How Microforum, Toronto’s only vinyl plant, presses records
It’s been a great decade for vinyl: sales have increased for 11 years in a row, and LPs are expected to be a billion-dollar industry in 2017. But the current love-in for analog culture hasn’t been as kind to Canadian vinyl-pressing plants. Since 2015, two of the country’s last remaining operations, in Montreal and Calgary, have closed.
Last month, a Toronto company called Microforum assumed the endangered vinyl-making mantle. The factory—which has been making CDs, DVDs and other media for more than 20 years—started considering pressing records years ago. “We saw that Canadian bands were having a hard time getting vinyl pressed in a reasonable amount of time,” says Noble Musa, Microforum’s vice-president of marketing and sales. So, they looked into buying equipment from an American plant or purchasing machines from Germany. But the technology spooked them: it’s nearly impossible to find parts for old vinyl presses, let alone people who know how to use and maintain them.
Then, last year, they found a solution close to home: Viryl Technologies, an Etobicoke startup that had engineered a new, fully automated vinyl pressing machine. Microforum quickly ordered two units and prepped a section of its 60,000-square-foot facility in north Toronto to house them. Pressing records is an intensive process, so they upgraded their power system, increased the size of water and gas pipes, installed a 150-horsepower boiler and 120-tonne chiller, and spent about a month installing and programming the units. In February, they were in full swing. Today, the plant has two operational units, and they plan to install four more. Each can press up to 4,000 records in a day:
The process starts with polyvinyl chloride pellets. Here, plant staff feed them into a large vat (the plant is currently installing a tube that will pump the pellets in automatically):
From the vat, the pellets feed into a cylindrical device called an extruder. It melts the pellets into a thick vinyl “sausage”:
At the tip of the extruder, a blade cuts off a slice of that sausage to create a puck-shaped slab and places it in the empty cavity to the left:
That puck then moves onto a platter. There, it’s pressed between two moulds of a record’s A and B sides at 2,000 psi, which flattens the puck into a disc, affixes labels and presses the grooves into the vinyl. The needle of a record player follows those grooves to produce sound:
A mechanical arm uses suction cups to move the disc onto another platter, where a blade trims excess vinyl from the record’s edge:
Another mechanical arm then grabs the finished disc and places it on a spindle:
A computer on the side of the machine controls the entire process, and pinpoints problems when something goes wrong:
The front end of the machine is on wheels and can swing open to let technicians fix issues or remove defective discs:
Faulty LPs, as well as the excess vinyl trimmed from discs’ edges, get tossed into giant waste bags. They’re then melted down and converted back into pellets to make more records:
Microforum has a listening station right next to the machines, so technicians can test a record as soon as it cools:
Some of Microforum’s early pressings include throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s new record, Retribution, as well as a pair of acts from P.E.I.: country darling Whitney Rose and indie-pop four-piece Paper Lions. The plant has partnered with local label Six Shooter Records, and hopes to start pressing vinyl for some of its CD clients, like Arts and Crafts. Independent musicians can also press small runs—a 100-record package costs $1,600: