Always wanted to know how vinyl records are made? The guys at Discogs visited the Record Industry factory and wrote a beautiful article about the process.
Yesterday was a brilliant day; Liz and I had a chance to see where records are made. Anouk, of Record Industry in Haarlem, The Netherlands, had invited us for a tour around this plant, where records have been pressed for over 50 years. It was amazing to get to see this process and we proudly get to share it with you all! The technical details in this blog were taken from Record Industry’s website, with their approval, as it is quite a complicated process and there was too much to see at the plant to fit into my note book. The pictures were taken by us.
A bit of history
In 1958 the pressing plant was founded by Dirk Slinger who was an oil trader. His sons Casper, Dirk and Wim were responsible for running the plant under the name Artone, manufacturing only 7″ records. The factory did not have a cutting studio and galvanic department yet. Lacquers were cut in Germany by mister Kliewer and metalparts were made by Vox-Imago also based in Germany. Because there was not enough room inside the pressing plant, a few years later Artone started their own galvanics in the Kruisstraat, in the centre of Haarlem. In 1966 CBS bought a 50% share in Artone, and they started a printing company that year to make their own sleeves too. The first sleeve they printed was for a Nancy Sinatra record, “Like I do”. In 1962 they added 12″ vinyl pressing and in 1969 CBS (Colombia) took over full ownership. In the seventies demand for vinyl was growing rapidly and CBS pressed more than 50 million records every year. Of Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller” over 35 million copies were pressed in Haarlem in the eighties. The plants main focus was pressing the CBS catalog that was then merged with Sony Music. The plant was their most important vinyl production facility for Europe.
In June 1998 Record Industry took over operation of the plant. Since then, a lot of effort, energy and knowledge has been invested in maintenance and development of the machinery, combining new techniques with the existing ones.
The Cutting Rooms
We started out in the Cutting Room, where a cut is made from the supplied master tape. The audio is being cut on a cutting lathe in a lacquer (which has an acetate layer) or on a DMM (which has a copper layer). The difference between the two is that a DMM is more suitable for longer programs like classical repertoire or albums, a lacquer is better for 12″ items. For both the lacquer and the DMM, the cutting lathe works with a stylus (DMM a diamond stylus, lacquer with a Safire stylus) that etches a groove in the layer. The stylus has two coils, positioned between two magnets. The audio material is being led to the magnets, which causes both horizontal and vertical vibrations to the stylus. The depth of the groove depends on the intensity of the audio material. Each lacquer or DMM disc is single sided so two must be cut for a regular two sided record. The matrix code is entered with a stamp or engraved.
The Plating Or Galvanic
In this next step of the process, the stampers which are used to press the records, are produced. The lacquer with the groove is sprayed with silver, which forms a layer on the lacquer. Then, the lacquer with the silver layer is put into an electro-forming bath which bonds a nickel layer onto the silver. If this layer is substantial enough, the nickel layer will be separated from the lacquer and a first master is ready. This master is called the negative. From the negative a positive is made, in the same way as the negative was made. The negative is put in the electro-forming bath, a nickel layer ‘grows’ on the negative. After this step the two layers are separated from each other, leaving now not only the original negative but also a positive. The negative is a back-up copy which is archived. From the positive, the stampers are produced, again in the same electro-forming bath. The stamper is a negative, each record needs two stampers, one for the A side and one for the B side. It is possible to develop more than one set of stampers from the same lacquer or DMM. The stampers are used on the presses to actually press the grooves in the vinyl. With one set of stampers, approximately 1000 to 1500 records can be pressed. After that, the stampers are being recycled.
The vinyl is transported to the press in small granular or pellet form. Record Industry uses custom formulated virgin vinyl, manufactured to their specifications. The toluene free compound is said to have the lowest surface noise known in the vinyl industry. Before it is placed between the stampers it is formed under high pressure into a small ‘puck’ or ‘biscuit’. The ‘puck’ is mechanically placed between the stampers with on each side already an A and a B label. The labels are not self-adhesive but are pressed into the vinyl. The press closes and the stampers press the vinyl ‘puck’ under high pressure of 150 bar in 20 seconds into a record. The record is taken out of the press mechanically, the edges are trimmed and the record is put mechanically into an inner sleeve/disco sleeve and then left flat to cool down with after every 5 records also a heavy metal ‘spacer’ to enhance the hardening and cooling down process. The records are transported by an assembly-line to a robotised storage system (the collator) where they will cool down for approximately 3 hours for 125 grams records and overnight (at least 8 hours) for 180 grams records. After the cooling down period the records are ready for packaging.
Glueing & Folding
The sleeves are folded in-house, on one of the Winkler & Dunnebier folding machines. There are four machines which can practically fold any sleeve for all formats. One of them is a gatefold machine, which folds a two piece gatefold for 12″ with a 10 mm spine.
The packaging is being done at the finishing department where the records are mechanically sleeved in their outersleeve (apart from 7″ and 10″ which are sleeved by hand) and packed into boxes for transportation. Automatic stickering, shrinkwrapping or adding inserts is also done at this department.
Throughout this whole process the record is subject to a comprehensive Quality Control. Before an order can be pressed a first testing will be made and played by QC. When an order is planned for production QC will regularly check a record during the time it is on the press. Besided checking the audio QC checks the printed paper parts (labels, sleeves, stickers etc.) by comparing them with the digital proofs. Finally QC will do a last check on the records when they are packed, to make sure the customer receives his product exactly in the way it is ordered.
The people working at Record Industry are rightfully proud of their craft and of the historic value their company has for the music industry. They are happy to provide tours around the facility if time allows. Please note that you will need to contact them in advance to set up a date & time. We felt really privileged to see this plant, and to meet the people working there being so very passionate about creating our beloved vinyl. Thanks to everybody at Record Industry, especially Anouk, for being such wonderful hosts!
More information, also on the equipment used at the plant, can be found on their website