Epson robots don’t just build tiny watches – they build huge clocks too

Epson robots assemble key components for the clock tower at Mecca

One of Epson’s greatest marks of quality is that we don’t just build robots for other companies to use in manufacture – we use our own robots to make our own products. This gives us a great insight into what makes a good robot, and it all stems from building watches.

The evolution of Epson robotics

As wristwatches became smaller and smaller during the 1980s, Epson developed robots to assemble tiny components that human hands and eyes could no longer put together quickly and efficiently. This led to the creation of a robotics division to build watches, which has evolved to include robots that assemble cars, phones, computers, safety razors,
medical products and much more.

The world's largest clock face

The division is not the only thing that has grown – so have the clocks.  Epson robots played a part in assembling the massive clock that tops the Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel (also known as the Abraj Al Bait Towers). This dramatic new development stands beside the holiest site at Mecca, where millions of devout Muslims every year make a pilgrimage, or Hajj, and will offer a home from home to many of those pilgrims.

Looking like Big Ben reimagined on a colossal scale, the Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel has some impressive vital statistics. At a height of 601 metres, it’s the third tallest building in the world, has the tallest clock tower in the world, and the world’s largest clock face. Or rather it has four of them, each 46 metres across, and visible from 25 kilometres away during the day, and 30 kilometres at night.

The clock doesn’t just impress with its size, but its aesthetics and technological advancement too. A classic white clock face with black hands and numerals under the bright daytime sun, at night it glows a vivid green, with white hands and numerals. This is thanks to over half a million individual LEDs and 200 tons of electronics crammed into the tower. The appearance of the tower was designed by Austrian lighting specialists Bartenbach Lichtlabor, while the electronic components were developed and assembled by Digital Elektronik in Salzburg.

Half a million individual LEDs

Where Epson came in was during the assembly of the LEDs. Each LED needed to have a protective glass bead attached to the front of it – transparent on the white LEDs and translucent white on the green LEDs – to produce the different day and night effects, and also to create the clock’s unique aesthetic look.  

Applying individual glass beads to half a million LEDs would be prohibitively time-consuming to do by hand, but is ideally suited to Epson’s Sixaxis range of manufacturing robots, which can complete this sort of task rapidly and accurately. Precision and quality were key factors – despite the tower featuring a clever design that allows replacing
LEDs from inside the clock, they still needed to cope with up to 50°C desert heat, high winds, dust and sand, to reduce maintenance.

Digital Elektronik chooses Epson robots

Digital Elektronik bought four Epson robots for the job, and these robots completed the task in just a few months. Since then Digital Elektronik has used the robots for new applications, some similar but others quite different, demonstrating a key advantage of Epson robots in being flexible and reusable.  

Volker Spanier, head of factory automation at Epson Germany, says, “I think this is an excellent example of how Epson robots can improve production line efficiency and complete tasks that may not even be possible by hand. It’s also great to see our robots involved in the construction of such a memorable landmark that will stand the test of time.”