October marks 80 years since the invention of xerography by Xerox. In this article, Steve Hoover, Chief Technology Officer at Xerox, says that it is 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.
Five of Xerox’s biggest achievements:
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 licence 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.
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-recognised 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 optimised 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 programme launch, and has committed to launching all new office products with EPEAT Silver or Gold.
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.
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-colour 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 range of paper stocks, and colour matching.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has opened lucrative new revenue streams for print business. From print job creation through continuous production, and machine service optimisations, AI improves the effectiveness of the end-to-end digital printing process.
5. Functional printing
Today we are seeing applications of active functional inks that can change colour 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 mobilise the great forces to bring sophisticated products into being, I pray that this organisation will not forget that perhaps the greatest one may be born in someone individual’s mind in an obscure laboratory somewhere.’
We live in an age where change is the only constant, and the future looks good.
This article was originally published on the Xerox Blog.