Don't call it paint - The secret to RØDE's scratch-proof mics

Everyone knows the old saying – “if you want it done right, do it yourself”. While this doesn’t hold true in every instance, it’s something that we put a lot of value in here at RØDE. One of the things that makes us so special as a manufacturer is our focus on vertical integration, which basically means that we invest in a lot of the manufacturing processes ourselves rather than have an external company perform them as most microphone manufacturers do. While this typically means huge levels of investment it means we have this machinery at a fixed cost and can then use it across all our products to help bring you better products at accessible prices.

See the finalised painting line in operation at RØDE's factory in Sydney, Australia

Three years ago RØDE’s senior engineers began discussing the possibility of developing an in-house, automated paint line. At the time our products were being painted or coated manually using external suppliers, which was not only slow but expensive, and our new product development was limited by our suppliers’ capabilities. We began to investigate and research the materials, machinery, and the best application processes currently available in the field of paints and coatings.

Twelve months was spent on the initial research phase -- during this time we spoke to many industry experts about different products and procedures, and discovered a very special type of coating which offers a number of highly desirable qualities for our microphones. Firstly, as it was originally designed for military use it has an extremely high abrasion resistance, which means it is scratch resistant and incredibly durable. It is also designed to be anti-reflective, which is perfect for stage and broadcast applications. And finally it is extremely thin, unlike traditional powder-coating, which would allow us to paint extremely fine sections of microphones such as our HS1 headset.

We immediately made the decision to design and install an automated painting line that would allow us to use this type of coating, however we had no idea of the scale of the undertaking. If we did we might have thought twice!

One of the challenges we faced working with such a thin material that has a ceramic base, was that the ceramic component would ‘settle out’ in both the fluid delivery lines and pots that it sits in. It caused a number of process and quality issues such as blocking the fine tips on the spray nozzles and therefore drastically affect output and quality. To rectify this we needed to design a custom system whereby the material would constantly flow at a controlled temperature through the fluid lines via a special pumping system, ensuring the material was never static at any point of the process.

The application is completely electrostatic, meaning that the metal being coated needs to be statically charged to attract the coating. This is completely different to traditional spray painting or powder coating and has much stricter requirements for temperature, humidity and air pressure. We constructed a stand-alone building inside our factory to house the line, with state-of-the-art environmental controls to ensure everything is perfectly regulated.

The construction of the line was a six month process and the implementation was another twelve, with it being completely functional at the end of 2013. To date it is the largest single in-house project undertaken at RØDE, and as far as we know this line is the first of its kind in large-scale Australian manufacturing. There are some companies applying similar finishes manually, especially in the firearm market, but there are no automated systems like it anywhere in Australia. Worldwide we are now one of very few companies who have successfully automated the process, and certainly the only microphone manufacturer to do so.

This unlocks huge potential for us at RØDE - we are able to design, prototype, paint and assemble a product, taking it from the development stage to production, while keeping every step of the process in-house here at RØDE’s manufacturing plant in Sydney, Australia. While this is a huge feat for us in the RØDE engineering team what ultimately matters is the benefit for our customers. Beautifully finished, scratch resistant microphones that last a lifetime in the studio, on tour, or anywhere you chose to take your RØDE.

Karl Griggs joined RØDE in 2004 as the company’s Engineering Manager, and was tasked with the job of creating a world-class manufacturing facility. Since that time he’s overseen the expansion of the company factory to include over more than US$30 million in industrial automation equipment, and made RØDE an industry leader in professional audio and one of the most advanced manufacturers in Australia – recognized with the company being awarded the 2013 Australian Export Manufacturer of the Year.