XEROX to Prevent Failure Before it Happens18 Jul, 2002
XEROX to Prevent Failure Before it Happens
Current self-diagnosing machines measure discrete events: It's on. It's off. It's broken. It's fixed. A machine cycle completed on time or it didn't. Why not measure the actual analog conditions behind these events, like how much wear a part has experienced? That would allow technicians to determine when a part is about to fail. Then the service engineer could arrive just before the product stopped working.
Xerox researchers decided to investigate a technique called Signature Analysis (SA). It has nothing to do with handwriting and everything to do with unique, identifiable, analog signals, such as vibration or noise or load, that characterize the status of motors and other electromechanical devices. Each part gives off a signal that's represented as a waveform. If you can compare how that waveform looks when the part is healthy to when it is about to fail, you can assess its life expectancy.
SA started in heavy industry, where workers maintaining equipment such as electrical generating turbines and large industrial machinery used it as a diagnostic tool. In the mid 1990s, Xerox extended its use to smaller, less costly components of printers and copiers. Xerox researchers discovered that signature analysis could be used in its remanufacturing operations to separate reusable components from those that needed to be reworked or scrapped, resulting in more reliable products and less material sent to landfill.
Now Bob Siegel at Xerox in Webster is working with design engineers to incorporate signature analysis right into future generations of Xerox systems, so that a machine can fully diagnose the state of its health. (It's like picking out an anomaly on an EKG before the patient even knows there's a partially blocked artery.)
Xerox has long had a vision of products that could remotely transmit problems to a central database, which would send a service engineer just in time - before the copier or printer actually breaks. To date, it has been able to measure digital data about discrete events, which are essentially the outcomes of underlying analog processes. By enriching the digital data with analog signatures, Xerox will gain the ability to pinpoint incipient failures and better predict the end of a component's life. The result: Less downtime for customers, and lower service costs because the engineers change out components only when they need to, not on the basis of the number of pages printed.
SA will also be incorporated into all test equipment used in manufacturing the next generation of Xerox production printers.