Agents of Change
Santokh Badesha: Innovating with a Purpose
“Potentially one of the top ten all-time highest contributions from a single technical contributor over the course of his/her Xerox career.”
Innovating with Purpose
Santokh Badesha is a Xerox Fellow and Manager of Open Innovation at Xerox. In 2018, Santokh reached a major milestone in his already impressive career: his 250th patent. How he got there is an inspirational story in solving problems and proof of the value of taking chances.
Necessity may be the mother of invention. But Santokh Badesha is the father. Most people would consider themselves accomplished with one or two patents to their name. With 15, you wouldn’t be out of place calling yourself prolific. Santokh has 250 — and more than 50 pending. Charlie Duke, former Vice President of the Xerox Research Center in Webster, NY said of Santokh that his impact on Xerox is “potentially one of the top 10 all-time highest contributions from a single technical contributor over the course of his/her Xerox career.”
This quote gets to the heart of Santokh as an inventor. He believes innovation shouldn’t be an idle or selfish pursuit. Rather, he’s a champion of using ideas to serve a greater purpose, working collaboratively to solve problems and helping to move the world forward. Join us as we get to know Santokh Badesha, the man behind the innovation.
When did you first realise you had a passion for the sciences?
Growing up in rural India, getting an education was a top priority. In that environment, being a scientist or a science professor at a university was seen as very prestigious. So that was what I wanted to do, and lucky for me I excelled in that field of study. While I liked physics most, my grades steered me in the direction of getting an advanced chemistry degree. And after my second PhD and a brief post-doc fellowship in the UK, I joined the Chemistry Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.
How did your career in research at Xerox begin?
While at Rensselaer, I performed research that was supported by NIH, the National Institute of Health, and related to synthesising antiviral/antitumor agents for pharmacological evaluation. This was in addition to teaching freshman chemistry.
Being in the academic environment, I was encouraged to publish and give talks about my work. That’s what I was doing when two managers from Xerox — Drs. Tom Smith and Dave Williams — approached me at an American Chemistry Society conference and asked me to give a talk at the Xerox Research Center in Webster, NY.
The Xerox Research Centers at PARC and Webster were renowned even back then. After my talk, they gave me a tour of the Center and told me about their research areas and how their researchers were free to do fundamental research. Then they asked, “Would you like to work here?”
38 years later, I’ve never once regretted my decision to say yes.
Is Xerox a good environment for innovation?
Xerox gave me the environment to be innovative and get to where I am today. I am surrounded by innovative minds that motivate and challenge each other to think about things in ways we might not have before. The culture is encouraging, pushes you to create value and rewards smart thinking and doing. And it feels great to know customers see value in our products as a result of something I created.
What’s your process for coming up with new ideas?
You can’t be creative if you’re not curious. But in the industrial environment, one needs to be more than curious. In industry, most of the innovation is incremental. So in addition to being curious, one needs to have the ability to see through the entire solution path and then determine what it takes to solve a problem. I don’t believe in “eureka” moments. I teach and preach that one should try to invent around the scientific principles.
Essential to that is working with others when it comes to ideas. It takes a village to take ideas from the test tube to customer hands. You can’t be a loner. I’ve learned that when people work together in teams and are forced to come up with solutions, a lot of value is created. With the right people in a team, you get just the right amount of fresh perspectives to inspire smart ideas. And the environment at Xerox is a perfect one for this open innovation.
Tell us a little more about open innovation.
The term open innovation was coined by Hennery Chesbrough of UC Berkley, and its basic premise is leveraging both internal and external resources as a process — not only to serve your current market but also new markets.
Xerox fully understands the value of reaching out to the global community to solve immediate problems, develop strategic technological solutions applicable for the entire platform and acquire fundamental understanding for future business opportunities.
I firmly believe that the real opportunities lie in connecting academic and industry research for innovation, and I have talked about the opportunities at a number of forums and panels. There is lot of knowledge just sitting idle in academia that could be turned into investment options for economic development.
What was your first patent?
About a year after I joined Xerox, I used my chemical background to make some very spherical selenium particles, nicely dispersed in a polymeric matrix, and I had some beautiful micrographs of them. I showed them to my officemate (Dr. John Pochan), who said, “Very interesting. Have you filed an invention proposal (IP) on it?” I had never heard of an invention proposal before and was very excited.
This turned out to be a real breakthrough invention, a new way of making photoreceptors, reclaiming selenium tellurium arsenic from waste, and ultimately a new process for creating alloys. Before this invention, selenium and tellurium metals would be turned into alloys by physical melt methods and then evaporated under a vacuum to create the light-sensitive layer of photoreceptors for photocopiers. In my co-reduction process, the co-precipitating selenium and tellurium coalesce to produce an alloy. The result was a potential way to make image-forming members more cheaply and of better quality. Creating alloys by co-reduction instead of by heating metals together was a new scientific phenomenon, and the discovery led to about 30 other patents and a number of scientific publications and presentations.
Can you talk about your most recent innovation — your 250th patent?
This latest patent is for a B-state epoxy film adhesive used to attach two or more printhead parts. It’s chemically resistant to hostile inks and maintains adhesion in high-temperature, high-pressure printing conditions. It will allow us to fabricate a more high-performance, high-density inkjet printhead at a lower cost.
Is this your proudest achievement? If not, what is?
One of the most rewarding inventions I’ve worked on actually relates to the step in our marking process where images are fused and fixed to paper.
At the time, the evolution of printing from black to color and the increase in printing speeds was having a significant impact on fuser rolls. Using temperatures, energy consumption and fuser roll cost increased while fuser roll life decreased. The surfaces of fusing rolls typically exhibited functional lives in the range of a few hundred thousand cycles. We needed to develop a new roll surface coating to extend functionality and life.
Back then, the entire electrophotographic marking industry was using fluoro-elastomers and/or silicone-based elastomers. When used alone they had performance shortfalls. We needed a composite material that would combine the properties of both and hopefully lead to longer performance life.
It may sound naïve, but I asked the development team, “Why can’t you just tie these materials together? Why can’t you actually bond them chemically so that they stay together and don’t get separated?” Then I was able to devise a process that did just that. The result was a new class of high-performance materials, simpler roll designs and longer-lasting fusing components — well over 10 million cycles — as well as another 20-plus patents and the Xerox President’s Award. This work was also picked up by the Materials Research Society in their Intersections News.
What comes next?
Getting 250 patents was my personal, but realistic, goal. My next challenge is to get 300. But what’s more important is the value created for Xerox and external recognition in academia. Our company wants to explore, expand offerings for today and tomorrow and learn how to address growing customer needs. And I plan to be a key player in that.
Agents of Change
We’ve all changed the world. Every one of us. With every breath we take, our presence endlessly ripples outwards.
But few of us have the opportunity to change many lives for the better. And even fewer are challenged to do so every day. That’s the gauntlet thrown daily at Xerox research scientists — to try and effect change.
In return, we give them time and space to dream. And then the resources to turn dreams into reality — whether they’re inventing new materials with incredible functions or using augmented reality to bolster the memory of Alzheimer’s patients.
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