Erasable Prints, Less Paper

Dr. Paul Smith
Dr. Paul Smith

Dr. Smith, why Xerox developed a technology to print pages on which text disappears? What are the most important uses for erasable paper?

Smith: Xerox is interested in how people use paper, in the office and electronically. This project, which came out of a study started in Palo Alto, is a collaborative development between XRCC and PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). Two out of five papers printed in the office are only for what we call daily use, like e-mails or reference materials that have been printed for a single viewing; used only for a single day then they get recycled. You could go to the extreme with a cover page for a study; those are the kind of documents that are classified as daily uses.

As information flow is growing, people are printing more. So paper usage over the next ten years is increrasing, not decreasing. The technology will, in theory, replace paper usage.
We realize people like printing pages out for the feel, for writing on it and they would like to continue using it but perhaps less of it. We are more environmental conscious and this is one of Xerox’s activities similar to energy usage in our printers and solid ink printers, which create 90 percent less waste than others.
Uses for erasable paper include daily calendars, cover pages for print jobs and things to update just for a day not a week.

What are the goals of the development and the markets for the new paper technology?

Smith: The technology, which is still in the preliminary stages, blurs the line between paper documents and digital displays and could ultimately lead to a significant reduction in paper use. This is really a development project and not commercialized yet. Xerox needs to work with business divisions to see where it would go. So the goals and markets are not decided yet.

Could you talk about the technology of erasable paper?

Smith: To develop erasable paper, we needed to identify ways to create temporary images. We did this by developing compounds that change color when they absorb a certain wavelength of light but then will gradually disappear. The paper self-erases in about 16 to 24 hours and can be used multiple times. It’s the same kind of process like on a photochromatic lens on sun glasses that turn back to colorless. The paper becomes colorless over 24 hours and you can reuse it and if you want to reuse it immediately, it goes through the printer right then and you can use it again.

XRCC developed the paper that creates the image and PARC developed a prototype printer that creates the image on the paper using a light bar that provides a specific wavelength of light as a writing source. The written image fades naturally over time or can be immediately erased by exposing it to heat.

What are the costs of the specially coated paper and will they be substantially less than conventional paper when the paper is reused repeatedly?

Smith: This is an important aspect. When we talked to customers they wanted reusability but they don’t want to lose the attributes of the paper they like so much. Give them paper so they can still write on it and take it to a meeting. Costs need to be low and should be in the range of a normal piece of paper. They are one of the main targets of the project and will be within three times or so the price of a piece of paper.

The experimental technology is part of a lab project that focuses on the concept of future dynamic documents. How can the researchers identify such documents?

Smith: We use a Six Sigma process that can be used to help customers obtain vast improvements in the way they produce, store and distribute both paper and electronic documents and records.

Document-related Six Sigma follows a work process that can benefit from quality and waste reduction. Improvements to document, records and information management processes can provide quantifiable benefits, that is, greater efficiency, faster response, enhanced customer service and reduced costs.

What does Smart Document Management mean for Xerox? How is Xerox making the documents themselves as well as the ability to handle documents smarter?

Smith: We are making documents more intelligent so it kind of handles itself. We have a range of projects in this area.

The categorizer system, which can ‘read’ an electronic document, decide how it should be classified by subject, then route it to the right person’s e-mail address or online document management system, automatically. This is actually installed in Europe and it helped a European customer scan and categorize about six million documents and ended up the largest database in the world.
Another program is called intelligent redaction. It allows document owners to more easily control who sees what in a document and who has access to particular documents and information. Redaction is the ability to control what someone sees.
Something else we’re doing to add intelligence to documents includes DocuShare, which is almost a smart repository. We use it internally and it was used by NASA in 2004. It makes content management more efficient, accountable and secure. It is tightly integrated with desktop applications and many scanning and output devices, including Xerox WorkCentre Pro, DocuTech and iGen3 devices, to handle both hard-copy and electronic content.

With scientists exploring an array of specialty imaging techniques, many directed at preventing copying, could you discuss the varying levels of deterrence Xerox adds?

Smith: Xerox is concerned about security for its customers. One of the areas is called GlossMark in which imaging fonts and images are produced with Xerox software to provide different levels of gloss on a page in a predetermined manner.

The new printing technology can be used to embed hologram-like words and images which can be seen as an additional and separate image when the paper is tilted, but it cannot be scanned or copied on conventional devices.
UVMark is another way to add a layer of security to an ordinary printing job. A digital printer can create variable text that is hidden until exposed to ultraviolet light.

We also hear Xerox is exploring the idea of attaching RFID’s to documents. What are the benefits of this concept?

Smith: Yes, Xerox works on printed organic electronics, which is a potentially disruptive technology that uses printed circuits rather than using fabs, a lot of which are in Asia.

It costs in the billions of dollars and is extremely expensive to make the backplanes. It’s a long way ahead to make low cost RFID tags as it is still too expensive for item tagging. We might enable this in research but that’s still several years away.
We are always exploring new avenues of business. If we can develop a less expensive way to create RFID tags or flexible circuitry, it could be a business opportunity.