The Flexi Maunfacturing Process

I have had many folks contact me as a result of finding this "virtual museum" and they have provided me with much information about the history of this medium. The following was written by a gentleman who worked for "American Audiographics" and gives us some good insight into the history and manufacturing process of that company.

As you know, paper laminated promotional phonograph records have a long history as a promotional and entertainment tool. My participation in the manufacturing process fell at the tail end of the product cycle, and my background was offset lithography, not record manufacturing.

My mentor, "Harry" was the man who developed and patented the process of integrating a phonograph disk with a paper board box, established his manufacturing operation in the early 1960's. Harry's shop consisted primarily of seven "Original Heidelburg" letterpresses that were used to emboss record groves into an acetate film, laminated to paper. These presses were known as "windmills" because of a pair of long arms or "grippers" that swung around as they carried a single sheet of paper across a moving platen.

When Harry produced a record job in his New York City shop, he was furnished with a printed blank that had been laminated with acetate film and was ready to be embossed with record grooves. All other stages of production were outsourced, leaving the final finishing stage to Harry. When the manufacturing process was moved to Wisconsin, it became part of a larger printing facility that internalized most of the production work.

Harry experimented with many different applications for this product, but the cereal box record was by far the most innovative and successful. The carton utilized a unique "windowing" process (commonly used to manufacture window envelopes) that applied a special acetate film laminate to the back panel of the flat, die cut carton. The acetate film was a common element in all paper phonograph records, but this particular process applied an eight inch square patch with four or five spots of adhesive. The film had a thermal adhesive coating that was activated when the record grooves were stamped on the heated dies mounted on the windmill presses.

The product components were relatively simple. The primary substrate was a high quality paperboard, clay coated on one side, or both to provide a smooth enamel surface. The printing was done with conventional sheetfed offset presses that would print up to 24 records on a single 25" x 38" sheet. Film lamination was then applied, using a 1 mil (.001 thickness) of cellulose acetate. A rubber based adhesive bonded the film to the paper and provided a cushion to absorb the pattern of the audio groove.

The windmill presses were set up to press up to three records with each impression. The record "stampers" or dies were fastened to a heated form referred to as a "chase". This form was then mounted and locked onto a stationary "bed" on the press. The swinging platen, carrying a single sheet of laminated paper would then strike the form with a force equivalent to about fifteen tons of pressure. The combination of heat and pressure would force the delicate impression into the acetate film at a rate of more than 2,000 impressions per hour.

Tooling and set up of the windmills was a laborious and delicate procedure commonly referred to as the "make ready". A combination of tissue packing and a rubber blanket were mounted to the surface of the platen to provide an even "counter" surface for the embossing process. Throughout the press run, frequent repacking was required, using .001 tissue thickness to level worn surfaces and maintain an adequate groove depth.

The limitations of the paper record became very evident as component stereo became popular. While the printing quality became state-of-the-art four color process, the sound reproduction was dismal at best, falling well short of the far - superior Eva-Tone Sound Sheet. In spite of that, the product continued to sell even as the new technologies of digital sound were beginning to flood the market. Finally, by 1990, my participation in this unusual business ended and the company with its make-shift manufacturing technology became defunct.

The flexi record brought a unique added value to an ordinary piece of paper, or vinyl sound sheet. Its crude analog message made it a fascinating medium for communications.

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