The LRF did not rest during the holidays. The last days of 2016 and first week of 2017 were spent completing some strategic technical activities regarding three main components of our production workflow.
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:
- Repair and clean the “Little Boy” precision coater.
- Prepare the acetate base material we will use for testing and production.
- Synthesize the necessary chemistry for coating.
- Run coater tests.
- Analyze the results of the tests.
- Make any necessary changes to steps #1-#4
- 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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
Making the Rewards: Part 3
Yes! We have restarted the "Making the Rewards" series that we were forced to interrupt in June 2015.
Our testing phase has turned a corner and we’re now preparing the base material for our first production runs.
Film is coated on a transparent triacetate or polyester material. This is commonly referred to as “base.”
Our chemical formulas from the Ferrania/3M days are all designed to use a triacetate base that is manufactured from organic materials rather than the polyester base that is more commonly used today. This is crucial for us because the only way to keep all the coated layers in place is to match the chemistry with the base. These layers must deposit correctly and adhere to the base properly to create an accurate exposure and to stand up to the rigors of processing. This is particularly true for cinema products where the film runs through the camera at 24 frames per second - mechanically stressing both film and camera.
This video was originally filmed last spring for the Making the Rewards series before we got interrupted. As you can see in this video, we have a lot of original Ferrania triacetate base in stock right now. As Renzo explains, many of these "Jumbos" are cut into the Kodak-standard of 1.38m wide x 3000m length. What is not mentioned is that we also have a number of Jumbos in Agfa-standard width of 1.13m x 3000m length.
After an initial inspection of our stock, we have opted to start with our Agfa-standard Jumbos.
These two standard sizes were of course perfect for the Big Boy industrial coater, but not at all for Little Boy, which can only accept rolls of 23cm wide and 300m length. The infographic below shows how we go from Jumbos to miniJumbos.
Cutting down the Jumbos is relatively easy because it can be done in full daylight.
The triacetate base is really just transparent plastic and not sensitive to light. The only thing we need is a reliable slitter and a clean room!
After a lot of research and discussion, we decided not to spend the time and money necessary to put our modern, multi-format Kampf slitter online. It’s practically brand new, but it’s a real beast and requires a significant cost and effort to move it to the LRF, hook it up to the building services, and get it tested and adjusted. (We’ll dedicate a specific post to the Kampf slitter in the future.)
Instead, we have installed a slitter from 1917!
This machine features custom-made Japanese blades, and was made in France during the time that Ferrania was just called F.I.L.M. and was in partnership with the famous Pathè brothers. This machine served Trixie (the triacetate production machines we also saved as part of our Kickstarter campaign) for many, many years and remains super accurate and entirely useable today.
The New Old Slitter
(click any image to open a fullscreen slideshow with descriptions)
We will use the antique French slitter only to cut the Jumbos into miniJumbos - but even for just this one purpose, installing it saves us enormous time and cost.
With miniJumbos cut and ready, we move to the next phase - coating. After coating, every movement of film rolls must happen in complete darkness - first into the aging room and later into the converting room.