The $250 billion global printing industry is in the midst of its biggest revolution since Johannes Gutenberg unveiled his movable type press 550 years ago. Printers everywhere are converting to digital production presses. Ironically, the company that's leading the digital charge is also undergoing a radical transition.

The $250 billion global printing industry is in the midst of its biggest revolution since Johannes Gutenberg unveiled his movable type press 550 years ago. Printers everywhere are converting to digital production presses.

Ironically, the company that's leading the digital charge is also undergoing a radical transition. Xerox Corp. (Stamford, CT) is synonymous with high-quality office copiers. But, the company is pinning its future on products such as the iGen3 110 digital production press. The 60-foot-long machine, which weighs nearly 4 tons, is Xerox's flagship product. It is used by commercial printers around the world and can produce 6,600 full-color 8 by 10-inch impressions per hour. Xerox also markets other lines of high-end production machines under the Docutech and Nuvera brand names.

All three product families are assembled at Xerox's Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant in Webster, NY. The 45-year-old facility is the recipient of ASSEMBLY magazine's second annual Assembly Plant of the Year award.

The 635,000-square-foot plant is located in a suburb of Rochester, NY, nestled along the shore of Lake Ontario. It was nominated for its innovative use of Lean Six Sigma to reduce production costs, increase productivity, improve safety, shorten time to market, and enhance product quality and yields. Xerox has achieved a remarkable turnaround by focusing shop floor efforts on meeting and exceeding customer needs.

Xerox's manufacturing team has transformed its assembly process from traditional methods to a more specialized, technically advanced approach. Assemblers at the Webster plant combine lean manufacturing and Six Sigma principles to build high-tech machines that are exported worldwide. The plant is the only Xerox facility in the world building digital production presses. That means the plant exports machines to Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Poland and other countries often associated with offshore manufacturing.

The primary product assembled in Webster is the iGen3, the fastest and biggest digital full-color printer on the market. Operators install 100 motors, 70 printed circuit boards, 27 power supplies and 3.5 miles of wiring into every machine that they build. Although it weighs almost 8,000 pounds, the iGen3 is built to tolerances smaller than a human hair. Each digital production press takes 9 days to build and test.

"The plant is customer-focused and delivers world-class products across five continents, while continuously evolving to remain competitive," says Joao Borges, vice president of worldwide production systems manufacturing. For instance, in the last three years, the facility has achieved a $97 million year over year product cost productivity improvement through labor and overhead optimization, in addition to direct materials cost reduction through supplier negotiations, resourcing and redesign.

"We saved over $2.7 million in projects in 2004 and achieved significant service improvements through proactive actions," Borges points out. The iGen3 assembly line has decreased cycle time over the last three years by 53 percent and reduced its defect per hundred machines (DPHM) rate by 33 percent, which Borges claims is a major accomplishment due to the complexity of the product.

The Nuvera assembly line has achieved a 32 percent year over year improvement in DPHM, and has improved its Cpk from 1.2 to 1.8. Automation in final configuration verification has resulted in a 50 percent productivity improvement.

A Growing Market

For most people, Xerox and "copier" are synonymous. In fact, the company is so well identified with the product that the term "Xerox machine" is often used to refer to duplicators made by other companies. Although it's a proper noun, Xerox is also frequently misused as a verb.

If Wim Appelo has his way, some day Xerox will also be synonymous with the term "printing press." Appelo is vice president of paper, supplies and supply chain operations, which includes worldwide production systems manufacturing. Xerox has already carved out 73 percent of the $9 billion digital production market, which some observers claim has the potential to triple in size in the near future. But, Xerox faces formidable competition in the tradition-bound printing industry, which has relied on large offset web presses for more than 100 years.

Digital production presses are highly flexible systems that can print books, magazines, catalogs, posters, newsletters, brochures, financial statements and other materials with rich, vibrant colors. "They can handle high-volume production-level printing, provide flawless image quality and offer compatibility with multiple finishing options, just like an offset press," says Appelo. "But, compared to offset, a digital press can produce short-run jobs more economically, integrate with the Internet and incorporate variable data."

Although it has the strength and dimensions of a traditional printing press, the iGen3 is much more environmentally friendly. It creates little waste; 97 percent of its components are recyclable or remanufacturable; it emits 80 percent less noise than a typical offset press; and it does not generate any hazardous materials.

Offset printing presses require several flammable chemicals, such as alcohols, chlorinated solvents and acids, which need to be carefully managed and disposed. During the prepress process, end users must spend significant time and energy to make four plates-one each for cyan, magenta, yellow and black-to create an image. In sharp contrast, the prepress process with a digital press simply requires the assembly of electronic bits and bytes to make an image.

Offset equipment also requires wet inks and varnishes that frequently need to be mopped up with cleaning towels and solvents. But, the iGen3 digital production press holds almost 80 pounds of dry ink. The cartridges are recyclable, closed containers that snap into place.

According to Appelo, more and more end users are demanding high-quality, short-run, full-color printing. Today, 33 percent of all commercial print jobs are produced in 24 hours or less. Digital production printing enables faster turnaround of large print jobs and offers the advantages of customized, one-to-one printing and print-on-demand.

The commercial printing industry is undergoing a radical transformation as it shifts to digital production technology. According to the National Association for Printing Leadership (Paramus, NJ), 16 percent of the 32,000 print shops currently operating in the United States will disappear by the end of this decade. For those that remain, investing in digital printing presses will be the top priority over the next 5 years.

In fact, a recent study conducted by TrendWatch Graphic Arts (New York) claims that 15 percent of end users plan to purchase a digital color press in the next 12 months. Frank Romano, a professor in the school of print media at the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY), predicts that digital technology will account for 35 percent of total print volume in the United States by 2010.

According to a recent report from InfoTrends/CAP Ventures (Weymouth, MA), revenues from offset printing will decline 8 percent over the next 2 years, while revenues from digital printing will increase 6 percent. The research company predicts that the retail value of digital color print-on-demand in the United States will grow from $24.9 billion in 2004 to $50.6 billion in 2009.

Proud Past, Fine Future

Xerox traces its roots to 1938, when Chester Carlson invented the copying machine. The words "Xerox" and "xerography" were trademarked in 1948. The following year, the world's first commercial copier, the Model A, was unveiled.

Although Xerox's corporate headquarters is located near New York City, its heart and soul lie more than 350 miles away in Rochester, where the company is the region's third largest employer. The Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant is located on a 1,100-acre campus that's home to Xerox's global research, engineering, manufacturing and distribution operations.

Other factories on the campus produce consumables such as ink, toner and cartridges. In addition, Xerox assembles proprietary microelectronic components, such as image sensors used in digital scanning platforms. The image input development unit maintains Class 100 and 1,000 clean rooms for processing silicon wafers and multichip modules.

The Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant was built in the early 1960s to mass-produce office copiers, such as the Xerox 914, the first automatic copier to use ordinary paper. More than 200,000 units were made until the company stopped producing the popular machine in 1976.

The Webster operation used to manufacture tens of thousands of office copiers annually. Today, the facility produces a few hundred iGen3 digital production presses and several thousand monochrome production products each year.

"Ten years ago, the plant was vertically integrated with several components like plastic parts, stamping, sheet metal and turnings made in-house," says Borges. "The plant was focused on high-volume production requiring large space utilization for components and raw material inventory. Most of the production was destined to North American sales, as similar plants would produce the same products in other geographies."

In the late 1990s, Xerox faced a huge financial crisis. After it lost its commercial credit lines, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy by October 2000. Many analysts speculated that Xerox would file for Chapter 11 protection.

Instead of curling up in a corner, Xerox management unveiled an aggressive turnaround plan in 2001 and challenged employees to join the fight for survival. The ambitious effort centered on improving cash flow, profitability, productivity and competitiveness, while working toward strengthening the company's core businesses.

In a painful move, Xerox trimmed its workforce from 96,000 to 58,000 and outsourced a large chunk of the company's manufacturing operations to Flextronics Inc. (Singapore). As part of the $220 million deal, the contract manufacturer took over responsibility for making office copiers and printers, and acquired several Xerox plants. Anne Mulcahy, the company's newly appointed CEO, refocused the company on its printing and imaging businesses where there was less competition and more opportunity for long-term growth.

It didn't take long for Xerox to implement its turnaround plan. In 2003, Mulcahy announced that the turnaround plan had been achieved.

"We have answered the call and successfully returned Xerox into a company of greatness; from rumors of bankruptcy into profitability; chaos into stability; and doubt into confidence," says Borges. To support the turnaround plan, the Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant reshaped itself and focused its attention on high-end production printing products.

"To achieve a competitive advantage, we transitioned into a highly intricate, ergonomics friendly manufacturer," adds Borges. The conversion process coincided with the launch of several new products, such as the iGen3, which was introduced in 2002.

"Agile manufacturing processes were deployed to the new product platforms, enabling reconfiguring operations, supporting value chain partners and responding to changes from our customers and marketplace on a daily basis," explains Borges. "Today, we have two separate business units-iGen3 and monochrome, which is responsible for building the Docutech and Nuvera machines-each a self-contained business with separate product lines, objectives, customer focus and requirements."

By implementing lean work processes, the plant has become faster and more flexible. For instance, the plant has adopted a smaller footprint. The size of the shop floor dropped from 790,000 square feet in January 2004 to 635,000 square feet in January 2005. The goal is to reduce that space to 490,000 square feet by consolidation and transformation of the monochrome manufacturing plants from three distinct areas into one manufacturing area. The consolidation will simplify material flow. At the same time, plant spending has decreased by $25 million over the last two years.

"Our vision is to evolve into a ‘showcase factory' that builds digital production products that revolutionize the industry," says Borges. "We will be the benchmark in customer value and satisfaction, employee satisfaction, shareholder value and profit growth, and deliver return on investments."

Strategic Initiative

The goals of the plant are built around the corporate direction of improving the customer experience, growing revenue, improving profitability and cash flow, and creating a greater employee experience. According to Borges, the Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant has embraced six strategic initiatives that will drive future success:

  • Customer focus-ensure the highest levels of quality and excellence in everything it does and succeed through satisfied customers.
  • Predictable-meet customer expectations by providing consistent service and results.
  • Flexible-make it easy for customers to do business with the plant and provide services that are aligned with their business models.
  • Fast-improve work processes and reduce cycle time to deliver world-class results for customers.
  • Affordable-deliver benchmark cost performance.
  • Rewarding-delight customers with service and provide employees with a safe, enriching work environment.

In late 2002, Xerox began a companywide effort to integrate Six Sigma and lean manufacturing tools and processes into a comprehensive strategy called Xerox Lean Six Sigma. According to Appelo, it is "a disciplined, data-driven method of reducing waste and variation in processes so they consistently deliver products and services at the quality levels, speeds and prices that customers value."

The Lean Six Sigma principles build on Xerox's earlier Leadership Through Quality initiative, which was implemented in 1983. All employees at the Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant are yellow belt trained. In addition, the facility boasts 20 black belts, who support the plant from the paper supplies and supply chain operations' Lean Six Sigma office, and 24 green belts; 25 employees are working toward green belt certification.

Lean Six Sigma has been successfully applied to many plant floor activities. "We saved over $2.7 million dollars in projects in 2004 and achieved a significant level of service improvements through proactive actions," Borges points out. For instance, he says testing time for the iGen3 has been reduced by 60 percent after several iterations of process improvements using Lean Six Sigma.

On the Nuvera assembly line, manufacturing engineers recently used Lean Six Sigma to solve a problem. "The goal of this project was to improve the inset registration of the booklet finishing module to meet or exceed the specification of 1.5 millimeters," says Borges. "At the start of this project, 14 percent of the modules tested failed to meet the 1.5 millimeter specification. At the conclusion of this project, the inset registration had been improved to 1 to 1.3 millimeters. No modules failed to meet spec and process capability improved from 0.38 Cpk to 1 Cpk."

Customer Focus

Another key to the dramatic turnaround at Xerox has been the company's relentless customer focus. According to Mulcahy, the growth strategy "starts with spending a lot of time with our customers. Some companies preach that; we practice it. We estimate that 80 percent of our people have regular contact with our customers.

"Why? Because we're keenly aware that it takes five times as much effort and money to attract a new customer as it does to keep an old one. Even more importantly, we know that if we listen to our customers-really listen-they will tell us what we need to be successful. What we learn permeates all our decisions.

"And what we've learned is that our customers don't simply want our products-at least that's not how they express their needs," adds Mulcahy. "They want our help in reducing costs, improving productivity, growing revenue and creating value for their customers. That's exactly what we're helping them do."

Every hour of the day, machines built in Webster are hard at work around the world. Indeed, more than 8 billion pages are currently produced annually on Xerox digital production color systems worldwide.

The largest installation of iGen3 presses is in Japan, where 24 machines produce monthly statements for a large credit card company. Cardholders receive integrated one-to-one marketing pieces that provide information tailored to their individual needs with billing details, ads, and color text and images.

In addition to large financial institutions and commercial printers, customers range from retailers to hotels and resorts. A tour operator in Germany uses three iGen3 presses to produce personalized travel documents for its European customers. The company relies on the machines to help it strengthen customer relationships and generate more sales with customized, full-color travel brochures that attract a reader's attention and increase response rates.

To strengthen the bond with its own customers, Xerox opened a multimillion-dollar customer center earlier this year that is attached to the Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant. The Gil Hatch Center for Customer Innovation is a 100,000-square-foot facility that gives current and prospective commercial printers and commercial customers integrated, one-stop access to Xerox's entire portfolio of digital production printing equipment.

More than 60 Xerox experts work in the state-of-the-art facility, which was built in an area formerly occupied by part of the plant. The customer center houses more than 20 digital printing systems and includes a paper and finishing lab, a multimedia theatre and numerous meeting rooms.

"In addition, customers can spontaneously tour our assembly areas to get a first-hand look at our assembly processes and the technology that is used to build their product," says Borges. "It also provides our customers and employees [with a] one-on-one interface. It's part of our transformation into a ‘manufacturing showcase.' The partnership delivers customer excellence, early warning for issues that may materialize and provides real-time feedback on performance results."

According to David Whitmyre, iGen3 plant manager, manufacturing has now become more closely aligned with sales and marketing. "Customers want to see what's inside the product they're buying," he points out. "They enjoy being able to talk to the operators and engineers who actually make the machines."

Xerox also operates an online command center where all iGen3 machines are remotely monitored by an event management system that tracks installation and product performance at customers' locations. A staff of engineers and technicians are able to respond in real time to customer-initiated questions, concerns or problems.

Engineers at the Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant monitor daily feeds from the command center for performance analysis. In the future, they plan to install sensors in the machines for performing diagnostics and use algorithms to predict breakdowns automatically.

Complex Assembly Process

The iGen3 is an incredibly complex machine. In fact, Anthony Federico, vice president of the platform development unit and chief engineer on the iGen3 and Nuvera projects, claims that it is the most complex product ever manufactured by hourly workers anywhere.

"It was a monstrous development effort that required more than 450 patents," claims Federico. The iGen 3 is programmed with 5 million lines of unique software code and has computing power equivalent to 100 personal computers.

Design engineers are colocated in the factory and regularly interact with the plant floor. Pilot plants are utilized to validate design and manufacturability concepts prior to moving to a production environment. "All identified critical factors are resolved to ensure achievement of a robust design," says Federico.

The iGen3 was designed with a modular approach that allows subsystems to be built up as standalone units that can be tested individually before being incorporated into the final assembly. This reduces cycle time by enabling parallel build processes.

In addition, poka-yoke techniques were utilized during the design process to ease assembly and provide failsafing. Items such as quarter-turn fasteners, quick connect-disconnect fittings, and snap-in clips are used throughout the machine.

The iGen3 has more than 2,100 unique components that are manually assembled, due to the intricacy of the product. "Highly modularized subassemblies are built and tested as standalone units prior to inclusion into the finished product, which results in lower manufacturing cycle time and increased machine serviceability," says Whitmyre. "The most complicated and quality-sensitive subassemblies are produced right here by Xerox. We also integrate more than 4,000 parts and components from 170 different suppliers."

The iGen3 machine is comprised of three main components: a print engine, which include the output module; two feeders; and a stacker. The standard configuration is 23 feet long, but with optional modules-as many as six feeders and six stackers-the machine can extend more than 60 feet long.

The feeder module supplies two different types of paper stock to the print engine. The stacker module stacks the output from the machine and also allows offset collation. The print engine is the most complex part of the iGen3. It contains critical components, such as dry ink cartridges, a photoreceptor and a fuser. The photoreceptor module is a 300-pound, light-sensitive element at the heart of xerographic printers and copiers. The fuser bonds dry ink to paper or other media.

The feeder and stacker modules are built on separate assembly lines near the print engine line. Because they require fewer parts than the print engine, the feeder and stacker lines use less floor space. But, similar to the print engine line, lines for subsystems feed into final assembly lines. In addition, all three modules have their own hipot and final run and test areas.

More than 1,300 people work in the Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant, which is ISO 9001:2000 and 14001 certified. All manufacturing and distribution workers are represented by UNITE-HERE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees).

"Our industrial workforce is an integral part of our success," says Borges. "We have established a joint collaboration process that has been essential in removing hidden waste from production floor work processes. Employees have weekly meetings where opportunities for improvement are transitioned to project charters and are assigned to teams for resolution." During the last 2 years, the teams have worked on 224 processes and delivered savings in the millions.

Frame fabrication is a critical part of the iGen3 assembly process. Because of the complexity of the frame, in addition to shipping and handling concerns, the fabrication and inspection process takes place right next to final machine assembly. Operators use two automated machining centers, 40 discrete welding fixtures and three coordinate measuring machines to build a frame that conforms to 70 separate specifications.

"The iGen3 was designed in modules and the modules sit on mounting pads in the frame, so the interrelation of the several modules is absolutely dependent of the frame quality," says Borges. "The robustness of the frame manufacturing process enables interchangeability of finished modules. In consequence, the frame has many critical features that directly affect machine assembly and image quality." Each frame weighs 1,100 pounds and is constructed of structural steel and sheet metal.

The Worldwide Production Systems Manufacturing Plant uses a progressive build assembly process. The final assembly line features 17 build stations, while subsystem assembly areas are strategically located along the final line. U-shaped workcells minimize part flow and reduce operator movement.

Complex subsystems, such as the photoreceptor module, the fuser module and the developer module, are assembled and tested before being installed into the digital production press. "Those areas allow us to reduce cycle time by building subsystems and performing final machine assembly in parallel, as well as detecting any quality issues prior to installing the subsystems," says Borges.

Test and Inspection

Many subassemblies require critical settings to be made and critical parameters to be measured during the build process, so 16 final run and test stations check completed systems. "There are more than 70 critical settings made and critical parameters measured during the build and test process," explains Borges. "During assembly, there are electromechanical test fixtures used to make the settings and perform the measurements, which include parameters such as motion quality, belt registration, docking force, sensor bar and donor roll gaps, and the thickness of developer material on rolls."

For instance, every photoreceptor passes a battery of tests to make sure that it meets rigid requirements for mechanical and electrical stability. During one test, the speed of the photoreceptor belt is measured in four specific areas using rotary encoders, and the belt speed is converted into belt displacement.

"After time shifting the results from the encoders, the outputs are overlaid and variations in displacement are analyzed," says Borges. For this particular parameter, the variation in registration is extremely minute.

By using Lean SixSigma, testing time has been reduced by 60 percent. For example, a team of engineers and operators designed an automated tool to measure toner concentration. "Until the automated tools were available, measurement of the toner concentration was a very time- and labor-intensive process," notes Borges. "The automated tools, in conjunction with a software upgrade, allowed the operators to simply insert a probe into the developer and obtain a reading rather than obtain, weigh, manipulate and analyze samples of the material."

Employees are also equipped with a wide variety of tools to maximize productivity and minimize safety risks. The plant uses battery-powered transport carts, battery-powered lift carts, tilt-and-turn-pallet fixtures, pneumatic and electric tools, hoists and lifts, and ergonomically designed build and test fixtures. In addition, full-time safety engineers in the plant assist operators and evaluate and improve build areas.

The majority of fasteners used to assemble the digital production presses are flanged, hex-head machine screws with a recessed Torx drive. Different sizes of fasteners are used, and most are used in conjunction with self-clinching nuts. In addition, thread-rolling screws are used for plastic components. Where clamp loads are minimal, snap-fits are used.

All air, mechanical and electric tools are labeled with their torque values, and the tools are calibrated twice per year using a torque tester. A calibration sticker is put on every tool when it is calibrated to verify that it is acceptable for use on the assembly line.

A computerized system called ShopFloor instructs operators on which tools to use for every fastener that is installed. "ShopFloor enables significant productivity during the build process," says Borges. "Operators utilize the ShopFloor process on a daily basis for tasks such as following the very detailed build steps, correct part usage, correct tool usage, measurement entry and validation, and nonconformance data entry." The ShopFloor system will not allow a machine to be sent to the next build step if it has not been completely finished and validated in the previous step.

At the final build station, during the hipot test process, each system is subjected to voltages that are 20 times higher than any digital production press will ever be exposed to. After each machine leaves the assembly line, it undergoes a 36-hour final run and test cycle.

During the test process, many critical measurements are taken, including image-on-image registration, image-on-paper registration, and image quality checks using scanners. More than 30,000 prints are made with all different types of media to assure image quality.

About the Plant-of-the-Year Award

The ASSEMBLY magazine "Assembly Plant of the Year" award was initiated in 2004 to showcase world-class production facilities in America, and the people, products and processes that make them successful. All manufacturers that assemble products in the United States are invited to nominate their plants.

The goal of the award is to identify a state-of-the-art facility that has applied world-class processes to reduce production cost, increase productivity, shorten time to market or improve product quality.

An official nomination form was printed in several issues of ASSEMBLY earlier this year; in addition, an online version appeared on the magazine's Web site ( Nominations were received from a diverse group of manufacturers that reflect the magazine's demographics.

All nominees were evaluated by a group of independent experts and by ASSEMBLY's editorial staff, based on the following criteria:

  • Have assembly processes been improved through the use of new technology?
  • Has the plant improved its performance by making more effective use of existing technology?
  • Has the plant taken steps to reduce production costs?
  • Have new or improved assembly processes resulted in increased productivity?
  • Has the plant used assembly improvements to reduce time to market?
  • Has the plant boosted bottom-line profits and competitive advantage?
  • Did operators play a role in the successful implementation of new assembly strategies?
  • Has a product been effectively designed for efficient assembly?
  • Has the plant attempted to protect the environment and conserve natural resources?

As winner of the second annual Assembly Plant of the Year competition, Xerox Corp. (Webster, NY) received an engraved crystal award during a special presentation at the recent Assembly Technology Expo in Rosemont, IL. In addition, Xerox received a commemorative banner to display inside its plant.

Kenworth Truck Co. (Renton, WA) received the inaugural Assembly Plant of the Year award in 2004.