A visit to Italian speaker maker Faital
Remember our report last year about sound reinforcement at the new race course on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi? It was about a new Formula 1 race course being equipped with a new type of digitally networked sound reinforcement system based on the ITEC*NET audio network by the Austrian manufacturer ITEC. This installation made use not only of ITEC’s digital audio network components, but also it’s power amplifiers and speaker systems. Onsite in Abu Dhabi, the details of the system components were of course also discussed, including the configuration of the speaker systems. The prevailing environmental conditions there are, as one would expect, no bed of roses.
Back then, ITEC CEO Romano Hammer revealed to me – still on deep background at the time – that the speaker components for the ITEC Powertop 12 model speakers are produced by the Italian manufacturer Faital. Reportedly, one of the special features of the Faital speaker components was that they not only delivered the required acoustical performance, but were also completely weatherproof as they came from the factory – and this was true not only of the components for the systems for Abu Dhabi, but of all of Faital’s professional speakers in general.Of course, this information made me a little curious about just what kind of company Faital is. So one day while in touch with Jürgen Franzen from the German marketing office, we expressed an interest in visiting Faital in Italy – possibly within the framework of a meeting with Romano Hammer as well – in order to also find out more about his experiences from the point of view of the speaker developer.
Admittedly, until last fall, Faital was not on our editorial radar, simply because Faital has not been active on the professional sound reinforcement market for very long. The corresponding Faital Pro product line has only been around for a few years. So I, for one, was all the more surprised to discover a manufacturer that apparently has not been building professional speakers for very long immediately at the centre of a major project that poses maximum requirements on the components used. It was also surprising to learn that the Faital Pro speakers are completely weatherproof and were not, as is otherwise often the case, specially treated for the Abu Dhabi project – for example, by impregnating the membranes with special lacquers or synthetic resins, using special adhesives and the like.
Already during a lead-up discussion with Jürgen Franzen in Germany, it quickly became clear why Faital seemed to appear on the professional speaker market out of the blue. In actuality, Faital is an old established Italian speaker manufacturer. The name, by the way, is an abbreviation and stands for “Fabbrica Italiana Altoparlanti”. Faital was founded way back in 1958, so they have been building loudspeakers for 52 years – longer than many other old familiar manufacturers. Already back in the early sixties, Faital covered approx. 40% of the demand for speakers in Italy. Today, the company has a total of eight locations and eighteen automated speaker production lines worldwide. Until just a few years ago, however, the company focused it’s production almost entirely on the sector of speakers for the automotive industry. The “Faital Pro” division was first presented to the public in 2006.
This production focus on the automotive industry also explains various features of the Faital Pro series of speakers, above all the comprehensive protection against a very wide range of environmental influences. Many manufacturers do this on a project-by-project basis through corresponding after treatment, especially of the membranes.
The automotive industry has very different expectations when it comes to speakers. Granted, these generally are not the kind of high-performance chassis used in professional sound reinforcement. On the other hand, car makers impose very stringent demands on all of their suppliers and expect the components delivered to be not only extremely dependable, but also evidence a reliably consistent level of quality – a high reliability of the high reliability of the product, in a manner of speaking. Major industrial customers not only want to buy the best possible speaker components at affordable prices – just like any other customer. They also have to be able to rely on the availability of these components on time and at a consistent level of quality over the contracted period of delivery – which may well be years depending on the type of end product involved.
In view of these strict quality requirements, the automotive industry became a front runner in the development of certification procedures intended to ensure that suppliers not only deliver components that are free from defects, but have also implemented processes to identify errors and risks in the production process and the supply chain. These must not only eliminate the causes, but also monitor the effectiveness of the required corrective and preventative actions. The point of these efforts is to not just identify and remedy problems early on, but instead avoid them from the start by combating the causes. This reduces the risk of production standstills at OEM manufacturers, which can become very expensive very quickly in industrial manufacturing.
All of this makes big industry a rigorous training ground for suppliers. Once a supplier has mastered it’s production and testing processes according to these very stringent requirements, however, it is of course possible to draw on this wealth of resources and also apply these processes to building speakers for professional sound reinforcement. So when a company like Faital, with a background in the automotive industry, begins building professional speaker components, it doesn’t start from scratch, but is off to what in racing is called a “flying start”.
Which brings us back to the topic of racing and also Abu Dhabi. During my talk with Romano Hammer, of course I also asked him which factors were decisive for his decision to use Faital Pro components.
Naturally, speaker developers and manufacturers want their products to sound good. Sound quality, however, isn’t everything in professional applications. Even the nicest, best sounding speaker will soon find disfavour with customers if it quickly conks out or it’s good sound is compromised after just a short period of professional use.
Of course, ITEC, too, develops it’s speakers to sound as good as possible. According to Romano Hammer, however, low weight and dependability also play an important role – especially when the products are designed for mobile applications and are in use around the world. In this case, returns are (prohibitively) expensive if only just because of the logistics involved.
When low weight is important, today a neodymium magnet structure is the material of choice. Magnets of this type are also used in practically all of the Faital Pro speakers (except for the Fe series). According to Romano Hammer, however, a high rate of efficiency is not only interesting for high-performance systems in the PA segment, but also, for example, for 100V systems that are used not only in low power applications, but whenever long cable runs make the use of low-impedance wiring uneconomical. The higher the rate of efficiency of the speaker, the less electrical output is required. This, however, very directly affects the size of the required transmitter and therefore also the system cost, and can indeed make it possible to use one less power amplifier even in mid-sized installations. Of course, reports Romano Hammer, one important point when developing speakers for use in outdoor applications is the fact that the Faital Pro chassis are all inherently waterproof.
This is a palpable advantage for the speaker developer, because normally the speaker chassis that delivers optimal acoustical performance in the eyes of the developer is not always also resistant enough to environmental influences to be used outdoors. Subsequent coating with water-resistant lacquer, synthetic resin, or other materials is possible, but also changes the vibration parameters of the speaker, thus necessitating adaptation of the acoustical design of the speaker to this modified behaviour. This necessitates at least one additional development step, not to mention the issue of changes in the coating material over the course of time, which can affect both weather resistance and acoustical characteristics.
With the Faital Pro speakers, on the other hand, waterproofing is an integral part of the design right from the start and is achieved through the choice of materials and the structure of the chassis.Thus the specifications of each Faital chassis include waterproofing and, consequently, they are also not changed by subsequent impregnation measures. In order to be able to test and verify resistance to damaging environmental influences already during product development, Faital operates an extensive range of test facilities for testing the resistance of the speakers to water, dust/sand, and varying temperatures and thermal shocks. The bottom line, according to Romano Hammer, is that they have experienced a very low return rate for speaker systems configured with Faital Pro components – perhaps one or two systems in a thousand. Even with these returned systems, the defect is not always in speaker components.
When I visited Faital in San Donato Milanese – a suburb of Milan – I had an opportunity to see for myself what speaker manufacturing looks like at Faital. The actual production site is no longer at the parent company, where conditions grew too cramped over the course of time. San Donato is still home to management and the development and testing labs. Actual production takes place in Chieve, some 36 km east of San Donato. Here there are three automated production lines for manufacturing professional speakers from the Faital Pro product line on the one hand and speakers for the automotive sector on the other. Each of the production lines is completely equipped for all processing steps and thus can produce both speakers with a simple structure as well as complicated speakers. In principle, all assembly functions that conceivably can be required are available within the production line. Thanks to the use of programmable industrial robots, it is possible to adapt not only the manual parts of the production, but even the automated operations, individually depending on the model of speaker to be produced.
For the simpler chassis, depending on the concrete model, production steps that are not required are omitted – for example, assembly of a double spider in speakers with only one spider. All speakers are built on module holders that hold and, if necessary, centre the individual components during production, whereby the structure of the module holders is specific to a particular speaker or driver model. The advantage of this approach is that the production line can be converted very quickly from one speaker model to another and thus production can be adapted to demand very flexibly.
During my visit to the production department, for example, the Faital Pro production line was being switched over from manufacturing a small midbass chassis to one for a large subwoofer. This is even possible on the fly, so that the new speaker model is already being built at the beginning of the line while the preceding model is still being produced and subjected to final inspection at the end. Because this means that production doesn’t have to come to a standstill when changing models, of course this also boosts production efficiency and reduces effective production costs.
Each individual speaker product undergoes an automated final inspection at the end of the production line and the individual speaker parameters are compared with the previously defined tolerances for the speaker model in question. Products that do not pass this inspection are not simply scrapped, but instead are subjected to a second inspection in which the type and cause of the defect are determined so that they can be eliminated. In addition, random samples are taken periodically from the speakers that have passed final inspection and these are subjected to a second manual inspection in the production laboratory. This second inspection serves less as a repeat inspection of the products, but instead to ensure the quality of the automated final inspection through periodic comparative measurements of random samples. The best final inspection is useless in terms of product quality if the inspection itself is faulty or if errors creep into the process because of defects in the test equipment. Not only the manufacturing processes themselves, but also in-process inspections and the inspection procedures are part of an overall quality assurance concept of the kind that is a matter of course for automotive industry suppliers, for example. Thus production at Faital is also certified according to various quality assurance standards, including ISO 9001:2000 (quality management), ISO/TS 16949:2002 (quality management systems in the automobile industry) and ISO 14001:2004 (environmental management).
So production of speaker components at Faital encompasses not only actual production, but also defined inspection and correction processes on both ends of the supply chain. This means: Faital does not “just” assemble speaker chassis, but integrates it’s own suppliers and customers in the quality control processes. The objective of this is to detect defects (which are unavoidable in an industrial manufacturing process, even if they have an extremely low rate of occurrence) in-house and at the company’s suppliers as early as possible, identify the cause, and eliminate the source so quickly that, ideally, they have no influence on availability of the end product. The integration of the customer in the inspection process naturally has the advantage that defects that do not occur until the product has reached the customer can also be remedied as quickly as possible.
Strong integration of the customer is, of course, especially important in the OEM business, which revolves around manufacturing speaker components as precisely as possible in compliance with customer specifications and tolerances. At Faital, they are also used to developing very specialized solutions in cooperation with the customer, and have state-of-the-art CAD and rapid prototyping development environments for this purpose.This also includes the capability to simulate both mechanical components and acoustical behaviour of the speakers using finite element and boundary element processes. This permits very rapid optimization of the mechanical and acoustical performance of an OEM speaker. This is especially important when developing speaker components as part of speaker and/or sound reinforcement systems which are themselves still in the development phase. In such cases, testing with real objects, using prototypes, for example, isn’t even possible yet.
Without question, the stringent requirements of the automobile industry are a mighty impetus for the implementation of processes that serve to assure manufacturing quality and the rapid development of OEM speakers with very precisely plannable performance.
In the end, however, the professional sound reinforcement market can only benefit from this kind of thorough quality control in development, manufacturing and supply chain control.
More information about FaitalPro is available here.
Source: PPVMEDIEN / PMA 2010