NPR – Why Printers Still Fail, Despite Advance in Technology (this is the fuller article and much longer than the NPR article)


Couldn’t resist posting this article 😊.  Not a lot of technical detail in NPR article, but at least discussion approached from the less emotional aspect that most articles on printers come from.  The New Yorker article much better

  • why in the world is it still the case that we can send a man to the moon but we can’t make a printer that doesn’t jam? – why is this so hard a challenge to solve?
  • elemental struggle between the natural and the mechanical – printing combines a natural thing, which is paper. And each sheet of paper is different. And there’s the printer, which is made of metal and plastic
  • every year, printers get faster
  • you can’t have the combination of the biological and the mechanical and it goes perfectly forever
  • paper path is what engineers call the route along which paper travels as it navigates the printer – it is way more complicated than anybody imagines – It’s high-speed. Paper gets superheated.
  • Will it ever be possible to build a jamless printer? – the conclusion that the engineers I talked to came to is that, no, you’re never going to have a jamless printer

From the New Yorker article

  • Discussion with Xerox engineers – Erwin Ruiz, the leader of the paper-jam team, Bruce Thompson, the computer modeler, mechanical engineer Dave Breed, Vicki Warner leads a team of printer engineers at Xerox
  • dealing with a highly nonlinear entity moving at a very high speed
  • solving a jam requires knowledge of physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, computer programming, and interface design. “It’s the ultimate challenge,”
  • Every year, printers get faster, smarter, and cheaper. All the same, jams endure
  • In 1863, an inventor and newspaper editor named William Bullock created the Bullock press, which was fed by a single roll of paper several miles long. Bullock’s press revolutionized the printing industry by vastly increasing printing speeds
  • xerography, invented by Chester Carlson, the physicist co-founder of Xerox, in 1938. In xerography, static electricity quickly and precisely manipulates electrostatically sensitive powdered ink—a.k.a. toner.
  • “Paper isn’t manufactured—it’s processed,” – Spain, paper is made from eucalyptus; in Kentucky, from Southern pine; in the Northwest, from Douglas fir – must first turn them into wood chips, which are then mashed into pulp. The pulp is bleached, and run through screens and chemical processes –  fibre is sprayed onto rollers turning thirty-five miles per hour, which press it into fat cylinders of paper forty reams wide
  • In a printer, “The straighter the path, the less probability of damaging the paper,”
    • Office printers must be smaller, and so their paths must fold back on themselves, making a series of hairpin turns
    • must be quiet, cheap, and low-power, and “people without master’s degrees” must be able to clear their jams
  • “The edge of a sheet of paper is really a third dimension,” – resembles a snowy mountain range about four thousandths of an inch thick
  • Some paper stocks generate excessive friction; others swell in the humidity.
  • Sheets cut from the same forty-ream roll can vary in quality. At the center of the roll, paper fibres tend to arrange themselves in an orderly matrix; nearer the edges, they become jumbled.
  • “flocculation” (the degree to which its fibres had clumped infelicitously together)
  • When heated, wood fibres contract; neatly arranged fibres contract equally in both dimensions, but badly aligned fibres do so unevenly, creating curl.
  • Jamming happens whenever something that’s supposed to flow through a space fails to do so, perhaps because of overcrowding, or bending, or because its constant movement degrades the space through which it travels
  • jamming is what engineers call a “scheduling” problem
  • Printer designers solve this problem by making the paper path smart
  • jamming is a problem in a field called tribology—the study of friction, lubrication, and wear between interacting surfaces
    • In the nineteen-sixties, the British government asked an engineer named H. Peter Jost to investigate this subject; the 1966 “Jost Report” cost Britain 1.4 per cent of its G.D.P.
    • The term “tribology,” coined by Jost, comes from the Greek verb “to rub.”
  • “Corrugating is when we put an intentional wave in the sheet, like in a piece of corrugated cardboard,” – “It adds stiffness.”
  • would ever be possible to build a jamless printer? – “For the right amount of money you can build lots of redundant systems. So I think the answer is maybe yes.” (one Xerox engineer) – “I think the answer is no,” “It’s paper. There will always be something unpredictable about paper that will cause a jam.” (another Xerox engineer)
  • Perfectly made synthetic paper might eliminate jams; it might also create unforeseen problems of its own
  • An interesting side discussion with a Xerox engineer: “Once, a cell-phone company tried to hire me,” he recalled. “They said, ‘You’re going to be working on the frames of the cell phones.’ I said, ‘What else?’ They said, ‘No, that’s it—the frames of the cell phones.’ That’s so boring! I don’t think they sell this job well enough. It’s, like, ‘Printers—I used to have one, it used to break.’ But, if you really want to learn more about everything, this is what you should do.”

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