission – and we wondered how it used said innovation to drive business. So we asked.
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There is more pressure on market leaders, like Epson, than ever before to apply innovative thinking to all matters of business, with the CBI proclaiming it the holy grail that will help Britain develop its economic role outside of the EU. Why? Because such “an ambitious commitment will ensure we have a competitive, globally-focused nation that delivers prosperity for all”.

It’s not the first time emphasis has been placed on the corporate landscape’s need to evolve. In fact, it’s been a topic of interest for quite some time given our global ranking for innovative thinking just won’t rise – hence the CBI’s “we need you” spiel. But with new entrants having the ability to turn entire industries upside down, business of all sizes truly need to start forming a habit of spotting opportunities and implementing new ideas.

So to shine some light on how innovative thinking can become part and parcel of your company, we had a talk with Epson, which has long lauded that innovation is not the preserve of the start-up, and that large companies should not be perceived as “hampered by size”. No company should thus rest on its laurels in the fast-moving business world – here’s how Rob Clark, MD for Epson UK and senior VP for Epson Europe, sees it.

(1) Epson has a proud history of firsts, having led the way in technological innovation for 50 years. How does the company ensure it is always one step ahead of the game?

We’re proud of our track record as technological pioneers. Having produced a printing timer for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, we saw the potential of miniature printers and went on to develop the world’s first compact digital printer. Today, Epson is still pushing boundaries, looking for ways to improve and explore new ideas. This is supported by a strong focus on research and development – we invest $1.3m every day into R&D, resulting in around 5,000 patents being registered each year. At the last count, Epson held over 50,000 live patents.

But while printing is our core business, we keep a diverse portfolio and aspire to be market leaders across all areas. We stay ahead of the game by listening to our customers, investing in technology and responding to demand for faster, more efficient and sustainable products. This philosophy remains the same, whether it’s developing the world’s first 25,000lm 3LCD laser projector, building force sensing robots capable of picking up and moulding equipment, or creating a pair of AR-enabled smart glasses with industrial applications.

(2) What’s the company’s philosophy in terms of pushing boundaries for future products?

We apply the Japanese philosophies of Monozukuri and Sho Sho Sei to product development. Monozukuri means “the art and science of making things”, while Sho Sho Sei translates as “compact, precise and energy saving”. These philosophies guide everything we create.

Epson is optimistic about how technology can be harnessed to make our lives better. Our ten-year vision is to act as an enabler in the creation of a more sustainable and affluent society, in which people enjoy safer, more productive and healthier lifestyles. We believe Epson technologies will deliver value as “smart” machines, using software innovations to bring enhanced connectivity, convenience, safety and ease-of-use anytime and anywhere that deliver high performance, with reduced environmental impact.

(3) How is the company enabling a culture of innovative thinking?

We’re creating a culture of innovative thinking by constantly wondering how to contribute to the connected society of the future. For example, Epson’s president, Minoru Usui, has unveiled a vision for 2025, which focusses on making technology indispensable in a more connected age.

Our R&D philosophy concentrates on building smart, productivity-enabling technologies that are eco-efficient. Recent examples include the PaperLab office recycling system, bringing the circular economy concept to life in the workplace, as well as the Moverio smart glasses and our dual armed autonomous robot, equipped with artificial intelligence.

(4) What, in your opinion, is innovation all about?

Innovation is about never settling for what you already have – instead strive for better. It is about always exploring new ways and technologies to ensure products come with features that maximise convenience for the customer. Innovative thinking should also not be confined to the product range, but should influence how services are delivered. Simply put, innovation should aim to simplify processes.

(5) How is technology changing the way we work and compete against rivals?

Wearables could bring multiple benefits, potentially rendering the traditional desk-centred office obsolete, empowering employees to be more mobile. Smart glasses could potentially feed important information to an employee’s field of vision, assisting them during presentations or meetings. There’s also much potential in artificial intelligence and machine learning in terms of allowing workers to concentrate on value-adding activities. Similarly, robotics is helping to automate laborious tasks, improving human quality of life and enabling intelligent robots to work side-by-side with employees.

Interactive collaboration technology is also making a difference to the way meetings work and how presentations are delivered. We build our projectors with a range of interactive features, such as finger touch, to ensure teaching sessions and meetings are as productive as possible.

That aside, what’s clear is that bosses need to invest in the latest technology and make sure they are aware of the latest trends.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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