Vinyl Factory Tour: Part 3
by B. Rica on July 05 '06
(Read Part Two)
For those of you not into vinyl geek-speak, plating is the process where the lacquer that was cut in the mastering room (see previous page) is transformed into a master, which is a “negative” copy of the original lacquer (where grooves are raised instead of carved out). In turn, this master is used to create a “mother,” which in turn generates the “stampers” that pressing machines use to churn out copies of a record. If you have ever made an imprint of your thumb or hand in a ball of Silly Putty, you already have a good idea of the entire logic of the record making process.
At RTI, plating is made on another building, separated from the mastering and pressing facilities by a matter of yards. In the photo above, we can see a lacquer being automatically sprayed out with a coat of a custom silver formula. This is done to make an electrically conductive surface, which is a necessary step for the following procedures.
Once the spraying process is complete, the lacquer is then soaked in a mild detergent to clean oil residues from the surface. After this, the treated lacquer is mounted on a copper hanger and placed in a special tank filled with nickel sulfamate. Over the next 14-16 hours, the nickel in the water will stick to the silver lacquer by means of a process called electrolysis, effectively building a nickel layer on top of the silver one to create the “mother,” or a positive copy of the negative master lacquer. Unlike the treated master, the mother can be played as an ordinary record and it is from where all required stampers for presses are duplicated from. The mother is prepped from the master and is subject to quality assurance tests before entering the duplication process.
See these nuggets? These are the nickel beads used on plating baths. They are left to disintegrate in the water, making it even more electrically conductive than in its natural state, and giving it that mysterious radioactive green color as well. Below, a close-up of the rotary tanks used for the tanks where the “mother” is subject to yet another electronic nickel bath in order to create derived stampers.
After the nickel bath process is completed, the stamper and mother layers are carefully separated with an utility knife (this part wasn’t demonstrated at the tour, probably by lack of “mothers” at the time). No fear to scratch the stamper surface though, since these are way bigger than the actual record - about 16” in diameter.