Update: And the winner is... Greg Tankersley, maintenance technician at WBAL-TV.
Greg will receive a $25.00 Starbucks card for knowing that the company name Wheatstone was based on a famous piece of test equipment, the Wheatstone bridge.
I had the privilege to visit the Wheatstone factory this week. I’d been to the company’s home office before, but it was a long time back. And, the factory then was housed in a metal building located in Connecticut. Not so today. Things are way bigger and much more high-tech.
On Monday of this week, Emily Kalmus, a member of our sales team and I went to New Bern, NC to see Gary Snow, president of Wheatstone. While there, we were treated to a tour of the company’s factory by director of sales, Jay Tyler.
While touring vendor factories is common treat for editors, not all company’s factories are the same. Wheatstone’s is among the best I’ve seen. From the high-tech, in-house circuit board design, to panel and component fabrication, it’s a good example of a vendor who wants to maintain full quality control over its products. The factory tour illustrated the myriad of steps and talent it takes to create high-quality professional products.
I know the following discussion may not be what one would expect from a story about an audio console manufacturer. And, it has nothing to do with electronics, but the coolest thing I saw at the factory was a demonstration of powder coating finishes.
I’ve hear it mentioned and seen the results of powder coating several times on the History Channel’s TV show, “American Restoration”, but I didn’t understand what it meant. In fact, you probably have this type of finish on many of your current products, but do you know how the coating process works?
A key reason Wheatstone adopted powder coating for its products, according to Tyler, was that the process produces no volatile organic compounds, (VOCs). If you’re a manufacturer today, the last thing you want in your plant is VOCs. Producing VOCs means all kinds of environmental regulations, most of which I couldn’t even pronounce. Said Tyler, “Powder coating is very environmentally friendly, something we always try to be.”
To avoid all that enviro-regulation, while producing a high-quality product, Wheatstone uses the powder coating process on both metal and faux wood products. The process relies on a simple three-sided booth. It’s not necessary to an enclosed spray booth as would be the case with standard paint spraying. In the booth the components are hung by wire to a grounded bar and the powder coating is sprayed on them, much like a standard spray-painting process. As the spray gun propels the dry mixture towards the object the particles receive a electrically positive charge. The particles then stick to the grounded metal surfaces.
The coated components are then heated in a large oven at about 300 degrees for a few minutes. They are then removed and allowed to cool.
The result is a strong, smooth, rich-colored coating. The result is exactly what engineers have, for years, been trying to get for their home-brew projects with spray paint and Bud boxes, which never worked well for me.
With the proper preparation, Tyler said, the powder coating can even be used on non-metal surfaces like fiberboard. The result looks like hardwood or lexan, but it’s less expensive, more evo-friendly and equally strong. Another big plus for powder coatings is that the overspray can be recycled, or disposed of as regular trash. No VOCs, no pollutants. No government regulations.
I could go on about Wheatstone’s manufacturing process, but I found the painting aspect so cool I wanted to mention it. Sure wish the process could be home-brew.
After the tour I set down to visit with Gary Snow for a few minutes. We’ve know each other for many years, but have mostly met at shows with little time to visit about something other than new products.
This time I wanted to ask Gary more about his history.
Gary Snow’s first audio product was actually a disco mixer. A friend called and asked him if he could build a DJ mixer for a New York disco. This was in mid-1970’s and disco was just becoming popular. “Sure”, he replied. Soon he was building audio mixers for other discos and DJs.
One day, while installing one of his new mixers, he asked why the DJ wasn’t using a parametric equalizer to get more bass from the speakers. A what? asked the DJ. Soon Gary’s little company, called Audioarts, was also making parametric equalizers and powered cross-overs for dance venues. “I just showed them how to get more thump from their King Klipsch speakers,” said Gary.
One day, someone suggested he build a radio console. The rest is history.
I did have one question for Gary Snow that had bugged me for years. Where did you get the name “Wheatstone”, I asked. Gary smiled and said…….
I’m not going to tell you what he said…yet.
Let’s have a challenge. The winner will get a $25.00 Starbucks card.
Readers can enter the challenge by sending an email to the address below. In that email, tell me on what basis was the Wheatstone name derived. One winner will be drawn from the correct entries.
Entries must be from readers not employed by or associated in any way with the Wheatstone company. Only one entry per person.
Entries must be received before 12:00am, February 24th, 2012. Send your entries to email@example.com. The subject line must say, “Starbucks card challenge”. A Broadcast Engineering staff member will draw one entry from all the correct answers received. All results are final.
The winner will be announced in a follow up post. Hint, think electronics.