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Xerox Celebrates an Innovation That Transformed Business Communications

Friday, June 30, 2017

Press release from the issuing company

NORWALK, Conn. – In 1969, in his lab in Webster, N.Y., Xerox engineer Gary Starkweather was challenged with improving the speed of an early fax machine. His research led to an invention of laser printing, which profoundly changed how people and businesses communicate around the world. 

Forty years ago, the launch of the Xerox 9700 – the company’s first commercial laser printer – gave rise to the digital printing industry, which today generates more than $120 billion in global annual revenues, according to Smithers Pira[1]. The 9700 also transformed office printing with generations of laser printers and multifunction devices using the technology.

Last year, KeyPoint Intelligence cited the 9700 as the product that heralded the third wave of industrial automation (computer-driven printers) after steam-powered presses in the early 1800s and electric-powered presses later that century.

“The Xerox 9700 helped usher in the wave of computer-driven automation in the 1970s that transformed offices, data centers, copy departments, and ultimately, the printing industry around the world,” said Jeff Hayes, managing director, KeyPoint Intelligence. “Much of how we communicate in hard copy today can be traced back to this remarkable product.”

As one of the most successful products in Xerox history, it routinely generated more than $1 billion in annual revenues. It’s likely that most North American households were touched by it. In the decade after its release, the 9700 was the printing press of choice to print bills and statements for credit cards, banks and utilities. It led the market for high-speed, high-volume production of other types of documents that use transactional data as well, including insurance policies and investment reports.

“The laser printer is arguably the greatest invention made in a Xerox research center,” said Steve Hoover, chief technology officer, Xerox Corporation. “The 9700 was the first in a long line of iconic products that were made possible by Gary Starkweather’s invention, including DocuTech and today’s iGen family.” 

The 9700 was retired on the last day of 1997, ending 20 years of market leadership, however, many of the 9700’s advanced capabilities remain relevant today, including:

  • Printing at speeds as fast as 120 pages per minute;
  • Automatic two-sided printing;
  • Cut-sheet paper;
  • Standard resolution of 300 dpi; and
  • Ability to print graphics.

The 9700 also paved the way for variable information printing by personalizing each document in a production run. The machine also could be outfitted with Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) toner for printing checks.

After inventing laser printing technology, Starkweather transferred to the then new Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in Palo Alto, Calif., where he built a prototype laser printer that proved to be robust and reliable while serving as PARC’s office printer for several years. Subsequently, it provided the core technology for the 9700.

In recognition of that invention, Starkweather was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2012. Today, he is retired and living in Lake Mary, Fla. Looking back, he says he knew his invention would have a significant impact, but was less clear at the time about how it would play out.

“A real question was raised at the time about the future of paper and how the printer would survive into the future with people using novel displays and so on,” Starkweather said. “Some 40 years later, laser printers are still going strong.”

The laser printing innovation continues today with the recent launch of 29 new Xerox ConnectKey®-enabled printers and multifunction devices, which offer on-the-go capabilities, cloud connectivity, and access to productivity boosting features and apps. The family of products includes a variety of sizes, speeds and capabilities to match the needs of small- and medium-sized businesses as well as large enterprises – and at the heart of ConnectKey devices is the laser technology Xerox invented 40 years ago.

 

 

Discussion

By Buck Crowley on Jul 03, 2017

The 9700 was in fact a major industry breakthrough also for another important reason, it created the necessity for roll feeding the paper.

We invented a Roll-System (and founded a company with that name) that fed the Xerox 9700. We also however changed the paper-feed grain-direction in a major industry innovative breakthrough.

To get qualified as a Xerox partner, we went through 2 years of testing, one year in Webster NY, the second year in Calif at PARC. Xerox insisted the grain in the cross direction was the only acceptable solution, but they were wrong! Grain parallel to paper travel was right ... and I refused to backdown, almost putting Roll-Systems (now called Technau) out of business.

We improved the Xerox acceptable jam rate from 1500 sheets between jams (10 minutes) to much greater than 100,000 sheets before a jam.

The first commercial customer was in Canada, first time bible-grade-paper stock could run through Xerox. It's jam rate was too small to determine.

We then brought the first jam-free digital printer to the 1998 Xplor show as a roll-fed continuous printer with a cutter on the output.

Five years later we invented pin-less feeding of continuous laser printers. It was debunked and denounced even though demonstrated for two years at all major trade shows. This was another industry innovation breakthrough, reducing more than two thousand pounds of trim waste a month.

Pinless also allowed pristine, lower cost, mill paper to be used, that was required for commercial printers acceptance. (beyond the use mostly in data centers)

These innovative breakthroughs were a small part of what led to the
PIA 2017 Life-Time Achievement Award: http://goo.gl/5X6X5V
Thank You - Buck Crowley
Buck_Crowley@msn.com

 

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