Newbilt machines are based on the old Finebilt presses, which were made until the early 1960s.
The Newbilt partners saw no need to reinvent the wheel, so they designed a reasonably priced, semi-automatic machine that uses a manual operator. The new machines have a Siemens Simatic controller, and have full guarding to meet all safety regulations.
Newbilt assembles the machines from components sourced from outside vendors.
“Newbilt is doing the engineering and the assembly. Everything else, we give out,” Neubauer said. “So, for example, we make the engineering for the screw, but we are not building it.”
According to Newbilt, setting up a complete vinyl record production line costs about 200,000 euros ($220,000).
On the Newbilt machines, an extruder turns out a hockey-puck sized piece of vinyl. The operator places the top and bottom label in the mold plates — known as the stampers — then positions the biscuit of material. The operator pushes two safety buttons, and the material shuttles away to an area isolated from the machine operator.
Steam heats the die and the stampers press together to squeeze vinyl into the grooves. Chilled water cools the mold back down. The operator removes the album and puts it in a separate trimming station, which removes excess flash.
Neubauer said these fairly basic machines are much more flexible than fully automated ones. You can easily change the molds to press standard 12-inch records, seven-inch 45s, heavier 180-gram vinyl platters, or colored vinyl. You can even get a marbled look by placing several small vinyl cakes of different colors into the stamper.
“We decided to build only semi-automatic machines,” Neubauer said. “Why? Because for one thing, people don't know how strong the market is growing. People still compare too much, with second-hand machines, price-wise. And a fully automatic machine would be too expensive, for doing the first steps now.”
Old fully automatic machines needed to be dedicated to a single type of album, so those presses can run large quantities, he said.
Hemperly, of Record Products of America, said a typical order at a record presser today might be 300 to 500, compared with 20,000 in the 1970s.
“The reason that we decided to clone the Finebilt and make a manual machine, we studied the market and found that everyone in the world was using the Finebilt to make their test pressings and to manufacture small production runs,” he said.
Still, Seiffert said that by the end of 2016 Newbilt should offer a fully automated machine. Some possibilities: Using a SCARA pick-and-place robot on a single machine. Or a Duplex model where one extruder feeds two presses, with a six-axis robot running between the two machines.
Record pressing is essentially compression molding of a precise, flat part. Hemperly compares it to baking bread.
“You can't use higher-temperature steam in order to heat more rapidly, because all you'll do is freeze stress into the vinyl material,” he said. “You have to heat it gently, and cool it gently, and take your time. If you try to make too many records a minute, you're going to have problems.”