Seiko Epson Corporation - Empowering Engineers since 1989
By Mr. Hiroshi Abe, Mr. Naoki Ishibashi, Mr. Shigeki Kikuchi, & Mr. Fumio Yuzawa, Seiko Epson Corporation; Ms. Hideko Murano, Syuzaiya; Ms. Hiromi Sugihara, Kozo Keikaku Engineering Inc.
The Seiko Epson Corporation in Toyoshina, Japan, is home to the VI Planning & Design Department. In March 1989, the Visual Instruments Operations Division was established, with liquid crystal televisions and liquid crystal projectors as its core products.
Epson used its liquid crystal projectors to develop an entirely new market that the company continues to lead: data projectors as multimedia presentation tools. It is here that they developed the technology for the world’s first compact, full-color liquid crystal video projector. The first Epson branded projector, the VPJ-700, was built here with revolutionary technology that allowed the projector to use liquid crystal panels instead of a traditional 3-gun CRT to present a picture, thus showing the world a brand new application for liquid crystal displays. With the release of the VPJ-700, Epson became the company to watch in the visual instruments field, where it combined liquid crystal panel technology with optics to develop new products.
Epson’s 17 year period with top market share for the Japanese projector market has been achieved by empowering engineers and having an efficient design lifecycle. Today, projectors are used for business, education, and for home entertainment. With each application there is a need for these products to be compact, light-weight, portable and most importantly durable. The challenge with all these attributes is of course thermal.
Heat sources in projectors, like power supplies and lamps, result in high temperatures inside the projector housing. As smaller, more compact portable projectors are continuously being developed the first consideration for the designers at Epson is always making heat sources smaller. By the nature of the design and materials used, the units tend to retain heat in their body unless it is vented into the air or through other parts. Radiant heat transfer is the most important consideration in the development of projectors.
The Thermal Challenge
Previously projector models did not require intense brightness and therefore didn’t radiate high temperatures. With only a few models available on the market at the time, Epson could afford a lengthy development cycle. If any problems arose during testing they were able to simply redesign the units. When LCD technology was introduced, the development period halved as there was now a demand for projectors that were brighter, had more functionality, and were smaller.
As with many miniaturized devices, the path for heat radiation is limited, nevertheless air cooling is required within the housing. As well as this, development timescales are sometimes underestimated and can prove costly if they overrun.
Empowering Analysis Engineers
Thermal analysis simulation started at Epson in the 1990’s by a team of in-house analysts. This team analyzed all of the products in SEIKO EPSON, including projectors and other electronic devices. Despite the new challenges faced in thermal analysis there was still a requirement to reduce development times and costs. The solutions tended to be focused on each type of device Epson manufactured in order to solve the more complex problems for physics analysis. Hence a new team of dedicated analysts was established to analyze projectors in 2007. It soon became apparent that with the need to speed up development time it was difficult to complete development within the developing phase. Meanwhile designers found it frustrating that they had to wait for the result of analysis by analysts, thereby squeezing the time they had in the design cycle to design and change geometries as necessary. Consequently, SEIKO EPSON started to use FloEFD for Creo in 2009 in order to empower designers to analyze their own designs and to speed up productivity.
Why FloEFD for Creo was the right choice for Epson
According to Mr Hiroshi Abe, “The most important consideration in selecting an analysis software tool was that all team members could use it regardless of their level of ability. We evaluated the following three criteria:
- The people who don’t have much experience of analysis can use it easily. In particular, meshing, as this is one of the most difficult processes. FloEFD’s automatic meshing enables you to just set a specific area of a model. As for workflow, we only needed to select “yes” or “no” by using the wizard and then we can also learn what we should set in the analysis process by habit.
- It was important that the tool integrated with Pro/ENGINEER. We didn’t want to have to create another model for analysis and being CAD-embedded we could validate various analysis models repeatedly. We also wouldn’t have any difficulty in switching between processes (from design to analysis).
- A comprehensive database. FloEFD has a world-standard database. Especially, we are able to use other databases in the Mentor Graphics suite of products, such as FloTHERM. It has real benefits for users.”
Improving Electronics Cooling Simulation
Mr Naoki Ishibashi at Epson notes that often the challenge when a company purchases a new tool is the adoption of its use within established teams with established processes. When Seiko Epson employed FloEFD the take up was swift. The product’s intuitive environment was a contributing factor that quickly saw the number of license requests spread. “Actually, I didn’t have confidence in the growth of users in the early days. After we tried one license as a test, there were many people who wanted to use it because a good reputation from other users had already spread. Now, we have six licenses. Sometimes I tried to say to some people, ‘this software is really comfortable. You can use it anytime. Give it a try’, and then the number of users increased. I didn’t force them to use it at all.”
By adopting FloEFD, Seiko Epson designers were able to affect designs as they developed, with the confidence that any discrepancies in results would be picked up by the analysis team during testing. FloEFD users found new ways to solve difficulties with their newly acquired skill set in analysis. Something the analysts weren’t able to deliver as they serviced all the products in the company. Simulation is an essential part of the product development cycle at Seiko Epson so the usability by engineers of any tool is crucial.
“Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is difficult for me even though I’ve been experienced in analysis for 20 years! However, the first time I tried to use FloEFD, I was amazed by its simplicity,” said Mr. Fumio Yuzawa. “Typical so-called ‘high end CFD’ software uses really complex meshing techniques. FloEFD requires you only select the resolution level between one and eight. However appropriate the mesh resolution levels are, an adequate number of cells is entrusted to the operator so we have accumulated know-how. If we have a lot of time and a high spec machine, is it better to use high level mesh? I think that’s not necessarily so.”
“One day, I had some difficulties with the analysis of fan air cooling. The difficulty was solved by using FloEFD for Creo. I didn’t consider creating a one-to-one relationship between the characteristic of P-Q curve and the cooling system. I finally succeeded after trying to analyze the fan of air cooling.”
FloEFD was able to assist in the challenges the team faced with design of semiconductors in projectors. Semiconductors reach high temperatures with natural air cooling and are typically designed under the 60% attainment of industry standards. Designer knowledge and experience will not achieve this level of attainment easily, so FloEFD proved to be the key to solving this challenge. “As well as ease of use and versatility, FloEFD is accurate” said Mr. Fumio Yuzawa, “while some complex parts still require specialist analysis knowledge there are others, such as enclosure air cooling, that can by-pass testing altogether as we are extremely confident in the accuracy of the results we are getting. FloEFD is essential in our daily work. In many cases, we can’t predict the results of analysis but FloEFD leads us to correct results automatically.”
The Future brings its own Challenges
“We want to tackle the problem of projector noise. Our projectors are spread worldwide, not only in Japan. There are some countries with high temperatures, humidity and elevation. We have to design to accommodate different environments as these variables cause the projector to be louder, which is inconvenient for the customer” said Mr. Shigeki Kikuchi. “The difficulty lies in the ability to attach larger fans into modern compact projectors. We use five or six small fans for cooling. A countermeasure for noise is absolutely needed so I joined this team as a sound analyst. We started to measure unpleasant noise over the recent few years and reflect these results in our products.”
The world of technology is constantly evolving but Seiko Epson is at the forefront of projector innovation. The company is in the privileged position of being the pioneers as well as the leaders of their market space. Epson’s projectors are widely utilized in offices, schools, retailers, museums, movie theaters, and living rooms. Most recently in 2011, Epson developed the Moverio BT-100. This revolutionary product is the world’s first* standalone see-through mobile viewer that allows users to enjoy the big-screen experience anywhere and at any time. Moverio signaled Epson’s intention to create a new visual communications culture. Going forward, Epson aims to leverage its original projection technology to create more original products that will deliver a big screen experience to all kinds of customers worldwide.
* According to Epson research as of November 25, 2011. The world’s first civilian-use see-through mobile viewer that allows users to view video contents without being connected to another device.