The incredible utility of Christmas tree tinsel

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I learned something very cool yesterday. Of course, I'm a science geek, but I still thinks it's cool enough to share.

I'm in Los Angeles this week, doing what I hope will be ongoing programming work for a new client. The client is a big printing facility that spits out reams of paper by the minute, sorts, collates, folds, stuffs, and meters. If you've ever received a one-page explanation of benefits from your health insurance company, or a huge booklet with all the legalese for your policy, this is the kind of place that produced it.

I went on a tour of the facility yesterday afternoon. Among the huge laser printers and folding/inserting machines chained together like a mechanical version of the Human Centipede was a big blue roll printer. It was fascinating to watch in action. At one end was a giant roll of white paper, about six feet in diameter and 17 inches wide. The paper was fed at high speed into a unit that printed two pages side by side. As it emerged from that unit, the continuous paper strip went through a complex series of rollers, some set at a 45-degree angle, that turned the paper over so the blank side was facing up as it went into the next printer. As the paper emerged, now printed on both sides, a blade sliced it lengthwise. The two narrow side-by-side strips were then brought together, one on top of the other, and fed into a cutter that chopped them up into perfectly collated stacks of 8.5 x 11" duplex-printed paper.

That was cool enough, but I noticed that as the paper emerged from the machine that sliced it lengthwise, it passed beneath a piece of wire that had obviously been juryrigged. The wire was wound with a spiral of tinsel, the kind you'd use to decorate a Christmas tree. The tinsel brushed the paper as it sped past.

My guide pointed to the tinsel. "Every big print shop I know stocks up on tinsel at Christmas time," he said. "It's perfect for discharging static electricity from the paper."

Which then makes the paper behave better down the line and helps prevent jams in the equpiment. Pretty cool, right? I know.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on May 1, 2012 10:18 AM.

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