The Top 5 Big, Innovative Ideas from Xerox

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By Steve Hoover

Steve Hoover
Steve Hoover, Chief Technology Officer.


Today marks the 80th anniversary of the invention of xerography, a remarkable feat that touches just about everyone on the planet.

Xerox is credited with bringing xerography to the world, and that is 100 percent true. But it was Chester Carlson who invented the actual process in 1938. Without this single invention, Xerox could not have created any of the thousands of innovations our scientists and engineers have created in the years since.

I won’t geek out with the entire list, but I will summarize five of our biggest achievements.


No. 1: Develop xerography into a viable product

It begins here.

Carlson’s inauspiciously crude “10-22-38 Astoria” message proved his theory could work. But could his process be refined and automated? He promptly approached every major company he could think of, looking for someone who could develop the process and bring it to market. His demonstration was time consuming, manual, a little messy, and the result wasn’t all that great. Save for an agreement from the Battelle Memorial Institute to refine the process, the next 19 years gave Carlson very little hope.

Haloid president Joseph C. Wilson saw something in Carlson’s otherwise unimpressive demonstration. In 1947, Wilson obtained a license from the Battelle to develop and market a machine that used Carlson’s technology. He also signed Carlson on as a consultant. The next 12 years were not for the faint of heart. Haloid poured every dollar it had into developing this technology, including, Wilson later joked, money they did not have. Haloid launched some early versions of machines that had limited (at best) success, but they provided enough revenue to continue refining the process.  In 1959, with the money nearly gone and a few “glitches” left to work out, the company launched the 914, the world’s first fully automatic, plain paper photocopy machine. It was an instant hit. (Haloid changed its name to Xerox Corporation in 1961.)

No, Xerox did not invent xerography originally, but we did invent what was needed to make it practical and immensely valuable to the world.  Our company was all-in on refining the process, and developing the products that changed the way the world connects and communicates.

No. 2: Xerox commits to waste-free products

The decision itself is not innovative, but it was bold and insightful. It also required a lot of innovative work and technology to move our company toward “waste-free.” Xerox was the first to introduce recycled grades of cut sheet paper, and automatic two-sided copying and printing. Our products meet or exceed the requirements of the world’s most widely-recognized certifications for product environmental performance — the international ENERGY STAR, UL’s EcoLogo eco labels, and Germany’s Blue Angel. Xerox pioneered the concept of remanufacturing for electronics, and we have optimized our global reverse logistics system.  EPEAT is a comprehensive environmental rating system that identifies electronic equipment meeting specific environmental criteria, combining comprehensive criteria for design, production, energy use and recycling with ongoing independent verification of manufacturer claims. Xerox was among the first to have EPEAT-registered products on the day of program launch, and has committed to launching all new office products with EPEAT Silver or Gold. Xerox is an industry leader in innovative eco-friendly solutions.

No. 3: Xerox invents managed print services

The humble beginnings of this growing market segment began as walk-in copy shops where people could copy as many documents as they needed. The idea soon spread to managing in-house copy and printing operations for large customers. Today, our managed print services remit has grown considerably. The MPS toolbox can help you digitize office processes and automate workflows; provide analytics that optimize your print environment and help you meet your sustainability initiatives; and replace inefficient, costly paper processes with fast, lean and accurate digital ones.

Apps on our ConnectKey technology-enabled printers have moved multifunction printers (MFP) far beyond traditional print functions. The Xerox App Gallery offers a wealth of app technology designed to streamline common business processes, resolve challenges, and improve the way your customers work. They can do everything from scan and convert paper into necessary formats; translate documents via their MFPs or PCs; share patient information securely; and more. Our app gallery is accessible, easy to use, and rich in possibilities.

It doesn’t matter if your people work on the go and use the Cloud, or work in traditional nine-to-five offices and store their data in-house. Apps and managed print services can address your evolving business requirements, provide frictionless workflows, and make your MFP fleet a key enabler to your digital transformation.

No. 4: Digital printing

Inventing the laser printer was only the first step. The idea that a digital printer could compete against an offset press took hold in 1992 when we launched the DocuTech Network Publisher. It could produce large printing and publishing jobs in black and white from either hard copy or electronic originals. The Xerox iGen3 Production Press arrived 10 years later; it was able to produce 100 full-color pages per minute. Xerox digital presses opened up more markets for print service providers. More innovation meant more capabilities such as printing on a wider ranges of paper stocks, and color matching.

Even the toner and ink capabilities expanded. Our Clear Dry Ink, White Dry Ink, and Metallic Dry Inks make it easier than ever to create stunning, premium printed effects that deliver impactful results. Xerox Specialty Dry Inks add incredible value to digital prints. For our production inkjet presses, Xerox High Fusion Ink produces offset-like quality onto commodity offset coated papers.

Artificial intelligence has opened lucrative new revenue streams for print business. From print job creation through continuous production, and machine service optimizations, artificial intelligence improves the effectiveness of the end-to-end digital printing process.

No. 5: Functional printing

Today we are seeing applications of active functional inks that can change color or structure depending on local environmental factors such as temperature. We are also seeing early prototypes of printed electronics that enable sensing and monitoring at the individual package level. By 2025 we expect to see a much more mature printed and hybrid electronics ecosystem, with software that will simplify electronics design, and digital manufacturing systems that will produce a variety of sensors, circuits, memory, communications, and power options on flexible, low cost smart tags or print them directly on products and packaging.

Functional printing will give us the ability to extend intelligence pervasively to documents, products, and packages helping to make the internet of things real. This will radically enhance existing services, from cold chain logistics to environmental monitoring, thereby enabling a host of new services that connect the physical and digital worlds. Print providers will no longer just deliver printed materials but also analytics that can lead to outcome-based pricing models and greater value.

Invent the future

“I constantly remind myself that the idea, the germ, the thing that created the phenomenon of xerography was born in the mind of one single individual working on weekends in a little apartment in Long Island,” Joe Wilson told a gathering of managers in 1971.

“As we mobilize the great forces to bring sophisticated products into being,” he continued, “I pray that this organization will not forget that perhaps the greatest one may be born in some one individual’s mind in an obscure laboratory somewhere.”

We live in an age where change is the only constant, and the future looks good.

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2 Comments

  1. […] (Editor’s Note: this post originally appeared on the Xerox Connect blog.) […]

  2. Dennis A Abramsohn November 1, 2018 - Reply

    Steve,
    Having retired from Xerox after 22 years and having taught the science and history of EP process, I think you missed an important point. Chet did not invent the EP process, he read about it in a scientific paper and then made it work and created and patented the machine that would copy from one document to another. The invention belongs to a Hungarian physicist named Pal Selenyi and at some point was verified by Chet as the inventor of the idea that made Xerox possible. Have a great day, Dennis

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