Friday, May 30, 2014

Coatings, and economy of scale

All film-related technology relies upon advanced coating technology.  This week we traveled to the old Kodak Park in Windsor, Colorado to attempt to line up the necessary coating services and know-how needed for New55 FILM production.  The campus is many hundreds of acres/hectares big, and the companies have coaters that can coat materials at rates of up to 500 meters per minute.  That means we could get everything we need in about five minutes!  But not really, as the preparation and setup time can take months. New55 FILM is a tiny customer, but we hope to be a good one for these types of services.

Kodak Park in Colorado
Since we are planning to use an off-the-shelf 4x5 negative emulsion, if possible, the focus is on the even more complex coating of the Receiver Sheet, or just "the receiver".  This is the white shiny paper that the positive print forms on.  But it isn't just paper: This is the special material that was first formulated by Weyde and Rott and then improved by Polaroid over many years.  The function of the receiver is to take a portion of the processing negative and, via diffusion transfer, form a reverse, positive image with tone characteristics that are similar to conventional continuous tone photographic printing.

And, since Polaroid kept much of the receiver design a secret, the only book-form reference we have is the Focal Press book by Andre Rott and Edith Weyde entitled, "Photographic Silver Halide Diffusion Processes", and certain of the early Edwin H. Land essays, such as published by McCann, particularly Volume 1, "Polarizers and Instant Photography".  Then there are several patents, long expired, that hint of certain tips, tricks and practical implementations of "the receiver".  These are, by far, the most valuable to us, and it is good that the companies concentrated on patents, which as you know have a limited lifetime, so anyone, including you, can now use them.

Very small clumped and dispersed nanoparticles
This technology detective story becomes even deeper when we start to analyze the materials used to make the receiver.  For instance, both aqueous and solvent processes are used to coat the receiver and further processing is needed to convert metallic salts put down into a properly distributed network of metallic nanoparticles. The nanoparticles act like seeds, or electrodes/catalysts, which form the various grades of tones from black to gray.  I will post more about this fascinating area of nanotechnology that has been going on in the photographic industries for a long time, unseen.  The importance of having just the right mix of metals, and the right number of particles over a certain area is high, as that sets the tone scale, and there is also a cost per unit area of materials to consider.  Weyde, and Land, both wrote about how each particle ought to be for its intended use.

Aqueous Coatings vs Solvent-Based Coatings

There are thousands of coatings and many techniques for coating sheet products such as paper, plastics, films and fabrics. We need to coat baryta paper - the paper that is normally used for photo prints - with the special materials mentioned previously to form the receiver sheet, and produce the positive print. Aqueous coatings, as the name suggests, are water-based. Water is a good and environmentally safer solvent for paints, for instance, and for things such as gelatin emulsions, candy, food, and printing.  But solvent-based coatings have their own advantages: Oil paints use a solvent (volatile petroleum oils) to maintain a sticky, adhesive and semiliquid state. The solvent evaporates into the atmosphere. Other solvent-based materials contain alcohols, or light oils similar to paint thinner. Oil paints can be stronger, and tougher, and have other chemical advantages, but industrial coatings with solvent-based materials also require additional steps to capture and clean the evaporated solvents. Often this is termed "solvent recovery".

Our detective work tells us that traditional receivers are made of both aqueous (water) and solvent based materials, which have to work together to form the nucleating layer. Sounds complex? Yes it is. We are fortunate to have the experience of coaters, some who were with Kodak, Polaroid and other important firms in the coating business, to help us understand the manufacturing tradeoffs as we near decision points on the processes needed to produce New55 FILM.  Even they, however, find this field of coated nanoparticles something they will have to learn about, too.

Secrecy is needed in industry, this we understand, and trade secrets are essential to keep. But when companies die, the knowledge can, and often does die. Look at the many industries and technologies from the Roman Era until today - medicine, surgery, navigation, pigments, gold plating, and many many more - that were lost because nobody dared write down how to do it out of fear of copying. It was not until the 18th Century when patents allowed inventors to bring forth their ideas for public review in return for 20 years of exclusivity, and look at what happened since then. But not everything to be known is written, and it certainly is not on the internet, or google searchable.

So that was the subject-of-the-week, amid many sourcing and vendor efforts, phone calls, visits, quotations and buying the things we need to finalize the design. Onward.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summary of the net proceeds from Kickstarter

1. There were $33,805 in fees

2. Failed payments were pledges that had failed credit card information

3. The final number is reasonably within the minimum funding goal.

4. New55 will remain active in fundraising at

5. Before this Kickstarter effort, substantial sums were already spent on the R&D

6. We hope that the total go-to-market number will be less than $1M US.

7. Extreme gratitude for the supporters who believe in post-digital photography like we do!

8. Some of the proceeds became available on May 22, 2014.

9. Now that we have some of the money, we can begin to make expenditures aimed toward the 2015 production goals.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Industrial mass, and some trash

Over the last couple of days I have gone through piles of old microphone patents, broken musical instruments, magazines and a lot of other bits that were cluttering up "the back lab" and threw them out.

Doing so gives us about 6 X 10m of floor space which is already filling up with hotplates, scaffolding, the IR chamber, and several items needed to design and develop the semi-automated machine I have in mind for the center of this area.

This tool requires some electronic controls and feed motors, and a rotary cutting die.  I'm going to try to save a lot of money by building some of it here.

The edge tape machine will bond the top and bottom sheets together, very precisely, very evenly, and cut each sleeve to length.  The current design calls for a feed rate of 200-400 units per day over about 1 to 2 hours of run time, after setup.

We don't want to create an overcapacity.  Just the right amount that we can make, and sell, if we have a steady flow of manufacturing, packaging and sales once we hit the steady state.

The object to my right is the trash container, and that's our old blue warehouse behind me.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Great start to what could be a historic adventure for all of us

Whew I'm exhausted, but filled with excitement over the prospect of restarting the diffusion transfer reversal arts through the New55 FILM product effort.  A lot of people, like John Reuter, Ted McLelland and Nafis Azad, of 20x24 Studio, deserve thanks for the tremendous support so far. Also to Soundwave Research and its staff, people like Des Fyler and Alex Milne, and many of you who continue to make donations of time, materials and money to this effort.  Sam Hiser is a special organizational genius who came in at the 11th hour and reorganized us for this one-time chance to innovate. There are more.

New55  is an "open source" development program which means a lot of opportunity to share and engage the strengths of the post-digital movement, and the maker movement, each with their own skill sets and visions for the future. No need to repeat the past - we have the future to contend with, to make happen, and to enjoy.

For the many who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign, hats off to you for realizing that industrial innovation is difficult, risky, time consuming and expensive, and for "voting with your wallet".  You see the future like we do. Today, what we choose to buy, is what we choose to support. Great movements in technology and social fabric have been made by lots of small contributions. Look at PBS, for example. It is indeed gratifying to see this can happen when people band together for a common cause.

And New55 is a cause, because we want to have access to analog materials for our future.  Why?  Lots of reasons.  Like, it's fun; it fulfills our artistic desires; and it helps us show others how we see the world through the eye of the big camera; and more.  It is very very clear to me that a majority of our supporters know this explicitly. They know that large corporations (not named!) will discontinue small product lines for special groups. They are too big to efficiently make film, and they have shareholders who are interested in profit as the end result. Nothing wrong with that, but our mission is a bit different: Profit is to sustain continued production of New55 FILM, and other photographic products, into the future. Not just once, but again and again.

It is a new way of doing things, very public, and an experiment to see if a small company, or group, can do something a huge company with everything in place, cannot.

So there is a lot to do, and much opportunity to innovate. We could reinvent some of the manufacturing and supply steps, we could tool up to eventually reach a cost goal that makes sense for our day-to-day use of 4x5 instant films, we can bring new people into the fascinating world of lenses and pinholes alike, and ground glass magic, captured for others to see.