Xerox and the Metric System
From the January/February 2008 issue of USMA’s Metric Today.
In the 1960s Xerox began marketing its products outside the US, first in Europe and later in Japan. At the time, it engineered and manufactured its products in the US, but in the 1970s it became apparent that regional design and manufacturing in various countries would offer economic and political advantages. This required the use of multinational designs, and a process called “conversion engineering” was used, involving the redesign of products to accommodate each country’s requirements, including materials and processes. Part of conversion engineering involved units: Products designed in Europe using the metric system were converted to inches for US manufacture, and products designed in the US were converted to metric for manufacture outside the US.
Conversion engineering had an adverse impact on costs and schedules, due to the non-creative job of unit conversion for otherwise identical products made in different countries. With looming competition in xerography, it became obvious that Xerox could not live with the downside of its conversion engineering process, so it made a corporate decision to become a multinational design and manufacturing company. A major part of that decision was to adopt the metric system of measurement.
In the implementation stage, Xerox established its Multinational Engineering and Manufacturing System, of which the metric system was an integral part, coordinated by a newly formed Xerox Metrication Council. Starting in 1973, engineering teams developed and documented the processes by which products were to be designed and specified. Among aspects involving the metric system were design and drafting practices such as ISO limits and fits; preferred metric raw materials (sheet metal and bar stock sizes and tolerances); and components and hardware such as fasteners and bearings to match preferred metric shaft sizes.
Other particulars of metric conversion included machine tools retrofitted with digital instrumentation for both millimeter and inch readouts, and metric hand tools made available to model shops. When necessary, inch-based raw materials were machined to standard metric thicknesses. In other cases, materials were selected to meet metric standards. Initially the ISO R 10 series of preferred numbers was used for standard metric sizes. Some tolerances were opened up to accommodate not only US gage sizes but European and Japanese standards.
After 1975, all new products manufactured by Xerox in the US were made to hard metric specifications, to match the metric specifications used elsewhere in the world. Because a complete conversion to metric units too quickly would have been impractical and expensive, some dual-dimensioning was initially necessary for communication internally and with US suppliers. Xerox followed the practice used by Caterpillar Tractor (covered in the previous article in this series) by providing a conversion chart with each drawing. Eventually, once metric standards were completely established and adopted in the 1980s, conversion information was no longer needed, resulting in fewer cost and time penalties incurred by the use of dual units; only metric dimensions were specified on engineering drawings. Suppliers could convert drawings internally if they wished, but all process controls and final inspection is always metric.
Training in the metric system started in the mid 1970s and included books and charts from the USMA. Xerox’s supplier base was also reduced to 400 from 3000, reducing the effort needed to train their suppliers in metric requirements.
The metric system is routine today at Xerox and has minimal impact, even in the US. Errors associated with metric conversions are past history. The advantages of metric measurements were obvious. Metric units minimized conversion engineering (or re-engineering) problems, those involved in designing products in one country and manufacturing in other countries. Worldwide purchasing was facilitated, increasing competition and reducing costs, as well as providing opportunities for better quality and more timely delivery. A standardization opportunity was also provided for piece parts, components, and raw materials, in that a new (metric) system was adopted. A company does not often have the opportunity to “start over again”.
As proof of their success, in 1989 Xerox was awarded the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, in only the second year of the award program. The annual award recognizes US organizations for their achievements in quality and performance and raises awareness about the importance of quality and performance excellence as a competitive edge.
Material for this article came from various articles about Xerox’s metrication.