The LRF is Ours Again

Factory Update: July-August 2018

The custom-built equipment for our new internal power plant arrived at the end of June and the installation happened right on schedule. This was the last of the government-mandated repairs and upgrades that have kept the LRF closed since February.

The offending transformers, removed and ready for recycling.

The offending transformers, removed and ready for recycling.

The building was officially returned to us on July 16.

With yet another delay behind us, our co-founder Marco Pagni has created a very detailed plan to restart with continuous production of film, and with the ability to create final products in-house. The to-do list is long, but the work has already begun.

The top priority now is upgrading the air treatment unit that serves the entire building. The LRF was originally used for experimental production, and during the final years of Ferrania Technologies, the air treatment unit was not maintained to the proper standards.

One of the main things we learned from P30 ALPHA production was that the air quality was not up to the standards necessary for retail production. As a result, we had huge costs in wasted materials during the last production runs. This obviously needs to be fixed before we produce anything more.

Continuous production means we will be coating, converting, packaging and making cases of 100 rolls every day of the week, week after week. This is a major step from the single-batch coating we did last year, and so Marco's punch-list is quite long.

Our team has been returning on a staggered schedule. Corrado and Luisa are already at work to optimize the production workflow and prepare orders for raw materials. The full team will be back at the beginning of September.

We have learned big lessons from the production last year.
We have a lot to do and a very clear plan for doing it.

In the Loop

Making the Rewards, Part 5

We have been busy cutting Jumbos down to the size needed by Little Boy using our refurbished antique slitter. There was one final step, and one more machine, necessary for this process...

Acetate base is quite fragile before it has been coated. To strengthen the base enough to be pulled through the coater, it is necessary to cauterize the edges of the entire spool. Just like the hem on a piece of clothing, melting the edges of the acetate base creates a tiny but critical buildup that strengthens it considerably.

The Testing Loop

Long ago, we explained the stages of testing that we needed to do before production could begin. These stages overlap sometimes, but here they are:

  1. Repair and clean the “Little Boy” precision coater.
  2. Prepare the acetate base material we will use for testing and production.
  3. Synthesize the necessary chemistry for coating.
  4. Run coater tests.
  5. Analyze the results of the tests.
  6. Make any necessary changes to steps #1-#4
  7. Repeat until it’s film

We have successfully looped through these stages a couple of times now, and this week, the coater room went dark so that we could perform our first tests with actual silver-based emulsion. The looping continues next week.

We won’t be able to make photos or videos in the coating room from now on, but we won’t keep you in the dark. We will continue posting regular weekly updates about coater tests and begin to introduce you to other parts of our operations.

Ivano's World

Making the Rewards, Part 4

Ferrania Technologies, our neighbor, originally used a huge chemical synthesis department to feed Big Boy. However, their focus today is strictly on pharmaceutical products and they can longer produce the photographic materials that were produced for almost 70 years.

So we are building our own “department” inside the LRF.

The Best Laid Plans...

As with many things, our original plans have had to adapt to various realities that we contend with on a daily basis.

A tiny portion of our chemical "archive"

“Plan A” was to use chemicals we have in stock which were acquired from Ferrania Technologies. It is a short-term strategy only, but there are some materials we have in huge quantities - enough to last 50 years at our production rate! However, we have discovered that there are other chemicals that are scarce - perhaps enough for just one or two batches. And all of the chemicals are old and aging every day.

Plan A can no longer work for us.

“Plan B” is now possible because of Ivano. With Ivano in his kitchen, we don’t have to worry about the stock of aging chemistry from the old company. We can instead use these old chemicals for analysis and comparison. When this was decided, we began immediately to re-build a miniature organic chemical synthesis “kitchen” inside the LRF. We will expand it over time as demand for our film increases.

Plan B is the right plan for 100 more years of analog film.

The Chef at Work in his Kitchen

click any image to open a full-screen slideshow

Even having the right equipment and a great Chef, organic chemical synthesis is no picnic!

We need recipes of course, and a LOT of time. What does a LOT of time mean? Weeks. Chemical reactions need time to do their work and cannot be accelerated. It seems strange, but to create just one sensitizer requires weeks of a chemist’s time. The good news is that time is relatively independent from the amount of material produced - we need just to use a “pot” of a different size.

Using Plan B, our small-scale synthesis lab can be run by just one person (with a sorcerer’s apprentice to help), and can produce about 1Kg in finished materials. This is more than enough for a small scale production because each square meter of film contains a very small fraction of a gram of each sensitizer.

Ivano uses his intuition and great experience - but his eyes and nose (and sometimes tongue) are his best tools.

Ivano is our newest team member, but his long history with Ferrania makes him one of the most experienced.

Ivano del Prato began his career at Ferrania in the late 60s and finished his Master’s Degree on the job. He quickly became the top scientist specialized in sensitizer, and has designed the sensitizers used in the vast majority of Ferrania color films.

His skills run very deep. Although he often worked on advanced automated equipment, he is also uniquely capable of using traditional methods of synthesis and analysis. This makes him perfect for FILM Ferrania’s old-school chemical kitchen.

Ivano took total control of our synthesis activities because we must move fast to make several more sensitizers, as well as other components we need for manufacture of color reversal film.

This is a sample of a sensitizer from the 50s - just one of hundreds we have in our “archive”

This is a sample of a sensitizer from the 50s - just one of hundreds we have in our “archive”

Remarkably, all of the products recovered from Ferrania Technologies and are still good for use.

We have learned, however, that these old chemicals have much greater value to us as reference materials, and so it is better to make new chemistry for our first products.

This may seem like unnecessary work that will add significantly to our timeline, but Ivano already synthesized one sensitizer! OK, it's a really small quantity but it demonstrates the feasibility - and best of all, it’s enough for the very first batch!

Using Ivano’s new sensitizer, we expect to run our first real test on the coater next week!

Having an in-house chemical synthesis operation - whatever the size - is one of the fundamental building blocks of our 100-year vision. The “kitchen” is now in place, and once Ivano's work is ready, we move one giant step closer to announcing a final timeline for color production.

Our team continues to applaud your patient and encouraging belief in our vision. We hope this announcement shows clearly that we are closer than ever to beginning 100 More Years of Analog Film.