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Working to satisfy the customer

Oct 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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Advertorial by Xerox Supplies Business Group

Printers understand the importance of satisfying their customers' needs. Quality, reliability and service all play major roles. But each customer has different hot buttons. Some clients expect a hassle-free process performed in the fastest time possible. Others look for the highest possible quality. To be successful, commercial printers must be able to meet all their customers' expectations.

Suppliers aren't any different — they work hard to satisfy all their customers' requirements. Take digital paper for example. Some customers are looking for ease of use. They want to put the paper in the printer and have it run quickly, smoothly and efficiently. That requires stack integrity, in which the paper in both input and output trays must stack and feed to maximum capacity without jamming. Output has to be flat with no curl or waviness.

Other customers might need their finished pieces to look perfect. Their primary concerns revolve around excellent image quality, which relies on good toner coverage and an outstanding fuse fix on any type of paper.

In order to satisfy all these needs, the paper supplier must deliver a reliable, uniform sheet consistently, all the time. Specifications for the optimum paper must be based on the customers' requirements and the requirements of the printer hardware being used.

At Xerox Supplies the art and craft of optimizing media for digital printing is focused in the Xerox Media Technology Center (XMTC) in Webster, NY. The XMTC performs three major functions. The first is product development.

Integrating hardware development with media development is the challenge faced every day by the Xerox team. “Papers must be compatible and optimized for the devices,” explains Steve Simpson, vice president of the Document Supplies Business Unit. “That means paper products must be compatible with the Xerox fleet of printers in the market today, as well as the new printers and new technology that will be in the market over the next 18 months. That's no small technical challenge, and that's why the XMTC exists.”

In addition to product development, the XMTC focuses on supplier quality assurance. Once new products are developed, the goal is to make sure that consistent product will be delivered to customers reliably and uniformly. That involves qualifying and continually monitoring the suppliers.

All of Xerox's suppliers go through a rigorous qualification program that takes a minimum of nine months and can last as long as two years. During that time, these paper mills ratchet up the quality levels on one or two of their paper machines and in their finishing department. Since Xerox's extensive line of digital papers is sourced from a variety of mills, the qualification program ensures that each sheet of paper will provide the same level of customer satisfaction from lot to lot, mill to mill, day to day, week to week, month to month. That is the purpose of the qualification program — managing potential variability issues.

Xerox qualifies special equipment and the skilled workers within mills, providing a defined “furnish” (a recipe for pulp), process conditions under which the paper must be made and grade-specific requirements. But producing the paper isn't the only area that requires attention. Specific sheeters are qualified in the finishing department. Quality systems are developed throughout the mill that support the grade and the quality level. And on the sheeter, more extensive quality programs are developed because there is more manual intervention in the finishing department. This means quality systems must be just that much more robust in order to prevent errors.

The third area of focus for the XMTC is hardware support. Media is a critical variable in any printing system. Xerox has a long history of producing monochrome devices that run plain paper. Over the years, however, the requirement for color digital printing has emerged strongly. Customers expect an entirely different suite of digital papers in their color printers, and these papers have vastly different properties, with vastly different behaviors under heat, pressure and toner chemistries. The XMTC communicates and translates the media element of that interaction into hardware development.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS

The Xerox Media Technology Center has a staff both in the U.S. and Europe, employing 91 testing devices and 79 Xerox printers to define media requirements and help solve problems globally. Focusing on the physical attributes of media that have a high impact on machine performance, the XMTC uses a suite of analytical tools to simulate printer performance and minimize iterative testing during and after hardware development.

Engineers at the XMTC use many proprietary-testing devices and tests to better understand the interaction of paper and machine. Timing analysis, for example, is used to quantify and inspect media behavior along the paper path inside a printer. Also used extensively is a simulation and modeling tool developed at the XMTC, which allows engineers to perform multi-variable design and analysis.

The XMTC's job is to make sure that customers of Xerox Supplies are always satisfied, regardless of their location or application. “Our task is to perform superbly in both a product development and supplier developer environment, which is characterized by high customer expectations and rapid technology changes,” concludes Simpson.

For the commercial printer, this attention to optimized digital paper development and delivery pays off on the bottom line. Because Xerox digital papers have undergone extensive monitoring and testing, printers can be assured of outstanding productivity during job production. Consistency, uniformity and top quality are what Xerox builds into the papers that printers deliver to their customers.