A group of music-loving young engineers are making fully automatic record pressing machines at Viryl Technologies Corp. in Toronto.
“We're all music enthusiasts and we all really love what we are doing,” CEO Chad Brown said.
Viryl Technologies' press, the Warm Tone, is entirely automated.
The vinyl record industry was always close-knit even in its glory day, but it's even more in today's comeback environment. Viryl Technologies knows Newbilt Machinery. Brown said there's room for both companies — but he doubts more machinery players will jump into the pressing machine market for what is still a niche business.
“It's a strong possibility there is room for a company that builds manual presses and there's room for a company that makes automatic presses,” Brown said.
Viryl Technologies has sold its first machines: Three presses for Calgary's Canada Boy Vinyl, and two presses to Hand Drawn Records in Dallas.
Brown learned record manufacturing from the ground up. He was in his early 20s, and running a small record label, when he bought Acme Pressing in Markham, Ontario, in 2000.
“I decided that it would probably be a good idea that I would press my own records,” he said.
“I thought that we would walk in and hit a button and records would start magically appearing. But that wasn't the case so I spent the next six years learning the craft of making records and fixing machinery,” he said.
The SMT presses were old and temperamental.
Acme Pressing closed in 2007 when three of its record distributors shut down within a short period of time.
Brown switched gears and joined biomedical startup Sentinelle Medical Inc. When that company was sold, Brown took a buyout instead of relocating. His friends encouraged him to get back into vinyl pressing, but he didn't want to deal with the old machines.
Then some co-workers, engineers from the biomedical firm, joined up to design a new press. They started developing the machine at the end of 2014, at first with some investors from New York. The investors, who wanted a cloned SMT press, disappeared.
The founders of Viryl Technologies are all in their 30s. One of the three founders is Mike Wybenga — the son of Bill Wybenga, the former longtime CEO of Brampton Engineering Inc., the Canadian maker of blown film machinery. (The other cofounder is Rob Brown, who is not related to Chad Brown.)
After the initial investors left, the fledgling machinery company got a solid investment, and a manufacturing partnership, with AXYZ Automation Inc., a maker of computer numerically controlled routers in Burlington, Ontario, and its CEO Alf Zeuner. That led to a prototype record press in January 2016.
AXYZ is building the Warm Tone presses.
“They've been absolutely wonderful,” Chad Brown said.
The Viryl Technologies team has developed a modern, safe machine that can press a record as fast as 19 to 23 seconds. A key is a cooling plate that goes between each molded record.
“We can take the record out of the mold cavity fairly hot, then it goes into a secondary cooling station,” he said.
“We wanted to innovate in this space,” Brown said. “We didn't want to recreate issues [from] the past.”
One operator can handle four Warm Tone presses, he said. The entire computer-controlled process operates inline, after the operator hits a button. The press monitors variables such as nozzle pressure, temperature and humidity, through Viryl Technologies' Advanced Device Analytics Pressing Technology (ADAPT) system.
Viryl Technologies worked with a screw designer to develop an extruder for making the vinyl pucks that go into the compression molding machine. They do rheological testing of the vinyl.
Brown said that all vinyl albums are not created equal.
“At the end of the day, yes, it's a piece of plastic, but it's got to sound good and it has to be perfectly flat, he said.
The Warm Tone record presses sell for about US$190,000.
Brown said many of the Viryl employees are record collectors. His own reason to love records is pretty deep: “Despite everything, like whether you think vinyl sounds better than digital or not, what I really love about vinyl is you can actually go through history and the sound is achieved from the late 1880s to now — so you can actually hear the sound profile that your grandfather heard.”
So the vinyl sound is timeless.
Brown has an idea why vinyl is now more widely popular. You're stuck on a computer or smartphone all day for work, answering emails from your boss. You use the small screen to read your newspaper, maybe even watch movies. But you want music to separate you from that mundane, disconnected world.
“Why are records popular again? Well, people are social,” he said.