Redesign of copier component was driven neither by marketing nor engineering. At most companies, repairmen fix machines, and that’s pretty much it.
Not so at Xerox.
There, repairmen sometimes go beyond the normal call of duty to provide Xerox engineers with solutions to recurring service problems.
In 1986, for example, Xerox service technicians found themselves regularly answering complaints concerning a roller/shaft assembly in a paper transport assembly, says Tony Polletto, technical specialist/project manager.
Because the paper transport assembly moves paper, paper dust and dirt can eventually collect in the rollers,” says Polletto.
“When that occurs, it breaks down lubrication and the machine starts to squeal. If left unattended, it jams.”
Not only was the Xerox roller/shaft assembly a service headache, it was a challenge for manufacturing from the time it was developed in 1982.
To assemble, Polletto says the procedure went like this:
First an E-ring was placed on the inner groove of the shaft, followed by a washer, then a roller, then another washer, then another E-ring.
“So you were looking at four washers, four E-rings and two rollers per shaft. “
Once in the field, paper dust began getting in between the shaft and inner diameter of the roller, says Polletto.
When this led to service problems, the component’s design was as cumbersome for Xerox service technicians to take apart, as it was for manufacturing to put together.
“A repairman would have to pull an E-ring in order to pull everything else off,” says Polletto.
E-rings are not easy to change and the paper transport assembly is one area where you don’t want loose E-rings. A loose E-ring could drop and rip photocopies. And customers tend to be rather sensitive when it comes to their copies.”
Service technicians investigating the ins and outs of a possible redesign is no fluke at Xerox.
“Basically anyone at Xerox can come up with a design idea,” says Polletto.
“Typically, the idea is presented to the person’s manager, who then evaluates whether Xerox should invest time and resources in furthering the idea.”
But even if the benefits are not obvious, Xerox doesn’t discourage the individual from refining the concept.
“The people behind the idea can form a team and develop the concept in their spare time, if they’re committed. Some of our people work on redesign ideas during lunch or after work.
“This is encouraged. Because sometimes, when you’re presenting things quickly, you may not be able to show all the benefits, or you may not be showing them in a way that is obvious.
“So someone who doesn’t receive management backing after the first proposal can continue developing a concept until it is ready to submit again.”
There are also established groups throughout Xerox that practice “skunk works,” says Polletto.
“One such group is field sales. They take existing products and try to re-engineer them for better serviceability and reliability, and lower cost.”
Areas of concern
The idea for the redesign of the roller/shaft assembly was good from the beginning and didn’t require much refinement, says Polletto.
There were areas, however, that were subjected to careful analysis, says Clyde Williams, senior project engineer.
“Lubricity of the bushings was something our plastics guys were very concerned with as they were evaluating materials,” says Williams.
But the key to the redesign was designing a way for the roller not to ride on the steel shaft, but in its own plastic bearings.
“We had to design features that would capture the shaft and channel dust away from areas where it tended to collect. “