A peek into Xerox R&D

Scientists at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada reveal research on reusable paper, printable organic electronics and more.

Xerox revealed the latest research developments taking place within its labs at The Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC), which develops two to three patents each week and over 130 inventions per year.

Nearly a dozen scientists and executives were on hand last week during a tour of the Mississauga-based R&D facility to discuss the latest advancements in toner, ink, paper, photoreceptors and imaging software.

CTO Sophie Vandebroek provided an overview of Xerox's R&D strategy, which focuses on information explosion, mass customization and sustainability.

Long-life photoreceptors

Xerox has advanced the life of photoreceptors by 50 per cent with the development of a polymer composite that acts as a protective chemical armor against surface wear and scratches. The new photoreceptors, which were implemented into the 4112 and 4127 monochrome copier/printer models this summer, can achieve about one million prints and 33 per cent fewer replacement cartridges.

The ultimate goal is to develop photoreceptors that will last the entire life of the machine, said Giuseppa DiPaola-Baranyi, laboratory manager for Materials Integration at the XRCC. This involves leveraging expertise in smart materials design and nanotechnology to design molecules for next-generation photoreceptors with self-healing capabilities, she explained.

"For example, when you scratch your hand and you heal, that's a biological process. We're looking at how we do that analogy for photoreceptors. How do we use smart materials design, how do we use nanotechnology to give us life-of-the-machine components that can repair themselves so that any damage is oblivious to the rest of the systems," DiPaola-Baranyi.

Reusable paper

To meet the continued demand for paper and reduce the amount of energy used for recycling, Xerox researchers are developing paper for printing temporary images that can be erased on demand. The end goal is the ability to reuse one sheet of paper up to ten times with prints that can last three to five days.

While paper usage per individual is declining in developed countries, paper usage in developing countries is on the rise due to growing economies and more people having access to computers and printers, said Adela Goredema, project leader for Reusable Paper at XRCC.

"Everyone was thinking that the office of the current millennium would be paperless, but as we know that is not the case ... We can recycle paper, but the amount of energy required to recycle is also quite significant," she said.

To make one sheet of paper from virgin pulp requires about 204,000 Joules of energy, which is enough to run a 60 watt light bulb for about one hour; making one sheet of recycled paper requires about 114,000 Joules, which is enough to run the same 60 watt bulb for about 30 minutes, she pointed out.

Natural language colour

Xerox is making it easier to edit colour in digital documents by translating words into numbers with Natural Language Color technology. The software allows users to make adjustments in colour by selecting everyday words and phrases from drop-down menus to create a phrase such as "make the skin-tone colours slightly more warm." Over 50,000 colour variations are supported.

The technology has been introduced in the Xerox Phaser 7500 colour printer as a Color By Words feature and accessible online in a test lab called Open Xerox. Xerox plans to expand the technology into other printer and MFP models in the future.

Rob Rolleston, technical manager of the Workflow and Documents area at the Xerox Research Center in Webster, N.Y., encourages visitors to the site. "We are trying to get customer feedback. We are calling this customer-led innovation," he said.

Printable organic electronics

Xerox envisions a flexible monitor that can "fold neatly into a briefcase" and a smart hospital gown that "monitors your vital signs and displays them for the nurse or doctor to see" as potential end uses of printable electronics technology.

An alternative to silicon, electronic materials promise to be "durable, flexible, lightweight and economical" and printable on large flexible substrates. The technology, currently in development at XRCC, will have significant implications on the consumer electronics industry.

"XRCC scientists also have developed special conductive 'inks' that can be used to print transistor components," states Xerox. "The components can be used as driver circuits for displays."

Solid ink

Solid ink is Xerox's alternative to liquid inkjet printing and traditional toner. The technology, which has a crayon-like texture and sits in a solid wax form at room temperature, doesn't require cartridges.

Because the ink melts within the machine and uses a quartz crystal to generate very small droplets at slightly above room temperature, the droplets don't move very far and give you very nice, round spots, said Peter Kazmaier, manager of New Materials Design at XRCC.

Xerox recently developed second-generation solid ink technology for its ColorQube multifunction printers, which feature colour printing speeds up to 85 pages per minute and a four print head design that totals over 3,500 ink nozzles.

XRCC estimates customers can save about 60 per cent of their colour printing costs with a ColorQube machine, which makes colour less expensive to work with and requires fewer replacement parts.

"Solid ink performs really, really well when you are working with rougher papers, so you can get almost the same image quality with a cheap paper, a recycled paper, on this machine than you can with a much more expensive, high quality paper," said Kazmaier.

Solid ink technology has several environmentally-conscious benefits, such as using nine per cent less lifecycle energy, producing ten per cent fewer greenhouse gases and generating 90 per cent less supplies waste than traditional laser printing.

Cured solid ink

Building off its solid ink technology, Xerox has invented a cured solid ink that hardens under ultraviolet light and sticks to nearly any surface. The technology has big implications for packaging by allowing printing on non-porous materials such as plastics and foils as well as heavily porous materials like corrugated cardboard.

This offering is different from anything else on the market now, said Michele Chr├ętien, project leader for UV-Curable Solid Ink at XRCC. "We have something that our customers could do things with that probably we haven't thought of yet," she said.

Ultra low-melt toner

Xerox has expanded upon its Emulsion Aggregation (EA) toner, which was introduced over ten years ago and holds over 300 patents, with an ultra low-melt version that fuses to paper at 45 degrees Fahrenheit lower temperature.

"Our goal was to get to higher speed colour printing at the same time as using less energy," said Patricia Burns, laboratory manager for Materials Synthesis and Characterization at XRCC.

The new Ultra Low-Melt EA Toner retains all of the benefits of the original EA toner, which features smaller particles that improve image quality and require less toner resulting in more prints per cartridge, she pointed out.

The technology is available in Xerox's 700 Digital Colour Press and expected to roll out to other desktop printer, high-end MFP and high-speed commercial colour press models in the future.

Colour science

Software developments in the works aim to ease the pre-press workflow for print houses and graphics artists. Areas of focus include making it easier to personalize pre-existing images, realistically portray binding solutions and the ability to preview all angles of flap-panel brochures on screen.

"We spent the last 15 years making our printers good ... we are now trying to work on democratizing, allowing more people to do some of their own pre-press because one of the problems is that it is expensive to do," said Peter Crean, senior fellow, Xerox Research Center in Webster, N.Y.