More Than "The Document Company"

Xerox's DocuColor 40 digital color printer has been changing more than just the way corporations and small businesses reproduce color documents and presentations -- it's helped bring about a sea change in Xerox's approach to the vast and ever-widening marketplace of color digital printing.

Long before "The Document Company" introduced its black-and-white digital printer, the DocuTech, in 1989, Xerox saw an opportunity in the low end of the offset printing market: if color short-runs could become economically feasible, not only would businesses bring color printing operations in-house by purchasing digital color printers, but print shops would use them to complement their offset operations, since offset short-runs are so cost-ineffective.

"We've been researching higher speed color printing technologies for nearly fifteen years," says Brian Rooney, Business Team Manager for the DocuColor 40. "Every year we tally up the printed pages we see out there, and we break'em down by environment -- commercial print, quick printers, in-plant reproduction groups -- and by pages -- black-and-white, plot colors, process colors. When you run those numbers together, you see that 98% of color right is still being produced in large-run lengths in commercial print operations, and if you look at how many placements we have in there, it's almost zero. If we took even 3 percent of that market, we'd build more DocuCulors in a year than we've built Docutechs in its life."

The first breakthroughs came in the early 90's in the Fuji-Xerox facility in Japan. Getting the DocuColor 40's speed up to forty pages a minute was only half the battle -- apart from ironing out all the wrinkles in consistency and process control, Xerox needed to discover its new customers' needs.

Xerox's Production Systems Group turned the weight of Xerox's large, aggressive direct-sales field to advantage, determining customer expectations by using presentations and focus groups, with comparisons to competing products. This meant not only enabling the DocuColor 40 to handle heavier stocks -- one early change Xerox made was to a straight-through paper path -- but honing the DocuColor 40's ability to print on fancy surfaces by adding, for instance, the equivalent of inline densitometers to measure and correct toner density during the printing process.

Adjustments had to be made in Xerox's approach to marketing, too. "The traditional Xerox pricing philosophy has been the price for buying the equipment, and then a recurring monthly charge, depending on the number of prints you produce -- what's called a 'click charge.' But if you take that to a commercial printer, they'll look at you cross-eyed -- 'What's a click charge? I just want a service charge this month!' So it's a challenge to adjust our service policies, our service pricing, our delivery of the equipment, our service philosophies -- everything -- to make sure we're aligned with how those companies want to buy our products, and how they want to do business with us."

Xerox soon discovered that variety of paper choice was one of its potential customers' number-one concerns. As Rooney puts it, "In the traditional office space, people are happy with your basic 24-pound bond paper -- but the minute you step across the boundary from black and white to color, you're now faced with a whole different environment of paper substrate requirement."

And while Xerox's warrantee agreements have traditionally specified that customers use use Xerox-branded paper, color was a new ballgame. With customers damanding a wide variety of substrates and papers, a divison from Xerox's Paper Qualification Group was earmarked to test and select brands for recommendation in "The Paper Advantage," a booklet explaining how to choose papers and a list of brands Xerox feels work best.

Xerox has also installed a customer satisfaction team to test papers submitted by customers: according to Diane Foley [need her title], "If a customer says, 'I want *this* paper tested, because I need to know how it will run,' we will also provide that service as part of the DocuColor 40 selling cycle -- we'll gather a list of commercially available papers, bring them in for tests, and recommend the ones that work the best on the equipment to the customer. That's how we came to recommend several Mohawk lines -- Satin, Copytext, Superfine, Navajo, Options -- their outstanding formation, high smoothness, and high brightness suit our customers' needs for high-quality color imaging such as for promotional brochures, covers, and point-of purchase displays.

"As a matter of fact, when our Supplies group saw that Mohawk was doing well, they decided to brand it, and distribute it through their own channel."

"The next level," says Rooney, "is to move ahead of the curve." A team is now in place working with paper manufacturers to create papers according to specifications of conductivity, moisture content, and rag and clay content. "The response from the paper mills has been tremendous. They are re-evaluating their formulations and coming up with papers that are more directed to operate very well inside these kind of devices."

And as opportunities enabled by the new technology's speed and convenience breed further innovations, all signs point to an ever-increasing demand for short run color digital printing, whether it's "just-in-time" printing, mass customization, run-length-of-one, versioning, or personalizing, the market is wide open for Xerox.

As Rooney says, "Paper is opening a lot of doors for us, 'cause the more substrate flexibility we can provide, the more everybody benefits -- the more the customers can provide more products to their customers, the more products they'll buy from us because now the machine does more, and the more pages they'll print on each machine. If the paper's done right, it can be the springboard to how everything else takes off."