Question regarding setting up small commercial coating facility

Discussion in 'Silver Gelatin Based Emulsion Making & Coating' started by PHOTOTONE, Dec 4, 2006.

  1. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    I certainly don't intend to do this, but I am very curious. J&C's website indicates that they have future plans to "set up" a coating facility to produce specialty films. I have several questions regarding the feasibility of this.

    I know that coatings on flexible supports are not just limited to photographic emulsions, as adhesive tapes and magnetic tapes have to be coated on flexible support medias. Indeed, 3m still makes adhesive tapes, and Kodak used to make magnetic recording tapes for a time. Are there manufacturers that make generic coating machines that could be adapted to coating photographic emulsions? (In the dark, of course).

    Were there ever such things as relatively "small" coating machines for photographic use?

    Are there existing coating machines suitable for photographic use that are sitting idle and available to purchase for a company such as J&C?

    Would a coating operation also have to make their own emulsions "on the spot" so to speak, or could that be contracted out to a chemical coating manufacturer?

    I realize some of these questions my seem stupid for those in the know, but I am very curious.
     
  2. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Based on all the information I have, it would take a hell of a lot of money to set up a coating facility, in addition to the investment to purchase the required machinery to do it, that is if you could get a company to produce the machinery ..

    Dave
     
  3. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I know that Ilford has a "small coating machine" they use for trial runs and experimental coatings, but I wouldn't exactly call it a "small machine". The capacity is also so limited that it would be very difficult to make a commercial operation of it.

    The emulsions could be made anywhere, I guess, but that's only part of the equation...
     
  4. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    A better question might be, is there excess capacity among photographic film and paper makers? And, if so, would any of them be willing to rent out their idle facilities to a small maker who wanted to produce a small run of film or paper? It would be a source of revenue for the large manufacturer, but might be rejected because of the disruption to its own manufacturing needs and staff, and also because it would be enabling a new competitor in a shrinking market. Still, an interesting idea.

    Sanders.
     
  5. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I heard from my brother's uncle's sister's best friend's friend that Kodak once had a "small" coating machine and lab set up in Rochester, that would have been suited for producing short runs of AZO type paper, and that they dismantled it shortly before ceasing paper production.

    My guess is, if you have the machinery, and if you have people with the knowledge, that a short run coating facility could be a feasible operation, if the product of the operation was sufficently unique (i.e. AZO type paper, or other legendary type of film or paper) to allow enough of a premium to make up for small scale.

    On the other hand, I note that despite the resurgence of Pt/Pd, that there is no commercially coated paper available, even though that would be much more simple to produce than silver halide paper or film, and could carry a decent premium.
     
  6. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Having used or seen just about every Kodak coating machine in Rochester, I can say that they are all virtually one-of-a-kind! They are custom built for each purpose and with one or two exceptions have been destroyed when obsoleted, or have been mothballed in-place. One went to RIT and one went to GEH.

    In some cases, as production declines, the coating speed is just cut back, with the appropriate change in formulation.

    In research in Rochester, there were about 10 coating machines with widths from about 4 inches up to about 12 inches. In production there were dozens of machines spread over several buildings just at Kodak Park with widths starting at 21" and going up. I've used all of these to make my own color film and paper experiments and have shot it or printed on it personally.

    Now, seeing some of these machines amounts to walking by the rumbling hissing beast in dim green safelight, so you will have to excuse me there, but other 'viewings' were done on hands and knees with a putty knife scraping my mess from the walls and floors of the drying cabinet, so you can say it was from superficial to 'intimate'.

    These machines are some of the most complex, intricate machines ever built, capable of moving, at very high speed, the equivalent of a wide strand of wet tissue paper about one mile long and not having a tear, break, fold or oscillation that would cause an imperfection in the coating such as I have described elswhere.

    One single oscillation starting in a moving web of wet gelatin will cause an immediate blocakge in the machine due to the gel sticking to the walls of the machine, so everything must be fine tuned. Or, it can cause banding across the width of the coating, perpendicular to the coating direction.

    Oh yes, there are old machines that still work, but see the complaints elsewhere about production problems. These companies make good product, but sometimes have a defect. How many get defective film from Kodak or Ilford? Very rare indeed.

    So, such a plant needs a good, high quality machine and operators.

    As for making the emulsion, where can you buy it? Who makes it? As I said elsewhere, and Simon Galley was kind enough to confirm, I would guess that there are only about 200 or so Photo Engineers in the world. It isn't like finding an ME, an EE or a CE that can do the job, a PE is a rare individual and we have our specialties as well. So, I'm sure that J&C are doing a fine job, but I think it is going to take them that full amount of time and some hard work to begin production. It will also take a bit of money.

    As for making Azo, well, see the trials and tribulations of M&P posted here by them or on their own web site. I wish them well, but that too will be a rocky road. Making Azo paper, whererver and however they are doing it is going to be a real challenge.

    See Denise Ross' web site for samples of her emulsions. She is using my methods for making an Azo like emulsion and paper. I just made some myself in 2 grades. At the present time, I know how to make about 4 grades of Azo like paper. I think she will agree that it is easy once you go through the startup of any new 'art' form. It took me almost 2 years to get to that point, and I knew what I was doing. My little home darkroom is a far cry from the $M labs at KRL.

    All the best to everyone trying to do this!

    PE
     
  7. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    I wonder if the coating difficulty for magnetic tape is less than for photographic emulsion. There have been dozens of facilities that have coated magnetic video tape and audio tape, still are, in some cases. This is a very thin film that is coated with a precise formula of magnetic particles, that can't have any variation or pinholes or one gets dropout in the recording. Of course, I know that coating adhesive coatings on tape or other flexible substrates would be less demanding.
     
  8. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    I know. One of the coating machines in research coated mag tape. It was just down the hall from my office, about 4 doors and ran the full length of the front of the building. It was coated from a solvent slurry IIRC. I never much got into that. I think (and this is just a vague remembrance) that making the mag tape was more like a casting process of one very thin 'plastic' on another, and not coating a thick layer or many layers.

    I do remember using that solvent coating machine though for several projects and scheduling around mag tape coatings. I also remember seeing the rolls of coating and buckets of reddish goo sitting in the odd corner or on the shelves.

    The solvent coaters were of special design to prevent fire or explosion.

    PE
     
  9. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    I have seen pictures from an ancient facility that made film on a heated table, they just laid out a big sheet of acetate/nitrocellulose and dumped the emulsion onto the table. You could get some jackets/kettles to mix the emulsion in fairly cheap.
    I doubt that getting consistent results out of such a setup would be easy.
     
  10. Hologram

    Hologram Member

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  11. uraniumnitrate

    uraniumnitrate Member

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    I can only agree with the photo engineer! The coating machines is not the type of machines you go into the supermarket and just lift it down from the self! :wink: They are very special machines and custom built directly for the manufacturer. I would think that they are some very secret blueprints too!

    I mean just try Rochester and ask if you can copy their machines! What would be an answer do you think? Also companies involved to build those coating plants probably have agreement on secrecy too! Also you should just think about how much it would cost to built one as probably in today’s standard would be very sophisticated too not like older machines which I have seen! An order like this must be a massive enginering with massive costs.
    As if my information is correct J&C never did any coating they are in the re-labelling industry and that is very far from coating films in any sense! There is no technical known how and only a few people in the world would manage it! They buy films from probably Forte and put their label on it! The film is technically speaking is very similar! They have never produced as much as one sheet film! Noticeable is that if you scratch on the surface you just might find out that many children have one father!!!

    Just think the company would like to have as I heard your money in advance and you got to wait long time to delivery in some film sizes! It seems that time goes to collecting a large order together and some time goes to shipping and waiting for delivery from somewhere else as it’s the case from Europe!

    Also it’s good to spread false information that you are better than others as there is many “re- labelling manufacturers” :D of film in the ever smaller market! To invest on coating film today in my point of you would be that you signing your death warrant in any cases!

    I can think of the scenario that J&C come by an old machine somehow but operating this is far from turn the switch on!
     
  12. uraniumnitrate

    uraniumnitrate Member

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  13. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I had to do some research on paper manufacturing a while back. In my part of the US, ordinary paper (writing paper, newsprint, etc.) is made in huge plants. I was surprised to learn that a lot of specialty paper (absorbent wipes, toweling, special surfaces, etc.) is made in very small facilities. The paper making machines are of unique design, specific to the the kind of paper being made, and specific to the actual building that houses them. While these papers are not coated, they do sometimes involve a rather complicated bonding of layers.

    It would seem that a photographic coating operating could be similarly built - complicated and exacting, but not extremely difficult.
    juan
     
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  15. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Member

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    For small quantities, is there any reason why emulsion could not be screen printed?

    Has anyone tried this?

    Steve.
     
  16. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Emulsions can be screen printed and they look exactly like the screen, textured! BTDT.

    Coating film and paper in a quantity large enough to supply even only APUG members is a daunting task, espcially film on 2 supports and in sizes from 35mm to 11x14 or larger and in different varieties.

    Paper, ditto, lots of supports and grades.

    As for getting support, well Baryta paper is very difficult to make requiring very high pressure rollers to get any sort of glossy surface otherwise it turns out like sandpaper. If you don't get it just right, the emulsion you coat on it will turn black in spots due to imperfections. Even the photograde baryta paper I buy now has occasional black defects in it, and I would have to custom tune my formula to the paper. At EK, this black dot problem was solved over 50 years ago. (btw, this is not pepper grain and is unrelated)

    So, you need a lot of expertise to do it. If you don't believe me, try making up enough 8x10 paper of high quality to last you a week. It takes me about one week to make enough emulsion and coat 2 grades of paper for this.

    These 'so called' coating machines above are only able to make one plate at a time and require extensive cleaning between each plate. A production machine has to be designed for continuous running and very little cleanup. Otherwise labor and time skyrocket.

    I'm getting tired of this same old argument over and over. If it was so easy, there would be a lot of little companies doing it instead of 3 big ones and other once great ones falling one by one such as Agfa and Ferrania.

    PE
     
  17. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Member

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    I thought that might be the case. We do have some very fine stainless steel mesh now but unless the emulsion is going to flow a bit after printing, there will be an impression of the mesh on the emulsion as you state. Might be an interesting effect though!


    Steve.
     
  18. uraniumnitrate

    uraniumnitrate Member

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    I'm shure you talking about some so called hand made pappers but surely I wouldn't bother using it in the photographic process!
    I do coating pappers myself but than it's never handmade or papper comes out of primitive processes!
    I mean just think about what one sheet of papper going throught in just lets say in Gum printing!
     
  19. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    Ferrania


    AFAIK the Ferrania coating facility in Oklahoma is still in operation making C-41 emulsions, for private label use, their own brand Solaris, and single use cameras.
     
  20. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    No, I'm not talking about hand made papers at all. I'm talking about specialty papers that are made specifically for special applications and are sold in the marketplace commercially worldwide. One machine I saw, for instance, produces paper at 900 feet per minute - hardly a primitive process.

    You're right that these are not papers to use in the photographic process, but they are critically made to perform in a special market. My point is that specialized products can be manufactured to exacting standards by small companies. Whether the manufacture of photographic products could be economically viable, I don't know. As Ron points out, there are lots of film and paper sizes. Again, not easy, but possible with good engineering.
    juan
     
  21. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    They are still listing the OK plant on their contact list.

    http://www.ferraniait.com/Contacts.htm

    Dave
     
  22. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Maybe I should elaborate a bit.

    At one time, Ferrania was a large company and part of the 3M family. They had plants in Minnesota, Rochester and Italy as well as several elsewhere. At present, they are in bankruptcy proceedings in Italy, but are still producing film. So, they are dwindling rather than vanished. Sorry.

    As for specialty papers, if photo paper and film support were easy to make, I would expect to see more than just two or three major producers. Schoeller in Germany suppies Kodak WW and Central and Western European companies. And, FYI, to supply WW paper supplies for photo use, 900 ft/min is SLOW! Width is important as well as is 'press'. Photo paper is, in some cases, over 80" wide hot press. RC paper takes several additional operations to produce.

    Papers contain stabilzers and humectants to prevent cracking of the support during aging. Remember, the papers you are talking about may be used one time and discarded, photos are expected to last.

    Same goes for film.

    PE
     
  23. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    Yes, I understand the underlying paper base is very complex for commercial photo papers, however there are papers made for inkjet printing that seem (at least to me) to be at least as complex in construction as the base papers used for photographic emulsions. It would seem to me that (considering this) that the complex manufacturing of RC coated, and fibre based paper stocks is not in danger, rather the COATING of these papers with a photographic emulsion is dwindling.
     
  24. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Both are in danger. If you consider that single weight paper is in short supply due to the lack of demand for the coated products. FB paper is declining overall due to lack of demand for all coated analog products. RC is not declining as much as digital is coated in an RC type support. It is thinner, but similar.

    PE
     
  25. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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    After taking the course offered by photo engineer, I decided to try building a small tabletop coating machine that I could use to coat paper and film up to 16" wide. I received all the machined parts yesterday from the local machine shop and plan to start working on construction this weekend. I imagine that there will be some tweaking required to get it to work consistently, but I believe I have a sound design. It will be a one shot deal, in that a single pull will coat a substrate up to 16x20.
    I hope to have it working well enough by the end of the winter to use for coating Photo Engineers emulsions. If not, well.... I'll have some really cool looking stainless steel scraps that will function as very effective paper weights....
     
  26. dwross

    dwross Member

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    Send pictures! Not enough to give away any proprietary secrets, of course - just enough details that your fellow emulsion lab rats can go OOh! Ahh!