Rane Factory Tour and DJ Mixer Demo
Presented by Steve Macatee and Rick Jeffs
Meeting held November 29, 2000
The PNW Section kicked off its season with a meeting at Rane, the well-known manufacturer of professional audio equipment in Mukilteo, WA, about 30 miles north of Seattle.
After meeting in the lobby, the 40+ attendees split into two tour groups, led by Rane hosts Steve Macatee and Rick Jeffs.
Rane was started by ex-employees from Phase Linear in 1981. The founders were Linda Arink (Finance), Rick Bernard (Manufacturing), Steve Brakken (Engineering) and Larry Winter (Sales & Marketing). Dennis Bohn (R&D) became a partner about a year after incorporation when the initial product ideas needed designing. The founders spent more than the first year working on philosophical and distribution channel issues before even thinking about the first product idea.
Our tour led through the Rane offices, then to the service department, which has 3 benches but usually only 2 technicians. Only 5 units were awaiting repairs. A 24 hour turnaround was typical, we were told. There were lots of fixtures and parts for legacy products.
Their conference room has a history of their print ads. In the hallway overlooking the lobby was the Rane History Wall - displaying one of each product they've made, including OEM products, mounted in racks and plugged in. Of the first five products made, four are still in production.
Rane claims that their library/listening room has every JAES preprint published. With their extensive audio library (thanks to Dennis Bohn being such a bookhound) Rane often gets requests to look up articles and books since many are long out of print.
No walk through was allowed in the engineering department - (shh...secrets!)
It was pointed out that Rane does all the assembly work for its products in- house, except that they do buy painted sheet metal and raw circuit boards.
Batch oriented manufacturing means that they make limited runs of products when needed. "Just in time" parts are received, carts are loaded with the right parts and they go to the manufacturing floor. Many parts go to the robotic board stuffers, either through-hole or surface mount. Rane has about 120 employees with a day shift and small night shift. The tour groups also viewed the hand part install area, wave solder machine, surface mount machines and solder paste screening machine.
The silk screening for all panel graphics is all done all by hand.
Finally there was the final assembly and test area, with many "bed of nails" test jigs for computerized tests of the boards and end products. The circuit designs are computer analyzed for performance limits taking into account the tolerance of the parts used. This information is used in the automated final tests. Every product is 100% tested and then listened to by a human. Lots of Audio Precision test setups were seen.
Next, the tour groups gathered in the Rane lunchroom to enjoy rich desserts and beverages, trade questions and answers about the DJ mixers, and hear the demo.
PNW Chair Rick Smargiassi talked about tentative upcoming AES meetings, introduced the PNW officers, and had all attendees introduce themselves.
Rick Jeffs, a senior analog designer, spoke about designing the Rane DJ mixers. He gave a little history, from the first radio Disc Jockeys to modern dance/club DJs. Rotary knobs were used first, but today it's slide crossfaders for fast artistic control of the turntable sound. Today there are numerous styles of playing the discs, so Rane developed six models of DJ mixers. The mixers are very challenging to engineer, need extreme durability, specific ergonomics, and very high performance. They have high parts counts, and use VCAs (voltage controlled amplifiers) to minimize the problems caused by fader wear. In 3 months, a DJ can put 300,000 fader cycles on a mixer.
Interestingly, turntable sales today are actually greater than at the height of the Hi-Fi-LP days. There is a thriving vinyl LP album industry to service today's market.
Next came the demo, with professional DJs, DJ Ace, DJ E.rok and DV One. They have won many DJ "battles" and traveled internationally to perform. They answered many audience questions such as how long records last and how often faders need to be replaced. They finished with a bravura trio performance on 4 turntables.
Special thanks goes to Mackie Designs for providing their Mackie Industrial playback speaker systems, and of course to Rane, Steve Macatee and Rick Jeffs.
Written by Gary Louie, PNW Secretary.
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Last modified 11/4/2001.