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Epson boss says company’s advanced sensor could change the way industrial robots are used

Minoru-Usui-the-Global-President-of-Japanese-Company-Seiko-Epson-Corporation

Seiko Epson president Minoru Usui says sensor technology the company has developed could change the way robots are used. 

In an interview with Reuters, Usui says he wants the company to increase its robot sales worldwide by more than five times what they are now.

And the Micro Piezo force sensor could help to achieve at least some of that growth.

Currently, Epson Robots is one of the top 10 industrial robot makers in the world, according to a list compiled by RoboticsAndAutomationNews.com. The company is placed ninth, with 55,000 industrial robots installed worldwide. 

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Epson originally developed its Micro Piezo sensor in the early 1990s, but the crucial component has undergone many iterations since then.

The Micro Piezo sensor is a motion control sensor which can be attached to a robot head, enabling it to “feel” its way into a space with an accuracy of 5 thousandths of a millimetre, or 5 microns, and according to Reuters, Epson reckons this is approximately a “tenfold improvement on currently available force sensors”.

Usui – speaking through a translator – told Reuters the Micro Piezo sensor “changes the way robots can be used”.

Usui added: “We think the market potential for the force sensor is enormous.

“To perform complex tasks like this with robots, it has needed really complex software, which has made it impossible for many people. This makes the software a lot simpler, which makes it easier to actually introduce the robots.”

RoboticsAndAutomationNews.com got an interview with Usui before Reuters last year in which the president of Seiko Epson – which has an annual income of around $10 billion and almost 70,000 employees – said he is looking to increase the company’s total annual revenue by 70 per cent within 10 years, and believes industrial robots will be one of the company’s fastest-growing business units, with a projected 500 per cent hike in that time.

But Reuters does confirm Usui’s exclusive statement to RoboticsAndAutomationNews.com that Epson is looking to “quintuple its robotics sales over the next decade”.

A piezoelectric sensor measures changes in such things as pressure, acceleration and – most crucially, it seems, for the new wave of collaborative industrial robots – force.

They were initially used in the 1950s in manufacturing, and Epson uses them mainly for its massive printer business.

Reuters went on quoting Usui, who said markets such as China, India and Brazil may be growth areas for Epson’s new sensor because “they are more or less just starting automation”, while “German manufacturing is very sophisticated”.