Issue Date: January 3, 2011
ACS Award For Team Innovation
The sweetest success is often one that’s shared. Just ask Patricia Burns and Tie Hwee Ng of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, in Mississauga, Ontario; and Grazyna Kmiecik-Lawrynowicz and Chieh-Min Cheng of Xerox Corp., in Webster, N.Y.
This multidisciplinary team of Xerox chemists and chemical engineers developed an innovative nanotechnology-based approach to designing and manufacturing color toners for printers. Chemists Burns and Kmiecik-Lawrynowicz worked on the research and development of the technology, and chemical engineers Cheng and Ng worked on the scale-up for commercial production.
“I think the most important thing about teamwork comes down to communication,” Burns says. “Everybody has different strengths, and you need all those strengths to get the job done.”
Toners are conventionally made by extruding plastic mixed with pigments and additives, and pulverizing the composite material into a fine powder. The powder is then processed to remove oversized chunks and ultrafine particles. But this approach can be inconsistent. Some additives and pigments cannot withstand the high temperatures needed to melt the plastic, and others don’t distribute evenly among the toner particles. And plastics with lower melting points don’t pulverize efficiently.
The emulsion aggregation (EA) toner technology developed by the Xerox team takes a different approach. The researchers used the EA technology to grow, by a process of particle aggregation, micrometer-sized toner particles from nanometer-sized polymer particles. This nanotechnology-based approach allows scientists to control the size, shape, and structure of the particles, leading to improved print quality, less toner usage and waste, and lower energy printing. The process also uses about 25% less energy to manufacture toners compared with the conventional method.
“In the development of this environmentally friendly technology, the team was faced with significant challenges of preparing nanosized toner constituents and then controlled assembly of these constituents into micron-sized toner,” says Hadi Mahabadi, vice president and director of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada “The scale-up of the process involved the severe challenge of maintaining kinematic, dynamic, and chemical similarities across all process steps in this highly complex system. The team addressed all these challenges through superb teamwork.”
Today, toners produced with the EA technology are used in a range of printing applications, from small office printers to the world’s fastest cut sheet production print engines. Mahabadi says the technology “addresses many customer needs, such as better image quality, higher number of printed pages per pound of toner, and lower energy usage for printing a page.”
The project took eight years to complete, from the initial laboratory work to commercial product. Burns points out that everyone on the team was involved in every step of the project. Kmiecik-Lawrynowicz recalls donning a hard hat and overalls and working with Ng in the pilot plant. “That was the first experience I had working on the EA process in the big reactors,” she says.
Burns also learned from her teammates. “When I first started, I was so narrowly focused on designing the polymer that I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture,” she says. “The engineers taught me a lot about all the things you need to consider. It really helped broaden me and make me understand the value of a multidisciplinary team.”
Cheng says working with the group allowed him to appreciate the breadth of the research happening at Xerox. And Ng says his teammates helped him think in terms of functionality and use of greener materials.
Ng emphasizes that the project was a collaborative effort throughout Xerox. “We cannot forget that there are lots of people behind us doing all the hard work,” he says.
The team also took pride in its diversity. Burns is a native of Canada, Kmiecik-Lawrynowicz is from Poland, Ng is from Indonesia, and Cheng is from Taiwan.
Burns served as laboratory manager of reprographic materials synthesis and characterization. She played a key role in the development of the EA technology. Burns received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Windsor and a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry from the University of Waterloo, both in Ontario. She joined Xerox in 1995 as a research scientist in the composite marking materials lab.
Kmiecik-Lawrynowicz served as principal scientist and EA technology project manager. She pioneered research on the technology at Xerox and is known to her colleagues as the “Mother of EA.” She holds 75 U.S. patents related to the technology and received an Imaging Science & Technology Fellowship in 2004 from the Society for Imaging Science & Technology for “her contributions in the field of chemical toners, particularly the emulsion aggregation process.” She received a B.S and an M.S., both in chemistry and chemical engineering, from Warsaw Technical University, in Poland, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Rutgers University. Kmiecik-Lawrynowicz joined the Xerox Research Centre of Canada in 1988 as an industrial research fellow. In 1996, she moved to Webster, where she is still responsible for the design and development of EA toners.
Cheng served as principal engineer and area manager of EA process engineering and product delivery. His work was instrumental in providing scaled-up processes and materials-processing capabilities to enable development of EA toners, as well as key engineering solutions for their manufacture. He received a B.S. in chemical engineering from National Taiwan University and a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering from Lehigh University. Cheng joined Xerox in 1995 as a technology specialist in the toner product delivery unit.
Ng served as laboratory manager of scale-up engineering. He contributed important process innovations that ensured the project’s economic and technological viability and its significant environmental merits. He received a B.S. in engineering science and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Toronto. He joined Xerox in 1985 as a research engineer in the scale-up engineering lab.
The award address will be presented before the ACS Division of Polymeric Materials: Science & Engineering.
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