Douglas J. Baxendell

Class of 2009

Senior Design Engineer, UTC Aerospace

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Biography

Seeing the movie “The Endless Summer” in the middle of a blizzard in Rochester changed my family’s life.  In fourth grade, we started spending 3 or 4 months of the winter looking for surfing Shangri La in Mexico.  It was a strange way to grow up in many ways, but it exposed us to a lot of really interesting people from all over the world, chefs, engineers, Navy SEALS’s, musicians, hippies. In conversations, given any topic, we heard a lot of different perspectives.
We finally settled in the coastal village of Puerto Escondido. My hobby, aside from surfing, was photography. There wasn’t much “kid” stuff to do, so I invented, and built things – underwater camera cases, fiberglass kneeboards – with mixed results, but I was learning a lot.  


Courses that we could take “on the road” were limited, so I majored in photography in high school.  A friend suggested the Optics program at MCC.  I was really into photo gear, so (without the proper math and science requirements), I jumped right in.
I was hired at the Advanced Product group at Xerox 1981, and worked as an opti-mechanical technician for a few years. Later I was transferred to a struggling program and what was to become Xerox’s flagship. After a few of my unorthodox ideas there, they sent me to RIT to get a BS in mechanical engineering. I was often loaned out to other groups for brainstorming sessions. I had developed a reputation for looking at problems differently. I stayed there for a few years, but got lured away to design snowboards in San Diego, then worked my way back to Xerox, and a MFA in Industrial design.  I still do a lot of inventing – optics, mechanisms, and some design at UTC, but boardsports remains my passion. 

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Humvee Extinguisher

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Xerox Flagship Printer

Two issues were preventing Xerox from launching their flagship copier, costing them over 1M each day. The first issue was a wavy area that printed whenever an image was enlarged. When the image reached the photoreceptor belt at a high point, the path was lengthened, and when it reached a low point, the path was shortened, creating a wave in the image. Rows of rollers, vacuum assisted support belts and platens had all been tried unsuccessfully. My design challenge was to build a non-contacting device that was able to scan the belt and detect the wave height while the belt was running, for under $200. Needless to say, no one was happy.

I was invited to sit in on a brainstorming meeting with many of the prominent scientists, engineers and thinkers within the company. It was a real honor, since at this point I was just the testing technician. The meeting went late, winding down without any new ideas. A strange connection suddenly popped into my head, and without thinking I blurted it out. “What about supporting the belt with those little rectangular paint pads!” The room froze, as two people responded “paint pads?? That is the stupidest thing I ever heard!”  (Attacking is frowned upon in brainstorming, but I guess that it did sound like a pretty crazy idea). They all went home, laughing at this silly technician; I went to Home Depot and back to work.

The next morning - after working all night - I was exhausted, but the wave was 98% gone. My crazy idea worked amazingly well, and cost only a few dollars. It did not wear down the photoreceptor belt, but instead kept it much cleaner, adding life. Without the visual experiences. I’d had from watching waves as a kid, seeing Peter Gabriel crowd surfing at a concert, and painting a room, that idea may never have popped into my head.

I designed the mechanism that solved the other major issue (second side deletions) and we took it from a quick sketch to installing it in the assembly line in less than 60 days, and the product launched. My boss won the Xerox President’s award that year, which the other technicians teased me about unmercifully. Our manager pulled me into a meeting, insisting I take up a company offer for a scholarship and paid time off to go to RIT.