What Does a Hacker Do With A Photocopier?

The year is 2016. Driving home from a day’s work in the engineering office, I am greeted with a sight familiar to any suburban dwelling Australian — hard rubbish. It’s a time when local councils arrange a pickup service for anything large you don’t want anymore — think sofas, old computers, televisions, and the like. It’s a great way to make any residential area temporarily look like a garbage dump, but there are often diamonds in the rough. That day, I found mine: the Ricoh Aficio 2027 photocopier.

It had spent its days in a local primary school, and had survived fairly well. It looked largely intact with no obvious major damage, and still had its plug attached. Now I needed to get it home. This is where the problems began.

The 1991 Daihatsu Feroza is not, as it turns out, an appropriate transport for this task. A combination of its high rear floor and small cargo area (even with the rear seats removed) made loading the copier physically impossible. I will not overstate the weight of this copier, approximately speaking, it was Damn Heavy™. Calls to the few friends I’d made in my short time in Victoria came to nothing, so an alternative solution had to be found.

The south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne are remarkably hilly. It had become my task to push a 62 kg office multifunction 1.4 kilometers home (137 pounds and just less than a mile). Considering this was a piece of hardware I’d found on the side of the road, over the next forty minutes I began to realise I almost literally became the modern Sisyphus.

Quite the struggle.

Is This Thing On?

mainUpon getting it home, I plugged it in.

I was greeted with the phrase “Please wait…” for about ten minutes. I remained hopeful, and then… beeps! The error code SC990 was given, as well as a local number to call for service — though that seemed like giving up, and they’d ask a few too many questions on turning up to a residential address. I persevered, and found that if I quickly cycled the power, the copier would successfully boot.

Now I was really excited. This was the best part of my plan. With the copier sitting by the fridge, I left it powered on and took a photo. I quickly sent it to my housemates in a group chat.

“Guys, I’m really tired of this. If you’re leaving the house would you PLEASE remember to turn the photocopier off before you go? Come on.”

Their confusion and laughter was totally worth it. At this point, though, I reached an impasse — what does one actually do with a free photocopier? Wait, of course! I promptly removed my pants.

The Stuff You Can’t Do With the Work Copier

squareIt took me a little while to master the proper technique. It’s not enough to simply sit down, placing one’s entire weight on the photocopier to image the buttocks. Even ignoring the risk of being crushed in the event of the copier falling over, the imaging bed isn’t designed as a seat. The plastic frame tends to deform under this sort of load, just enough to stop the scanning bar moving across the platen. Instead, it’s necessary to support oneself by placing the hands on the corners of the copier, hovering above the platen, ideally with an assistant to help you by pressing the start button.

In all seriousness, though, short of reinforcing the copier bed with a steel frame to enable the easier imaging of the human anatomy, I was running short on ideas and paper was jamming repeatedly. This test run behind me, I had an agonizing troubleshooting session ahead. Luckily, there were still a few beers in the fridge.

Amateur Copier Repair

A jammed print. Notice the rippling from the paper bunching up in the various rollers.

I had to figure out why the paper was getting jammed — for your viewing enjoyment, I filmed the process and embedded it below. The great thing is, over the last 20 years, copiers have started to include big, obvious pictorial instructions on both the LCD and the frame that help you troubleshoot a jam. Enabling users to sort out the easy issues has probably saved millions, if not billions, in service calls.

I did some research online, and came across talk of a paper feed clutch. After turning up the service manual for my copier, I found out how to enter not just Service Mode, but Special Service Mode! This allowed fine control of the photocopier’s deepest, darkest settings. I changed the clutch settings to 10mm, up from 6mm and tried to make 5 copies in succession. No dice — things jammed up again. It didn’t really feel like what I was doing had any effect.

A shot of paper jammed in the teeth that are meant to guide the print away from the fuser, towards the output rollers.

I sat down and had a think. Upon close examination of where the paper was jamming, it looked like instead of rolling over the fuser (the hot roller that bonds the toner to the paper) and peeling away, it seemed like the paper was sticking to the fuser too long and winding up jammed under the teeth designed to guide it off the fuser. Back to the service manual!

I decided to try cooling down the fuser. That would perhaps stop the paper sticking so much and then it would freely pass through to the output rollers. I dialled things down from 170 to 140 degrees. After checking the temperature monitor and confirming the roller temperature was following the settings changes, I successfully made 10 copies in a row with no jams. Success? Perhaps! But if there’s one thing I learned in my career as a manufacturing engineer, it’s not enough to change a setting and call it fixed. You’ve got to confirm your hypothesis is correct.

I decided to go the other way — I cranked the fuser temperature up to 185 C, hit Start, and waited with bated breath. Not entirely to my surprise, I got ten copies out, no problem. A second trial confirmed things were humming along smoothly. On the one hand, my copier worked — great! On the other, it kind of meant I had no idea what was going on.

Compare the prints from the hotter and colder fuser settings – note the spotting on the colder print.

I compared the 185 degree copies with the 140 degree copies, as seen in the image below. Oddly enough, there was some random spotting on the colder copies that wasn’t present on the hotter ones. For all I know, however, this might have just been old toner that was stuck to the rollers that came off at the higher temperature. In the end though, it seems to be printing well now at 185 degrees, only jamming occasionally. In the rare event it does, opening all the access panels, removing the jam, and closing them again is generally enough to get things ticking over smoothly again.

Did I solve the jamming issue? I guess I did. Do I know how? Not really. But if and when it comes back, I’ll be armed with more knowledge to attack the problem once more. If you’re a photocopier tech, please watch the video and tell me what I’m missing. I’d love to get an expert opinion on how to sort this out.

What Now?

The troubleshooting process was a lot of fun. But now I’m back to figuring out what to do with the copier. I’ve currently got the copier wired up to my home network as a printer and scanner, and could hook it up to my vintage computers over parallel or even AppleTalk if I so desired. But all of these ideas are simply using the copier for its intended purpose. Thus far, all I’ve really done is given it a name; it shall henceforth be known as Printmaster Flush.

I ask you — what does a hacker do with a free photocopier? I’m not content to just use this gift as it was intended. I’d like to build something truly unique and awesome with it, I just don’t know what. Please, share with me your ideas in the comments and any stories you have yourself of office hardware hijinx. Check out the video below for a play-by-play on dragging it home and dealing with the jamming issues.


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