May 09, 2012, by Mike Clark
Although a relative newcomer to the pro audio world, Faital, headquartered in San Donato, a suburb of Italy’s business capital Milan, has more than half a century of loudspeaker driver manufacturing to its credit.
In 2006, the family-run concern launched FaitalPRO, a division of the company targeting the international pro audio market, which has grown by leaps and bounds since inception, as explained by FaitalPRO overseas sales manager Flavio Naggi, grandson of the company’s founder.
“Although my father is company CEO, my uncle is the president, and my brother is in charge of the sourcing and purchasing department, Faital has outgrown the typical family-size business format and is now an international group, with manufacturing facilities in Italy and fully-owned factories in Hungary and Spain, chosen to ensure fast coverage of the whole of Europe,” Naggi explains.
“We also have sales branches in the U.S., Mexico, France and Hong Kong,” he continues. “Our pro audio division has averaged a 70 to 85 percent annual growth rate, because our range of woofers, compression drivers and horns are appreciated as providing very high quality and long-lasting performance.”
The Faital 86,000 square-footmanufacturingplant in Chieve, Italy. (click to enlarge)
FaitalPRO did not intend shifting manufacturing or R&D to lower cost countries, so decided to focus on the higher end of the market. “We have big momentum in direct product distribution, but, although this gives more rapid gratification, OEM work is a key objective,” Naggi notes. “This takes considerable time to develop, as potential customers must decide to launch a new range of products or have a problem with a current supplier, after which you need to develop the product they need, as they don’t always buy catalog products, and this can take up to two years.
“However, we offer a guarantee of quality, continuity and R&D integrity comparable to top brands on the market, if not higher, because in many areas we have an infrastructure originally specific to our automotive background, guaranteeing the quality of processes, materials used, design and the entire development process.”
Area manager Gianluca Turra adds, “FaitalPRO began with market research to understand what the pro audio industry required for a number of key applications, then the study, concept and design of speakers that could be competitive with or better than those already available and could be produced with our highly automated production methods - able to turn out a woofer every 15 to 20 seconds, or up to 25 with 18-inch models with complex assemblies.”
Left to right, key Faital team members Gianluca Turra (area manager), Mario Passarelli (senior project leader) and Flavio Naggi (overseas sales manager) with some of the company’s drivers. (click to enlarge)
This led to the build-up of the current range of products, with senior project leader Mario Passarelli noting, “In 2008, we were the first to market an extremely high-power subwoofer with a 4-inch voice coil. Prior to our XL Series, subwoofers with 4-inch voice coils couldn’t go to more than 1,000 or 1,200 watts.
“Our extremely long excursion very high-power 18-inch subwoofer in neodymium reached 1,500 watts and beyond, which was quiet an achievement and was a trend followed by many other manufacturers.”
Adjacent to the Faital headquarters is the R&D department, the starting point of all the new products and the patented technology adopted by the company.
The specialized staff of over 20 full-time technicians on the R&D team have at their disposal an impressive array of cutting edge systems and software used for the design, validating and testing of components and prototypes, as well as materials used by the company’s suppliers and many of the tools actually used on production lines.
The avant-garde facility also cooperates regularly on joint projects with universities and other bodies.
“We have a series of sophisticated instruments for checking all aspects of the components when they arrive – physical, magnetic, variations due to external influences, such as temperature,” says R&D manager Romolo Toppi. “We must also make certain that materials’ characteristics remain constant, particularly important as far as neodymium magnets are concerned, as there is considerable misconception among suppliers regarding standards.”
Loudspeaker performance is evaluated via acoustic measurements in two anechoic chambers (one fully floating), laser-based assessment, performance with large signals and analysis of geometry and behavior of moving parts.
An entire in-house validation infrastructure enables to carrying out a variety of tests on components, prototypes and end products include corrosion, thermal shock, UV rays and vibration and shock testing, to see how they’ll stand up to use (and misuse) in future applications.
Of particular importance is the capability of guaranteeing that all Faital products will be corrosion-proof, waterproof and capable of withstanding very broad thermal and vibration shocks,
making them environmentally impervious to anything mother nature (or users) will throw at them.
“A great deal of attention goes into developing components that are producible in the most economic manner and able to guarantee performance, but having implemented the strict regulations in other industry sectors enables FaitalPRO to maintain very high quality standards,” Naggi says.
A sophisticated product development process includes 3-D design, extensive prototyping, and evaluation in one of the company’s anechoic chambers.
From the incoming inspection of materials, there are stringent almost “military” level quality control and tests to ensure that products work in the conditions decided upon with clients at the beginning of the program. The company also tests, controls and even purchases the material – such as plastic – used by its suppliers.
Cones are tested on arrival before being mounted on actual loudspeakers, and there’s also a 3-D measurement system to compare components with the original models ordered. End products are also labeled to enable them to be back-tracked down the entire chain.
Located in extensive tree-shaded grounds in the rural town of Chieve, Faital’s 86,000 square-foot (8,000-square-meter) manufacturing plant, just a half-hour drive from the Milan metropolis, features highly automated production lines designed for extreme flexibility.
Naggi explains: “The design and automation of the lines enables a number of different models to be produced with almost no down-time between job lots, apart from a few minutes required to reset the machines via touch panels, ensuring an extremely high productivity rate.”
Highly automated assembly lines provide precision manufacturing in addition to enabling different models to be produced with almost no down-time.
The facility’s warehouse system is equally streamlined and includes climatized zones for components more sensitive to temperature and a special dedicated adhesive store-room.
The actual production line begins with the assembly of the magnet assemblies, some of which are extremely complex, includes curing chambers that can be adapted according to the type of adhesives (also formulated to Faital specs). Along the line there are cleaning stations to make certain assemblies are absolutely free from unwanted particles (or “crap in the gap” as Turra memorably refers to it).
“Thorough cleaning inside and out before applying dust caps is fundamental, as the air gap is where you have the least space and the most movement, so very little tolerance,” he adds.
Test stations verify aspects such as correct magnetization and component bonding, and although component positioning on the line is almost all auto mated, certain aspects, such as ensuring that for example one part mounted inside another is fully inserted, require an experienced human touch.
Cone application for example is carried out manually, as soft materials are unsuited to robotic handling.
Naggi stresses, “Some manufacturers also apply adhesive manually, but dosage is of fundamental importance, since – as well as looking messy – surplus adhesive adds weight and moving mass plays an important role in performance. Applicators are thus fully automatic, have preset programs for the various speaker models and can apply two (or more) adhesives simultaneously.”
Before packaging, finished products undergo thorough test procedures, starting with a visual inspection and including tests with signals to check physical integrity visually, then computerized tests for reproduction parameters.
An extensive testing process on products covers a wide range of factors such as climate issues, shock/vibration, and much more, to see how they’ll stand up in actual use.
Bold New Directions
Never believers in resting on their laurels, the FaitalPRO team has decided to launch an additional new range of products, based entirely on ferrite magnet technology, but before going into detail on the company’s incredible commitment to this ambitious project, Naggi expresses in no uncertain terms their ideas on neodymium.
“To cut a long story short, we don’t fully agree with the ongoing panic of some of our market’s players regarding neodymium, much of which is caused by incorrect information,” he says. “My opinion - also that of the rest of our top management and sourcing department - is that the situation will not remain stressful for a long period, as there is the opportunity for other countries and other companies to start extracting rare earth minerals from several other sources not currently being exploited, including a very serious project under way at the moment for extraction from the seabed.”
FaitalPRO has adopted a two-fold approach to the situation. One part is to mitigate whatever damage has come from the way the market is behaving, purchasing on average from 200 to 220 metric tons per year of neodymium magnets.
“In the market we’re one of the largest purchasers, which is appreciated by our suppliers,” Naggi explains. “Therefore, we have the capability of minimizing the effect of cost increases for neodymium on the final price of the speaker, thus transferring to our clients as little increase as possible.”
The other part of the approach is a much stronger statement – the creation of a big alternative to neodymium products, on which the entire catalog with the exception of a few small-format models has been based so far – with the launch of an eye-popping 31 new ferrite-based products.
Just a few of the new ferrite driver models currently being rolled out by FaitalPRO. (click to enlarge)
“Although we made our neodymium products competitive with other manufacturers’ ferrite models, there was a slice of the market that wanted ferrite speakers no matter what, so before the end of the year we enter pre-series production on the new products, designed from scratch – new baskets, new magnet assemblies, new everything,” he states.
Ready To Go
The entire development process began in March, and after just nine months of intensive work, a full product range is ready to go. Company officials stressed that FaitalPRO is not discontinuing neodymium, but rather offering an alternative – in fact, it will continue offering all current neodymium models and even add new models next year, alongside ferrite, thus creating a new flow of development, not a substitute.
Turra adds, “This project is not a trade-in at the cost of quality either. In fact, some speakers actually improve with ferrite, since the magnetic field works in a completely different way, favoring some of the features that are particularly appreciated in subwoofers.”
Concluding, Naggi notes, “After lengthy simulation work and a considerable amount of in-depth practical work in the field by our R&D team, we have also devised a very innovative method for cooling the ferrite magnets mounted, so this has been a huge undertaking, a very exciting time for us, and one of the biggest achievements since the inception of the company.”
Based in Italy, Mike Clark is a long-time writer on professional audio topics.