How Irmler GmbH is breathing new life into the record pressing market.
Good old vinyl has been enjoying a global renaissance for a number of years now. By the end of 2016, vinyl sales were nearly another 50 percent up on the previous year. Since the 1980s, the emergence of CDs followed by MP3s and online streaming has resulted in the music market moving increasingly towards non-physical consumer items, but vinyl is bucking this trend through its format alone.
Modernising old record presses
There are, however, far fewer vinyl presses in working order to meet the ever-increasing demand for record production capacity. In 2014, Irmler GmbH was therefore asked to use modern-day technology to breathe new life into an old record press. The retrofit of the existing system based on technology established for decades was a big success. During the project, it became clear that the core process could be made far more efficient by using the latest guidelines and processes.
There are no longer any vinyl record press manufacturers anywhere in the world, though, so the retrofit customer asked specialist mechanical engineering company Irmler about the feasibility of planning and building a completely new press. The supply of spare parts for the old Alpha Toolex machines was to continue independently in parallel to this.
Using modern-day technology to make records
A 3D drawing of the modernised system served as a basis. This was combined with a cutting-edge control system and servo technology using CAD. The core process – pressing the record – still works in the same way as it did 50 years ago. New valve technology uses hot/cold media to control the temperature of the moulds while they are pressed together under high hydraulic pressure.
A project period was defined jointly and the basic operation of the machine, including the entire hydraulic system, was tested at Irmler. The fully assembled system was only put to the test after it had been installed at the customer’s premises. Since a large amount of peripheral equipment is required to press vinyl records, it was impossible to perform a test run in the construction workshop at Irmler GmbH.
Automation from extrusion to packaging
Some of the key benefits of the new record press lie in the servo technology between pressing and the packaged record. The extrusion process was completely revised with heating cycles controlled electronically using a PLC and state-of-the-art drive technology. All peripherals also benefit from PLC control and can now be adjusted more flexibly than with the manual control system previously used. Completely free configuration of counters and times is also possible via a touch panel. The feeding in of pucks and labels has been optimised, while the processes of inserting cooling plates and packing in paper sleeves have been automated.
Safety and quality assurance activities have also been revised for the prototype. State-of-the-art safety based on the Machinery Directive is now assured, while monitoring the position of the pressing frame and the hydraulic pressure ensures consistently high product quality.
Record presses from Irmler
Once the prototype had been installed and operated for a few months, it quickly became clear that the machine satisfies the calculated performance data and produces records of the quality expected by the customer. Further orders followed as a result.
The customer now has no fewer than five new record presses for vinyl production. The quality of the sound carriers is just as high as on the old machines. The control system’s comprehensive documentation and error identification minimise troubleshooting time in the event of a fault.
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