The fundamentals underpinning record pressing haven’t changed in decades.
As we’re continually reminded, vinyl isn’t going anywhere. But as major label interest in the format continues to grow, so too do lead times at pressing plants and increased uncertainty for independent labels and artists.
A key issue is that to open a new plant or to expand capacity in an existing one, manufacturers must hunt for old presses. With an extremely limited stock out there, ‘digging’ in dirty warehouses is no longer just the pursuit of record collectors. But even if can get your hands on a press, because the technologies underpinning the process have barely evolved, vinyl records are subject to hard limits on supply. Whether it’s galvanics, stampers or actually pressing the record, this highly labour intensive operation faces bottlenecks at nearly every stage. Even if a plant works round the clock for months, rarely can keep it up with demand.
But in the past six months, two companies Germany’s Newbilt and Toronto-based Viryl Technologies have introduced the first new record-pressing machines in decades. Whilst Newbilt’s machine is simply an update of existing technology, Viryl’s Warm Tone claims to be the world’s first fully automated, computerised pressing machine. The press can monitor everything from nozzle pressure to temperature to the purity of vinyl, which could help factories on their quest to producing that perfect record. And where an old press can knock out a record every forty seconds, a Warm Tone can apparently do so in just twenty-five.
With the Warm Tone set to debut at Hand Drawn Pressing in Texas this Fall, we caught up with Viryl’s Alex DesRoches to quiz him about what these new machines mean for the record industry.
You’ve said the Warm Tone is “ the most innovative record press to reach the market in record pressing history”. Could you justify this claim and also clarify what exactly a “fully automated” press entails?
The Warm Tone record press is the most innovative record press for a number of reasons. First off, our ADAPT Platform is like nothing ever seen in the industry. This feature allows for pressing plants to collect data on every aspect of the pressing process. Everything from nozzle pressure, throughput, uptime, details regarding different PVC blends etc. All of this data is available via smartphone or PC for analysis. This takes all “black magic” and guessing out of vinyl record pressing. It assures you are running at peak performance and that your business is the most profitable it can be.
ADAPT also tracks maintenance needs on your machine and allows our service engineers know when your machine needs servicing. ADAPT means less downtime.
Another massive feature is unattended operation. Our machines are fully-automated. This means extrusion (biscuit making) to trimming and stacking on spindles is completed by the machine without operator interference. Unattended operation is standard in any industrial equipment in 2016 and any serious pressing plant knows this. One operator can run up to four Warm Tone record presses at once. This can save pressing plants approximately $90,000 USD/year on labor (subject to employee wages) when running 4 machines. There is no need in 2016 to have an operator at each press in your facility.
The Warm Tone record press also has the fastest cycle time on the market today. At 140 gram records the Warm Tone cycles at 20 seconds or 3 record per minute. When comparing this to new age manual presses which cycle at 46 seconds per record, require two sets of record molds, and a full time operator you can truly see the benefit of the Warm Tone record press. In designing the Warm Tone we didn’t re-invent the wheel. We simply modernised it and improved the antiquated workflow.
What other benefits do you anticipate from the new machines?
Less defects. Currently some pressing plants are operating at a 40% defect rate. That is unacceptable. We have pressed records in the past and owned pressing plants so we know exactly what causes these defects. It allowed us to target the “pain points” and create new technology which assures plants get the most out of their machinery.
New pressing technology also means no bottleneck for artists waiting for their music. There hasn’t been any new capacity added to this industry for years. It simply keeps getting shifted around when one plant closes and another plant moves their old machinery to another facility. Most times these ancient machines never get up and running how they should and the industry loses capacity. New pressing machinery is necessary for survival in this industry. It is what assures supply keeps up with demand.
Are there any dangers of pressing more quickly or altering the technique?
The Warm Tone record press does not alter the technique of pressing vinyl records. It is the exact same process completed on modern machinery. So, in short, no. There is zero risk.
The demand for vinyl records is rapidly outpacing manufacturers’ capacity to supply them. Do your machines hold the key to solving these pressing problems?
We are confident that our record press can propel the vinyl record industry further. Vinyl records are here to stay and the Warm Tone record press is the machine needed to sustain growth and keep up with demand. Pressing plants that operate with our machinery will have the most advanced pressing technology in the world today. Modern design for that classic sound we all love.
Are there still steps of the vinyl manufacturing process beyond pressing that could be developed? And if so are you looking to innovate in these areas too?
Yes. Viryl Technologies is working with industry experts to tackle plating and electroforming solutions. The metal masters needed to press records is an essential part of the process. We also currently manufacture record molds for pressing plants. We are very passionate about vinyl records and understand what this industry needs. We love it. We are innovators and engineers who hope to keep vinyl records in the hands of music fans and headaches away from pressing plant owners!