Epson Unveils ‘PaperLab’ for Turning Waste Paper into New Paper, Suitable for Office Installation

paperlab

Epson’s prototype PaperLab.

Seiko Epson of Japan has developed what it believes to be the world’s first compact office paper-making system, the PaperLab, which is capable of producing new paper from securely shredded waste paper without the use of water.

Epson plans to put its new PaperLab prototype into commercial production in Japan in 2016, with sales in other regions to be decided at a later date. According to the firm, with the PaperLab, customers will be able to produce paper of various different sizes, thicknesses, and types, from office paper and business-card paper, to paper that is colored and scented.

Epson will show a prototype of the PaperLab at Eco-Products 2015, an environmental exhibition that will take place at the Tokyo Big Sight (Tokyo International Exhibition Centre) December 10-12.

PaperLab Features

  • Office-based recycling process: Epson explains that, typically, paper is recycled via an extensive process that usually involves transporting waste paper from the office to a paper-making recycling facility. However, with PaperLab, Epson is looking to shorten and localise a new recycling process in the office.
  • Secure destruction of confidential documents:  Enterprises typically hire contractors to handle the disposal of confidential documents, or shred it themselves. With a PaperLab, however, enterprise will be able to safely dispose of documents onsite, instead of handing them over to a contractor. PaperLab breaks documents down into paper fibres, so the information on them is completely destroyed.
  • High-speed production of various types of paper:  According to Epson, PaperLab produces the first new sheet of paper in about three minutes from loading it with waste paper and pressing the Start button. The system can produce about 14 A4 sheets per minute and 6,720 sheets in an eight-hour day. Users can produce a variety of types of paper, from A4- and A3-size office paper of various thicknesses, to paper for business cards, color paper, and scented paper.
  • Environmental performance: PaperLab makes paper without the use of water. Ordinarily it takes about a cup of water to make a single A4 sheet of paper. Given that water is a precious global resource, Epson says it felt a dry process was needed.

PaperLab Technology

Epson’s PaperLab incorporates Epson’s Dry Fibre Technology, which consists of three separate technologies: fiberizing, binding, and forming.

Fiberizing

Waste paper is mechanically fiberized using an original mechanism that converts the paper into long, thin cottony fiber and, in the process, immediately and completely destroys confidential documents. Since the PaperLab doesn’t use water, it doesn’t require plumbing facilities. This, plus its compact size, can make it suitable for installation in many back-office areas.

Binding

A variety of different binders can be added to the fiberized material to increase the binding strength or whiteness of the paper, or to add color, fragrance, flame resistance, or other properties needed for a given application.

Forming

Users control the density, thickness, and size of the paper. They can produce sheets of A4- or A3-size office paper, paper for business cards, or paper of different thicknesses and sizes.

waste paper process

PaperLab Specifications

Dimensions (w x d x h): 2.6 x 1.2 x 1.8 meters (excluding projecting parts)
Paper production speed: 14 sheets per minute (A4 sheets)
Paper that can be produced: A4 (8.5″x14″) and A3 (11″x17″)
Types: Office paper, business-card paper, and other paper of various thicknesses. Color paper (cyan, magenta, yellow, and colors formed by mixing these colors).
Paper that can be recycled: Ordinary copy paper (A4 and A3)

Our Take

While we’re big Epson fans, the company sometimes makes us wonder. Several weeks ago, Epson announced its entry into the 3D-printer market – but that its 3D printer won’t be available until about five years.

This week, Epson previewed its PaperLab, which is a paper recycling system in a box – a very big 8.5′-long box – and states that it’s suitable for back-office installation, which in most cases seems reasonable.

While details are sketchy, we assume the PaperLab will be primarily used to recycle 20-lb. bond – the most common office paper – but it’s not clear if it will handle other types of stock such as brochure and photo-paper stock. Also, while it can probably be able to handle ink-based prints, it’s not clear whether it can handle toner-based prints, but we suspect it will. Since it runs at 14 US Letter/A4 sheets per minute, it takes approximately 36 minutes to recycle 500 sheets.

While Epson should be lauded for developing a “green” product, the return-on-investment (ROI)/total cost of ownership (TCO) of the PaperLab is questionable. First off, since it’s 8.5′ long, we must assume that it’s rather expensive. The costs of office real estate is expensive and the Paper Lab consumes a considerable amount of space. However, since it shreds paper into microscopic fibers it also performs the role of the ultimate paper shredder, as processed documents are completely irretrievable, so it can replace conventional paper shredders. However, how much energy does it consume in the process? And last, is there any waste, what is it composed of, and how must it be disposed?

Finally, consider that a new sheet of US Letter 20-lb. bond paper costs around 0.5¢. Will a ROI/TCO analysis reveal that PaperLab energy consumption, space requirements, purchase price, user operation, maintenance and possible waste-disposal costs show that it’ll pay for itself by saving money versus the purchase of new paper? Or, is the PaperLab simply a “green” badge of honor?

Considering the state of most offices today, it seems to us that the PaperLab will be successful if and when a ROI/TCO analysis shows that it pays for itself by providing usable paper for less than the cost of new paper.

On another note, Toshiba TEC introduced its similar Loops Copier System back in 2012 for approximately $17,000 but the Loops Copier can only erase images at 30 ppm from prints produced by the included MFP that uses proprietary toner. However, Toshiba TEC claims that the copier system cuts carbon dioxide emissions by almost 60 percent over that of a traditional toner-based printer. We haven’t heard much about this system since its introduction and are sure that sales figures are hard to come by. Nevertheless, we’re curious how this innovative system worked out for Toshiba. At the very least, Epson’s’ PaperLab appears to have an advantage over Loops as it appears able to reclaim used paper via the removal of common ink- and toner-based images. Stay tuned for more.

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