Why Printer Jams Persist

Managed Print Services

Printers are a bit of a technological paradox. Every year they get faster, quieter, more efficient and more connected to the other technology in our lives. Yet printer jams, the most annoying of printer problems, still exist. They’re frustrating and somehow they always occur at the worst possible moment.

The tech geeks among you will love this in-depth feature by Joshua Rothman for the New Yorker about why paper jams persist in printers. The process of taking a piece of paper through a printer is something we all take for granted many times a day. It involves physics, chemistry and computer programming and it is far more complicated than you realize.

Unsurprisingly, the engineers who specialize in paper jams see them differently. Engineers tend to work in narrow subspecialties, but solving a jam requires knowledge of physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, computer programming, and interface design. “It’s the ultimate challenge,” Ruiz said.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as annoying,” Vicki Warner, who leads a team of printer engineers at Xerox, said of discovering a new kind of paper jam. “I would characterize it as almost exciting.” When she graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology, in 2006, her friends took jobs in trendy fields, such as automotive design. During her interview at Xerox, however, another engineer showed her the inside of a printing press. All Xerox printers look basically the same: a million-dollar printing press is like an office copier, but twenty-four feet long and eight feet high. Warner watched as the heavy, pale-gray double doors swung open to reveal a steampunk wonderland of gears, wheels, conveyor belts, and circuit boards. As in an office copier, green plastic handles offer access to the “paper path”—the winding route, from “feeder” to “stacker,” along which sheets of paper are shocked and soaked, curled and decurled, vacuumed and superheated. “Printers are essentially paper torture chambers,” Warner said, smiling behind her glasses. “I thought, This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

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