Will New Record Presses Solve Vinyl’s Supply Problem?
By Michael Greig Thomas
A surge of 30% in vinyl sales last year marked the tenth straight year of vinyl sales growth. However, whilst the vinyl revival is showing no signs of slowing down, demand is, sadly, far outweighing supply. If the industry is to keep up with this growing supply, then something has to change.
Part of the problem is that the technologies that underlie the vinyl market are stuck in the past. New record-pressing machines haven’t been manufactured for decades, and only a small number of old presses remain: parts are scarce, breakdowns frequent, and shipping delays and defects are routine. All this has led to delays of up to sixth months as labels wait their turn to press records.
Faced with this new reality, some record companies and independent labels have been opening new pressing plants to insure their own supply and enable the market to operate more efficiently. Whilst many of these plants are only shifting capacity around, relocating existing pressing machines to new factories without actually increasing the industry’s ability to press more records, there are two shining examples that have followed a different vision, which may actually be a viable solution to vinyl’s supply problem.
Virl Technologies: The Warm Tone
Backed by $1-million from a Toronto investor, a new Canadian firm will introduce a modernised, fully automated record press later this year. Viryl Technologies says its new technology, which it will continually refine, will improve holdups and help the industry get rid of its own bottlenecks.
Viryl’s fully automated, computer-controlled press, The Warm Tone, is outfitted with dozens of computerised sensors, monitoring everything from heat and humidity to the specific blend of PVC used. The best vintage presses can produce a record every thirty to forty seconds; the Warm Tone promises to do so in twenty-five seconds, a significant advantage for a plant that presses tens of thousands of records a day.
Their new plant is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year, with a target pressing of 1 million records per year. The company plans to ship its presses worldwide at a price of about $160,000 (U.S.).
Newbilt Machinery: Vinyl Record Press
German company Newbilt Machinery GmbH & Co. is now shipping its first, newly-manufactured vinyl pressing machine in more than 30 years. The new presses are essentially an update to existing workhouse designs. With a variety of modern-day upgrades, including an electronic control system and a hydraulic power supply, Newbilt claim that these presses will vastly improve productivity and reliability.
The company also claims that material and energy loss during stand-by times will improve although the multi-step, labour-intensive process that goes into pressing a record won’t actually change.
Newbilt’s double system featuring two presses and an extruder, hydraulic power supply and a trimming machine costs $161,250 while a single-press system will set you back $100,000.
The Solution To A Growing Audience?
These new presses are incremental innovations which stand to slowly build the industry’s capacity and help labels, artists, and pressing plants to open up the market to additional niches, in turn making it more sustainable.
They might not save the whole music industry, but they should certainly help sate the vinyl record’s growing audience.