The machine silk-screens the paste, loads the surface mount components onto the board from reels and carousels, conveys it through the reflow oven, and stacks the completed boards at the other end.
Along the way, the Yamaha machine has temperature controls and humidity controls, as well as scanning capabilities to ensure quality control.
“One engineer can produce as many boards as we ever want,” Freedman said. “We only run one shift at the moment, but we could move up to three shifts with no problems. No matter how big the production gets, we can deal with it.”
According to Freedman, the degree of automation means RODE Microphones can, in many cases, beat Chinese manufacturers at their own game.
“Other than big companies like Foxconn who does Apple in China, I don’t see this quality in China. They do a lot more hand work,” he said.
As a result of building its own manufacturing capabilities in-house, RODE Microphones is able to bypass certain cost restrictions on components. For example, it makes its own transformers for its valve microphones.
“The secret of a good audio transformer is in the laminations, and they’re expensive,” Freedman explained. “Some of these older transformers, their measured frequency response is 5Hz up to 200KHz, amazing.”
But these transformers are manufactured in small quantities by a few companies, and they cost around 400 dollars each – clearly an unsustainable solution for a cost-conscious microphone manufacturer.
“So if we want it, we have to make it ourselves. So we bought the best Swiss auto-winders. We get lamination material specially made which has those characteristics we need…all the vacuum impregnation – every single thing you need to make high-tech transformers,” Freedman said, as he held a completed transformer in his palm.
Automated and highly precise manufacturing has for the most part eliminated variability in the quality of the company’s products – when every part is manufactured and assembled in temperature-controlled environments to micron tolerances, there is little that could go wrong.
However, every microphone master panel is still tested on a bed of nails, which runs a diagnostic check in place. Valve microphones have their own rack, on which they are soak tested for 24 hours.
For the casings of the microphones, automation is again the key for RODE Microphones, which churns them out using a large automatic machining line housed in a room packed with manufacturing equipment.
“You load up long bars of brass and they automatically load, and machine anything you like, and you go home. 24/7, it’s a money-making machine that just spits out the parts,” Freedman said.
The RODE facility is like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for manufacturers: name a manufacturing technology, and it’s likely to be here: a chemical machining plant from Germany; electric discharge machining for tool-making; a precision grinding table which produces a mirror finish, again for tool-making; and a five-axis mill capable of turning an aluminium block into speaker chassis within half a day.
To ensure manufacturing precision, the company has a metrology room which can check surface flatness down to 10nm, and a laser interferometer for highly accurate measurements of moving elements.
The move to bring more and more operations in-house is something Freedman relishes. For a company like RODE Microphones, the cost of the alternative – outsourcing to China – is time. And time, ultimately, is money.
“If I order now from a factory in China, it takes them 30 days to get the parts, 30 days to produce it, and then maybe 30 days to ship it,” Freedman points out. “With this, we can get the parts next week.”