Making a vinyl record is a messy, time consuming business. It involves toxic chemical baths, huge mechanical presses, stampers that wear out easily, and maybe worst of all, the final product is made from a petroleum product. Record pressing has shown small improvements over the years, but for the most part, it’s still done the way it was 40+ years ago.
But that could change soon. A new injection moulding process invented by the Dutch company Symcon, promises not only to cut production costs, but to improve sound quality, and reduce the environment impact of conventional record pressing as well.
In a conventional record press, a PVC puck is heated with steam until it’s soft, then placed between the two stampers that press the puck for about 8 seconds. Another 16 seconds is then required for the record to cool off before the process can begin again.
In the new process, the plastic mixture is heated in advance, injected between the two stampers, then pressed for a few seconds and cooled for another 20 seconds to make sure the mixture reaches the outer edges of the stampers.
There are several big advantages with injection moulding. First of all, the amount of energy used is cut by up to 65%. There’s no excess vinyl around the record that needs to be cut off, and the stampers last much longer before they degrade. Currently, a stamper only lasts for around 2,000 records before it must be replaced. Yet another happy byproduct is that the noise is reduced by up to 10dB over conventionally pressed records.
This seems like a slam dunk, but there are still a few challenges to overcome though. So far, injection moulded records are less durable, as they show signs of wear after 35 plays compared to 50 times for a vinyl record. The price is also about 25% higher, although that should come down over time. It also takes more time to actually press the record, which is a serious disadvantage.
So this new system holds a lot of promise, but it’s too early to tell whether it’s revolutionary or not. Here’s a video that explains more, as well as a bit of an interview with one of the engineers.