Dec 4, 2015 | By Kira

Printers and paper, paper and printers, it’s a combination as classic as peas and carrots or peanut butter and jelly…so much so, that when explaining 3D printing technology to someone for the first time, I often find myself stressing the fact that 3D printers are unlike traditional inkjet or laser printers in that they don’t really use paper whatsoever. Well, that’s about to get a bit more complicated, as Epson has just developed what it believes to be the first compact office papermaking system in the world, which essentially takes old office wastepaper and transforms it into brand new, useable sheets of paper using a dry process that is somewhat similar to 3D printing. In a sense, the PaperLab system is a 3D printer that ‘prints’ paper for regular printers to print on! Stay with me here.

A3 and A4-sized copy paper is an office staple, with millions of sheets being used each day, many of which end up in traditional recycling. While recycling is an important step towards reducing our impact on the Earth, Epson, a global inkjet printer manufacturer, was troubled by the fact that most paper recycling processes involve an extensive, external system that sees waste paper transported from the office, to a collection facility, to a recycling facility and back again. Deeply involved with the paper used for its printer products, Epson wanted to develop a streamlined, localized way to recycle and re-use paper, all while shrinking the recycling loop, preserving water, and reducing CO2 emissions. Hence, the PaperLab was born.

The PaperLab is a completely localized system that can be installed in an offices’ backyard. It promises to revolutionize office recycling by securely destroying documents and then turning them into office paper without the use of water. Not only does this eliminate the need to transport paper to external facilities, companies will no longer have to rely on contractors to safely dispose of confidential documents—the PaperLab completely breaks down documents into paper fibers so that any personal information on them is completely destroyed.

Using standard A3 or A4-sized copy paper as its raw material, the PaperLab can produce a variety of types of ‘new’ paper, including blank sheets of A3 or A4 of various thicknesses, or paper of business cards, colored paper, or even scented paper.  The system can shoot out about 14 A4 sheets per minute, and 6,720 sheets in your typical office’s 9-5 shift.

The technology behind the PaperLab is known as Dry Fiber Technology, which itself consists of three separate processes: Fiberizing, Binding and Forming. In the Fiberizing stage, waste paper is transformed into long, thin, cottony fibers. Whereas it normally takes about a cup of water to make a single sheet of A4, Epson’s technology requires only a tiny amount of water to maintain a certain level of humidity within the system.

Next up, in the Binding stage, users can select various binding agents to add to the fiberized materials. These either increase thickness or whiteness, or add color, fragrance, or even flame resistance properties. Finally, in the Forming stage, the fibers are shaped into a chosen style of paper. Much like how a 3D printer extrudes plastic filaments into a pre-determined design, the PaperLab deposits its fiberized paper ‘filament’ into thin, completely usable sheets.

Though not a 3D printer in the truest sense, the PaperLab nevertheless has us at quite excited, as it uses advanced technology to solve an extremely common problem: the inefficient, recourse-consuming recycling of hundreds of millions of sheets of paper worldwide. And of course, Epson is currently working on a line of industrial 3D printers, to be released within the next few years, so it wouldn’t surprise us if there was some technological overlap, or at least inspiration, happening in their R&D department.

Epson plans to put the PaperLab system into commercial production in Japan in 2016, with sales in other regions to be announced at a later date. The first developmental prototype of the PaperLab system will be demonstrated at the Epson booth at Eco-Products 2015, an environmental exhibition taking place in Tokyo from December 10-12.



Posted in 3D Printer



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