Professor Cogdell Design 40A
9 December 2014
Raw Material Acquisition: Vinyl records
Vinyl records have had an ever-increasing following among audiophiles (“A person who is especially interested in high fidelity sound reproduction”), Collectors and hipsters alike (Dictionary.com). Of the above-mentioned some say that vinyl records produce a higher quality sound than that of CDs and MP3s because they are recorded directly from the analog source. On the other hand, some enjoy the aesthetic value and or rarity/collectibility of vinyl records themselves regardless of sound quality. Due to these aspects, Vinyl records, prominent throughout the 20th century are making a huge comeback, which not only allows more record labels and artists to release their music on this platform but also asks the question if vinyl records can be a sustainable alternative to CDs and MP3s.
Before we can answer this question we must first look at the lifecycle of vinyl records themselves, the first step is to cut a master disc that will eventually become a mold for the mass production of vinyl records. The core of the master disc happens to be made of aluminum, which “represents the second largest metal-market in the world” (All about aluminum). Aluminum is made of the material bauxite “that is not widespread throughout the world; only seven areas including West/Central Africa, South America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Central Urals, Central China and Oceania” (All about aluminum). “Around 50% of the world’s supply of aluminum is already owned” by major companies, therefore, companies that are dependent on aluminum for production have to rely on the fluctuating prices of the free-market or partnering with the major companies at a loss to either capital or shares (All about aluminum). Assuming the position of an average record production company we can assume that they are obtaining their aluminum from “UC RUSAL the world’s leader in the aluminum industry” (All about aluminum). Once at the processing plant, the raw aluminum or bauxite is "processed with electricity, heat from natural gas and process water” before being cut in a circular fashion (NREL).
Once the circular aluminum sheets arrive at the manufacturing factory they are than polished smooth to be coated with a veneer of nitrocellulose lacquer. Nitrogen is the most abundant element in the atmosphere, “making up about 78% by volume of the air that surrounds the Earth” and is primarily found in India and the desert regions of Chile and other South American countries (Net). Nitrogen is produced commercially almost exclusively from air, in a process of distillation of liquid air. “Nitrogen gas escaping from the liquid air is then captured, cooled, and then liquefied once more; this process produces a high-quality product that generally contains less than 20 parts per million of oxygen”(Net). Cellulose, on the other hand, is “one of many natural polymers” and is a “strong fiber made out of a sequential unit of monomer glucose” (PSLC). “Cellulose is a byproduct of naturally grown cotton and is majorly exported by both china and North America” (Cotton Australia). "Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable compound formed by nitrating cellulose" this process can be used to make gun cotton but the “process is stopped before full nitration can occur and the substance of nitrocellulose can be used as a plastic film or lacquer”(Dow). Nitrocellulose can actually be made out of household materials by combing “acetone, Ping-Pong balls, and black powder for coloring in any microwave safe or Styrofoam bowl” (Dow). The circular aluminum sheets are then run through a curtain coater that releases the nitrocellulose that promotes flexibility and durability but gives off an effect similar to that of drugstore nail polish as it hardens. The runoff of lacquer from the curtain coater is then collected and reused for other master discs (Interpreted from How Its Made).
Then each lacquer coated disc is hand inspected by a worker who checks for dust and imperfections at a rejection rate of about 50% and the rejects get recycled to start the process again. The discs are then the hole punched in the center and packaged in cardboard boxes similarly designed to pizza boxes and shipped to the recording studio. According to Shayan Anoushiravani from Design 40A spring quarter 2013, tree pulp or recycled cardboard is combined with corn starch to create corrugated cardboard that are then folded and cut to create packaging boxes (Anoushiravani 2). At this stage, a sound engineer works with the master disc and transfers and audio recording into a continuous spiral on the discs. This process is called analog to record because they take an analog recording and transfer it to an album.as previously mentioned some believe this sound to be warmer and richer than MP3s. But along with higher quality comes constraints in this case because the playing time of an album determines how many grooves are required per inch meaning the size of the record either 12”, 10”, or 7” limits the length of audio that can be recorded onto either side. 12” albums can fit anywhere from 4 to 6 full length songs on either side, 10” records can fit 2 to 3 and 7” albums contain one song on each side.
The master disc is now complete but the lacquer and aluminum casing is to delicate to be played but it has been produced solely to be used as a mold, which allows manufactures to create multiple records from just one. Once the master discs arrive at the manufacturing plant they are washed with down water to ensure a completely clean disc (Interpreted from How Its Made). Next they are sprayed with a liquid form of tin chloride, tin is often produced from the mineral cassiterite, which is “80% tin and commonly found in riverbeds” that once contained tin ore in “China and Indonesia which are the two largest producers” (Bell 1). Hydrogen, “the most abundant element in the universe, is a byproduct of water and natural gases and is most commonly produced in North America and Spain”(CAFCP). Chlorine, on the other hand, is not naturally occurring on Earth but is a by-product of the electrolysis of seawater or salt, primarily in Europe (Burrows 4). The hydrogen and chlorine are combined to create hydrogen chloride and then the tin is combined with or dosed in the solution to create tin (II) or tin chloride. Because of tin’s malleability and ductility it works as a sensitizer that helps the manufactures bond liquid silver as the next layer of the disc. Silver naturally exists in “sulphite deposits and about three quarters of all silver is extracted as a co-product of copper, lead, and zinc in Europe, Japan and Chile” (Bell 2). But the disc is still far too fragile to play they now take a water and nickel nugget bath that has an electric current to bond the nickel to the silver disc. Nickel is rarely found in ores of its own but rather “in pyrrhotite and millerite that contain anywhere from 1 to 4% of nickel; nickel is rarely ever made from recycled materials” (Bell 3). Russia, Canada, Australia, and Indonesia are the primary miners of nickel with “Norilsk Nickel being the number one manufacturer of the product worldwide” (Bell 3).
The Discs are then pried apart leaving an inverse or negative indentation on the metal disc that will be used as a stamper to press records while the lacquer disc is discarded. A worker then uses a guide to help find the exact center of the disc and punches a hole. The worker then trims the disc to size that a ½ inch larger than its name, meaning that a 12” album is actually 12 ½ inches in diameter. The half-inch is coined meaning left blank and raised at edge to allow for easier handling of records for the consumer. Albums are now ready for mass production through pressing but first labels must be prepared which the record company usually supplies. But they arrive in paper sheets, produced in the same fashion as cardboard materials, that still have to be hole punched in the middle and cut on the outside to become circular.
Next workers pour black polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pellets in a hopper, which is an odorless and solid plastic. According to Yu-Tzu Yang (Catherine) from Design 40A spring quarter 2014, PVC is made from Ethylene a byproduct of petroleum or natural gases, Ethanol (aka alcohol) a byproduct of corn, Chlorine, and Methyl Ethyl Ketone (aka butanone); “these materials are then combined and can be produced in forms anywhere from pellets to film” (Yang 3). It is most commonly black or white but can also be colorless or dyed to be any color and is most commonly produced in Northern America (Yang 4). The PVC pellets are then forced by pressure into an extruder and become soft rubbery patties, named “biscuits”. Respective labels are placed on both sides of the biscuit; it is then placed between the two metal master disc stampers. At this time the stampers compress the biscuits with the hundred tons of pressure at 380°F which melt and mold the biscuit into a record. A rapid cooling process hardens the record and bonds labels to the vinyl and allows for instant playback. The records are than trimmed to create a smooth edge and the record is now complete and taken to a stack of other finish records. This process is continuous as one leave the stamper press another one enters because the cycle from pressing to cooling to trimming is only 28 seconds long. However, The first pressing is a little longer because it is thoroughly inspected with a microscope and play tested to ensure highest quality, once this is done production continues. The records are than hand wiped and pack it in their own unique sleeves made of printed and sealed cardboard, same process as cardboard packaging, and shrink wrapped which is made from PVC in film form and are now ready for shipment throughout the United States. This process is made easy due to in home distribution centers that not only lower the cost of shipping but increase efficiency because manufacturing and shipping occur in the same building.
Independent record stores and even popular electronic stores like Best Buy and Fry’s carry records, so that they are easily accessible. But along with that accessibility comes a lot of care and maintenance. Directly out of the packaging, records should be wiped clean in case of debris you should also avoid touching the grooves by either holding the coined edges or using the labels as support. Records should be kept in their sleeves when not in use and should be cleaned with water (distilled works best) or water based cleansing solutions for optimal playing. A constant temperature of 65 to 70°F should be maintained and removal from direct sunlight is crucial. You should also remove the shrink-wrap because they will tighten around your record and may cause damage due to compression. As with most objects, time will take its toll even just the amount of times played will cause damage to your record but if you follow some of the above steps you can increase the length of your record exponentially (recordcollectorsguild).
Due to Vinyl records being made from PVC, they are not accepted yet in any household recycling setups, or at local recycling centers, however, the cardboard covers and sleeves can be recycled anywhere. Although, a good alternative is, if your records are still in good condition, donating them to charity shop or reselling them to most independent record stores. Because they are made from PVC, vinyl records can be re-purposed into diy projects including bowls and wall art. Lastly vinyl records can be passed down from generation to generation because they have such a long lasting lifecycle. In the end I would say although they can not be conventionally recycled vinyl records hold both an aesthetic and sonic value as well as a long lasting durability compared to CDs that combine to create a more sustainable product overall (Recycle Now).
(Production Processes throughout this essay are interpreted but not quoted from the Sound and the Story and How it’s made).
All about aluminum . UC RUSAL, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. http://www.aluminiumleader.com/en/serious/industry/.
Anoushiravani, Shayan. designlife-cycle. UC Davis, 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.designlife-cycle.com/cardboard-packaging>.
Bell , Terrence. Metal Profile: Tin. N.p., 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2014. http://metals.about.com/od/properties/a/Metal-ProfileTin.htm. http://metals.about.com/od/properties/a/Metal-Profile-Silver.htm>. http://metals.about.com/od/properties/a/Metal-Profile-Nickel.htm>.
Burrows, Cynthia. C&EN. University of Utah, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://pubs.acs.org/cen/80th/print/chlorine.html>.
CAFCP. CALIFORNIA FUEL CELL PARTNERSHIP, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2014. <http://cafcp.org/faq/where-does-hydrogen-come>.
Cotton Australia , Where is Cotton grown?. n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://cottonaustralia.com.au/australian-cotton/basics/where-is-it-grown>.
Dictionary.com Unabridged. "audiophiles." Random House, Inc. 08 Dec. 2014. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/audiophiles
Dow. Nitrocellulose. DOW Co., 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://www.dow.com/dowwolff/en/industrial_solutions/polymers/nitrocellulose/>.
How Its Made: Vinyl Records. Discovery Channel. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbTPKCtdhSA&index=1&list=WL>.
NET. Nitrogen-General Properties. Net Industries, 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. http://science.jrank.org/pages/4681/Nitrogen-General-properties.html.
NREL. "Aluminum, sheet, coated, at plant." N.p., 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. https://www.lcacommons.gov/nrel/process/show/25138?qlookup=Aluminum&max=35&hfacet=&hfacetCat=&loc=&year=&dtype=&crop=&index=29&numfound=32&offset=
PSLC. Cellulose. N.p., 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.pslc.ws/macrog/cell.htm>.
recordcollectorsguild. Record Collectors' Guild , 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.recordcollectorsguild.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=15&page=1>.
Recycle Now. N.p., 7 June 2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/records>.
The Sound and The Story. RCA Victor, 1958. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZTGF7G96sE&list=WL&index=2>.
Yang, Yu-Tzu. designlife-cycle. UC Davis, 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 27 Nov. 2014. <http://www.designlife-cycle.com/vinyl-banners>.
Vinyl Records Embodied Energy
In the modern world, music can be heard from anywhere, especially in a period when technology is so advanced that everyone who can access to internet can just click into any website to listen to their favorite music. While internet is one of the easier ways to listen to music, there are also people who use CD player as a way to enjoy music. Throughout the history of music, solid form of music such as compact discs and cassette tapes were abandoned by society; vinyl records was one of them. However, during the past few years, its sales have been rising. From the invention of phonograph in 1877 until almost to its extinction, after nearly 100 years later, the technology of making vinyl records had come back to life for people who enjoy a special high quality sound. Not only do some people enjoy the sounds that come out from vinyl records, the whole process from raw materials acquisition to manufacturing is highly appreciated.
Raw Material Acquisition
The first process in making a vinyl record is raw material acquisition. There are many different raw materials needed in the whole process of creating a vinyl record; including Hydrogen, byproduct of water and natural gas (also the most abundant element in the universe); Nitrogen, byproduct of earth’s air (also the most abundant element in the atmosphere); Cellulose, by product of cotton; Tin, byproduct of cassiterite; Chlorine, byproduct of seawater or salt; silver, byproduct of copper and zinc; Nickel byproduct of pyrrhotite; these raw materials can be found in many parts of the world including; West and central Africa, south American, Caribbean, Mediterranean, central Urals, central China, India, desert regions of Chile, Pakistan, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia, Europe, Japan, Canada and Russia. However, the one material that is needed for the most part of making a vinyl record is aluminum, which also the most important raw material that is needed for the master disc. Aluminum is the byproduct of bauxite. Bauxite is a clay soil which can be acquire from a few meters below ground. The whole process from Bauxite to aluminum is fairly complicated. Here is how bauxite becomes aluminum; after bauxite was acquired from the ground, it has to go through a grinder which the clay is washed off. In the refining process, alumina is separated from bauxite by using caustic soda and become known as “pure alumina”. Later, pure alumina is transformed into aluminum in the processing station, then into different products. The whole process from bauxite to aluminum can take up to 63,000 to 95,000 watt-hours of energies, but in comparison from 100% recycled aluminum, only 3,150 to 4,750 watt-hours of energies are needed. The raw materials are also divided into different categories according to the need of those in master disc; those that needed for pressing of the record, and those that needed for package and labels. My assumption in researching the raw materials acquisitions is that there are so many raw materials that are needed in the life cycle of vinyl records include the most abundant material in the metal market, aluminum. Based on the internet sources, it would be too easy to obtain information about the specific steps in the process of acquiring aluminum. In order word, the acquisition of aluminum is too general to a point where I just put the average amount of energy that aluminum can take up to from the beginning of getting bauxite to the final products. There are also too many raw materials that are too general to get information, it would be too much to put onto the research paper. Instead, I only talk about the main one, which is the acquisition of aluminum. After raw material acquisition, it is time for the creation of a vinyl record.
There are three parts in the manufacturing process of vinyl records; recording the sound, making the master disc, and producing LPs. The first part in making a functional vinyl record is through recording in a studio, but since this part does not fit into the category of life cycle, this part can put aside from this paper. The second part of a making a vinyl record is the making of a master disc. A master disc is made of aluminum, which is also the core of the master. An aluminum disc is put onto a conveyed belt which right toward a device called curtain coater (a machine that can generate 18000 watts) and there the aluminum disc coated with lacquer. In that process, the conveyed belt can generate around 4250 watts of energy. After the lacquer disc is created, workers who work in the inspection station have to inspect each lacquer disc with careful attention because there might be bumps or dirt on the lacquer discs. In this process, the rejection of lacquer disc is so high that even a minor imperfection cannot be tolerated, which mean workers have to be very careful in inspect the disc. Although the rejection of the lacquer disc is 50%, the rejected lacquer discs are usually recycled. Next, a worker holds the disc under a hydraulic puncher (it generates around 4000 watts of energy) that cut hole in the center of a lacquer disc, then carefully places the finished one into a spindle. After a set of master disc is created, it is ready for a trip to a studio where a mastering engineer would continue on the process.
The third parts, also the most important part of the creation of a vinyl record is producing LPs. A mastering engineer will have to first put the master disc onto a recording machine called “lathe cutting machine” in order to start the recording. Lathe cuts the leading groove and the recording on the lacquer disc begins. After the master disc is finished, workers wash it with soap and water; they spray the finished master disc with tin chloride and liquid silver. Then, the next thing the workers have to do is to add dollar metal to the silver side of the master disc in order to stiff the disc. After this process is done, workers pry the middle layer away from the original lacquer disc. This metal layer serves as a stamper that is used to press vinyl record and the lacquer disc which serves as a mold is discarded. After finding the center hole of the stamper disc, it moves to a trimming machine for cutting the edge to make the stamper a diameter of 32 centimeters. After the cutting process, a label must be putted onto the stamper disc.
At this station where the vinyl record is produced. Workers pour polyvinyl chloride pellets into a hopper, then the pellets fall into an extruder which turn into biscuits. Then, each side of the biscuits was labeled. Next, a carriage moves the biscuit forward then drops the biscuit and labels in a machine that is mounted with two stamper discs, then apply 100 times pressure. The stampers are searing 193 degree which melt and mold the biscuits into a record. Then another carriage carries the finished record to a trimming table and cut off the excess edges. Lastly, the finished product would put into the finished stack. Then, the whole process starts over again. The finished vinyl records are move to the finishing department, which each record is inspected with careful attention and check whether they are any flaws such as scratches or bumps before it was packaged. My assumption in the life cycle of vinyl records was to find how much energy will all machines that are needed for creating a vinyl record generate, but I never expect that there are different brands of machines which affect the accuracy of energy consumption. In addition, there are more workers are needed than I have expected, which counting them as consideration on energies that are used up for the whole process, it would be a difficult task to do since the number of workers can be varied. There are also a lot of the machines which I didn’t get a chance to talk about the energies. All these elements would affect the overall energies that are used in the whole process of making vinyl records.
In the waste and emission section, depending on where and whom the finished vinyl records are distributed to, it is up to those owners to keep the record. However, a lot of the waste goes back into the manufacturing process which is usually recycled.
Although this research assignment proved to be a frustrated experience, I personal gain a lot of insightful knowledge about the creation of vinyl records. From the raw materials acquisition to finishing packages, there is way more works than I thought before doing any research on this topic. This is a great experience in knowing how a design was made not only for sustainability, but also learning how to appreciate the works that were done by workers who are part of manufacturing process. Even though there is more unexpected assumption than I first thought, it proves to me that more research is needed to make a better research paper. For example, different brands of machine will produce different amount of energy, and it is those inaccuracy that make this whole process fill uncertainties. However, considerate becoming a designer, this might be the information that one would need to learn, solve and make critical evaluation in order to make a better design.
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