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How It Works: The PCR -- Recharger

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How It Works: The PCR


By Lester Cornelius Apr 01, 2000 As printer makers pushed their machines to achieve faster print speeds, a number of drawbacks in the old printing process technology became more problematic. At the center of many of these problems was the method of charging the organophotoconductor (OPC). Most of the primary charging rollers (PCR) appearing in the Canon printer cartridges since the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4000 have been foam, and for good reason. The foam PCRs represent a significant design improvement over both the previous hard rubber PCR (see Fig. 1) and the corona wire configuration. The softer foam PCRs create less wear on the OPC, do not make noise and charge the OPC more efficiently. Printer cartridge remanufacturers need to understand how the PCR works and why it is such a critical component in the more recently introduced longer running, faster printers.

Figure 1

Charging the OPC


An OPC must be charged in order to develop the latent image, which is an invisible image of varying electrical voltages on the surface of the photoconductor (see Fig. 2). Then, as in all laser printers, a laser beam discharges sections of the OPC to a much lower voltage than the original surface charge. The areas where the voltage is lower form the latent image and attract toner that is then transferred to printed page. The areas where the OPC remains fully charged repel toner, keeping the corresponding sections of the printed page white.

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How It Works: The PCR -- Recharger

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In older laser printer models, a tungsten or tungsten alloy wire placed close to the OPC is used to initially charge the OPC. A high voltage of more than 5,000 volts is applied to the wire, also known as a corona wire. This high voltage causes the surrounding air, which is an electrical insulator, to break down and become ionized, which then allows electrons to move to the surface of the OPC (see Fig. 3). The electrons create an overall negative charge on the OPC, and the printing process continues with the laser beam discharging areas of the OPC to form the latent image.

This charging system had its drawbacks. The tungsten wire requires a costly power supply to handle the high voltage. The high voltage also produced a considerable amount of ozone, which is a pollutant and an irritant. If a small amount of airborne toner lands on the corona wire, it blocks the charging process at that point and lowers the voltage on the surface of the OPC. Like a discharged area, the low voltage attracts toner to the OPC, which results in unwanted print defects. The next generation of charging devices employed hard rubber PCRs. These charging devices are composed of a metal shaft, a conductive rubber layer and a thinner, less conductive outer coating (see Fig. 4).

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PCRs can sufficiently charge the surface of the OPC with much lower applied voltages (in Canon/HP printers, the OPCs are charged by the PCR to a voltage of about -650 volts). Because of this, very little ozone is produced. The PCR does cause air to break down and allow electrons to move to the surface of the OPC to charge it, but it does this, not where it makes physical contact with the OPC surface, but in a very small area referred to as the nip. The nip area is the small pie-shaped wedge formed where the round PCR presses against the round OPC (see Fig. 5). Charging takes place in this narrow air gap, which is only between five and 20 microns wide. The smaller the space, the less voltage it takes to cause the air to transport electrons to the OPC. The greater the distance between the charging device and the OPC, the higher the voltage necessary to transport electrons, as is the case with the corona wire structure.

However, unless a fairly high voltage is used, DC voltage alone will create a very uneven distribution on the OPC surface. PCRs in IBM machines use much higher DC voltages to charge the OPC than Canon engine PCRs, which begin charging the OPC at about -700 applied voltage. Canon discovered that applying an AC voltage with the DC voltage will create very uniform charging. The AC voltage must be about twice (peak to peak) the DC voltage. Typical voltages applied in these machines are about -700 volts DC and about 1600 volts AC (peak to peak). PCRs do not charge the OPC where the two components make physical contact. This means there is a noncharging space between the leading edge nip and the trailing edge nip. Charging takes place in both nips (see Fig. 6). The pulsing AC voltage facilitates uniform charging on its peaks. As the AC voltage cycles, the pulsing charge on the OPC creates a charge banding surface. To achieve overall charging uniformity, these bands must overlap. In order to create more uniform charging, the frequency of the AC voltage must be increased. The frequency of the AC voltage is the number of cycles per second that the AC voltage completes.

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Charging becomes more uniform as the AC frequency increases because the charging bands overlap and occur more often. Higher frequency does not come without its own problems, however. As the AC frequency increases, it can create a physical resonance, or vibration, in the PCR, which can be amplified by the metal OPC tube. This means that higher AC frequencies can result in an annoying hum, or high pitched sound emanating from the OPC. As the speed of the printers increases, the AC frequency must also increase to keep the charging bands overlapping and uniform. This means that the faster the printer, the greater the likelihood of squealing or humming. Aftermarket OPC manufacturers dealt with this phenomenon by inserting a sound-dampening rubber plug in their OPCs. Canon addressed the issue and increased PCR charging efficiency in faster printers by developing the foam PCR. The soft foam PCR presses against the OPC to create longer, narrower nip shapes than with the hard PCR. This makes charging easier and it widens the charging bands. The soft foam also does not create squealing or hum from the AC voltage. This allowed Canon to use higher AC frequencies in the faster printers to keep the charging uniform without creating noise. The foam PCRs have the added benefit of being virtually bump free. Hard rubber PCRs usually develop small bumps in the manufacturing process. These bumps can cause small areas of non-uniform charging. If you take a close look at the hard rubber PCRs in the NX, you will see small bumps on the surface. Bumps greater than 50 microns are significant, less than 50 microns are not significant. New OEM cartridges commonly sport PCRs with bumps less than 50 microns. The foam PCRs also do not contribute as much to OPC wear as the older hard rubber designs. The electric properties of the foam PCRs do not degrade as the hard rubber designs tend to do. The four points of improvement for foam PCRs over hard rubber PCRs are: more uniform charging due to the nip shape. no squealing or hum due to the resonance from the AC voltage. less wear on the OPC due to the softer materials. cleaner, bump-free surface for more uniform charging. Canon has several patents for the foam PCRs. A thorough explanation of the design can be found in

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Canon patent #5,390,007 issued Feb. 14, 1995. This patent describes how the foam PCR is made even softer by creating holes in the foam parallel to the metal shaft. The foam cell size is important. The smaller the cell size, the more uniform the charging. Canon claims that cell size below 50 microns is optimal. Larger cell sizes probably create areas of charging that do not overlap.

The Outer Coating on PCRs


All PCRs, whether hard rubber or foam, require an outer layer for two reasons. The outer layer must block any plasticizers. Plasticizers are slowly evaporating solvents that keep the rubber soft. These solvents can cause the PCR to adhere to the OPC if they remain in stationary contact over an extended period of time. The outer layer must also prevent localized electrical shorting. All power supplies have maximum outputs. Exceeding the maximum output will cause the voltage to drop, and the PCR will not cause electrons to move to the surface of the OPC. If the OPC surface does not charge, toner particles will be attracted to it and a print defect will occur. This effect can be seen when there is a pinhole defect in the outer layer of the OPC. The usual culprit for a pinhole in the OPC coating is wear. When a PCR rolls over a pinhole, it shorts to the metal ground of the OPC, causing the power supply to exceed its output and therefore lower its output voltage. This phenomenon is called black-line shorting. The outer layer reduces current flow directly from the metal shaft to the surface of the OPC. It also restricts current flow laterally across the PCR surface, and this is the most important feature of this layer (see Fig. 7).

When voltage is applied to the PCR, it will attract some toner and paper dust. If a film of electrically insulating debris forms on the PCR, it will not charge the OPC (see Fig 8). This can result in an increase in background levels. Background is unwanted toner transferring to the white areas of the print. This can become quite noticeable and objectionable to the end user.

Figure 8

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Canon claims, in several patents, that OPC powder lubricants like Kynar should not be used in cartridges with PCRs due to the tendency for these powders to create an insulating film on the PCR. Some of the OPC powders available to remanufacturers have a greater affinity to create this problem. The function of the cartridge can be so seriously diminished that remanufacturers believed their OPC wiper blades were failing or that their PCRs were defective.

Cleaning and Remanufacturing the Foam PCR


Foam PCRs can be reused if the outer layer is not damaged, but they must be cleaned. Soap and water are poor cleaners for PCRs as they do not remove many toner additives and OPC powders. A mildly abrasive, soapy cleaner is one of the best solutions to clean PCRs. The mild abrasive cuts through stubborn films and the soap removes the debris. Many solvents have a tendency to attack rubber and most plastics. Care should be taken in selecting a cleaning solvent. One of the best for plastics is Exxon's Isopar C. This quickly evaporating solvent has low toxicity, but is flammable. In states like California, where clean air laws are quite strict, the best PCR cleaning solution is still a mildly abrasive nontoxic soap cleaner. As printers run faster and longer, the possibility for reusing the foam PCR without remanufacturing it diminishes. The Canon patents prevent the aftermarket from duplicating the foam PCRs although several soft rubber PCRs have been manufactured as a substitute. I am not aware of any soft rubber PCRs that are equal in all respects to the Canon foam PCRs. Remanufacturing the original foam PCR is a sound alternative.

A Word About Conductive Grease


It is a fairly common practice for remanufacturers to grease the conductive plastic clip that holds the PCR in the cartridge. This is done to improve electrical contact between the PCR metal shaft and the clip, while reducing friction and wear on the clip. The only grease that should be used, if one is used, is electrically conductive grease. Thermally conductive greases have been mistakenly used in the past. The intended purpose of these products, commonly available from electrical supply stores, is to improve heat dissipation for electronic components that give off a lot of heat. They are electrically insulating greases and counterproductive for use in remanufactured cartridges. When applying electrically conductive grease to the PCR clip, remanufacturers generally use as little as possible. Care must be taken that the grease is only applied to the clip and the metal shaft of the PCR. Grease on the PCR surface will cause print defects unless you clean it off completely.

Pinhole Defects on the PCR


As on the OPC, pinhole defects on the PCR affect the printing process. As the outer layer of the foam PCR wears thin, it is more susceptible to forming pinhole defects sometime in the next cycle of reuse. In order to prevent this from occurring, the outer layer must be replaced or built-up for reuse. Pinhole defects trap toner and other debris. If it is nonconductive debris, such as paper dust, a noncharging area will develop on the PCR. This defect will express itself in repeating black dots on the printed page (see Figure 9). If the pinhole traps toner, it could express itself as an offset defect. The toner in the PCR pinhole is redeposited on the OPC with each succeeding revolution of the PCR. PCR offset defects are easy to spot because they typically vary in dimension, but repeat at the PCR circumference.

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Using This Information


The foam PCR design is a technogically sound design to solve a number of problems. Fortunately, it is also a good candidate for remanufacturing. There are some very compelling reasons Canon chose not to use hard PCRs in newer print engines. Remanufacturers will do well to remember these as they develop their production processes. Adapting your remanufacturing process to take advantage of the foam PCR's design characteristics will undoubtedly yield good results. For further information, contact Lester Cornelius, president of Optical Technologies Corp., at 800-682-7371, 718-729-4970, fax 718-729-5291 or email otcmail@aol.com.
About the Author Lester Cornelius is the technical director of Remanufacturing Technologies Corp. and an expert in coating formulation. His coatings have been used by OEMs and remanufacturers alike to extend their products lives and performance. Cornelius is also the chairman of the STMC and the Intl ITC.

Copyright 1105 Media Inc.

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