Paper jams. We all know about them, we’ve all experienced them, and we’ve all cursed at them. What most of us probably haven’t done is think very much about them. If you’re like me you just consider them something that happens when a sheet of paper gets a bit skewed or perhaps the humidity is too high. It had never occurred to me that there are people whose sole job is to worry about and find solutions for them. And it’s not just one, slightly deranged looking fellow stuck in a closet somewhere deep in the bowels of Xerox; it’s whole teams of engineers with their own laboratories.
The New Yorker has a really interesting article on paper jams, some of their causes, and the teams of people who work to eliminate them. All Xerox printing presses, from the million dollar giant presses used to print books to the humble office copier are basically the same. The giant presses actually have an advantage—as far as paper jams are concerned—because their size means the paper path can be more linear than that of an office copier where the path contain some sharp turns.
The main problem, of course, is the paper. Low quality paper is much more likely to cause jams. That’s why it’s worth paying a bit more for good copier paper: less jams. But the problem is more than just poor quality paper. The New Yorker article begins with a recounting of an incident in Asia where a Xerox press was being used to print a book. The paper was very lightweight like that in a Bible and the lack of stiffness and humidity in the printing plant caused the edge to droop a little at a critical point starting off a cascade of jammed sheets.
Back at the Xerox Engineering Campus in Rochester, NY, engineers had produced a computer simulation of the jam so that they could study it and engineer a solution. Many different solutions were suggested and discussed before a simple and elegant one was found.
I’m pretty sure that almost all Irreal readers will enjoy this article. It doesn’t have much to do with computers or software but is fascinating nonetheless. Give it a read when you have a few minutes.
Thanks to John Gruber for link.