Question regarding setting up small commercial coating facility
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.
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 ..
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...
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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.
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.
art is about managing compromise
This is a small professional coating machine: http://www.holotec.de/Holotec_en/index.htm and
Originally Posted by PHOTOTONE
here's an amateur version: