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Paradigm's Renovation: Part One
In early November, a few of the SoundStage! Network crew joined me for tours at two Canadian-based audio companies located near Toronto. One stop on the tour was Paradigm -- makers of the well-known speaker brand that, along with a few other Canadian-based companies, put Canada on the map as one of the biggest speaker producers in the world. Paradigm now also owns Anthem, a line of electronics that ideally complements the companys loudspeaker systems. For a fairly new company that originally produced tube gear (another story), Anthem is really gaining steam. Their Anthem AVM 20 surround-sound processor, for example, was a resounding success and just received Home Theater & Sound's 2002 Product of the Year award.
Although this was the first trip to Paradigm for much of our crew, I had been to the factory a few times prior. Still, since our tour in July 1999, much has changed there, and its proof that Paradigm and Anthems future looks as promising as their past.
The most notable difference is that Paradigm has now brought almost all their manufacturing under one roof -- one enormous roof. Before, the woodworking and cabinet assembly were done in one plant, while driver, crossover, and some electronics manufacturing were done at another factory, and more electronics manufacturing was done at yet another. The three facilities were about 20 minutes apart. And while that arrangement certainly allowed Paradigm to grow into the speaker-and electronics-making powerhouse that they are today, it involved a lot of back-and-forth shipping between facilities in order to get final products out the door. Time, costs, and other things dictated that such an arrangement wasn't ideal. The solution, obviously, was to get all aspects in one place -- and thats what they did.
The Mississauga plant -- where all the woodworking and such were done -- was the one chosen to grow. And accommodating that growth involved a massive expansion of the present facility. Forget the notion of simply adding on a room at the back; this renovation expanded the plant to what looks like at least double the size. Mark Aling, Paradigm's media rep who guided us through the tour, said the plant now measures 225,000 square feet. In the audio world, that's huge. The result is a sprawling facility where loudspeakers and electronics are created -- beginning to end -- and housed in a massive warehouse waiting to be shipped to consumers worldwide. Chalk another one up to the saying that "size matters."
But theres more. Certainly the sheer size of the facility is impressive, but what goes on inside this state-of-the-art plant is downright astonishing.
I learned years ago that Paradigm is a company that puts an enormous investment into manufacturing infrastructure. In fact, Ive never visited a company that builds more of its components in-house -- the opposite of companies that farm out many operations (oftentimes today to the Far East) and use off-the-shelf parts that best fit their needs. Not so with Paradigm -- they build most everything themselves. As a result, Paradigms at the mercy of no one.
So interested I was at this approach that I quizzed Scott Bagby and Bill VanderMarel -- principals in the operation -- incessantly (to the point, I think, that they thought I was a spy, or perhaps looking for pointers to start up my own speaker-building operation) regarding their decision to put such an enormous investment directly into their infrastructure. Did it have something to do with the corporate bean-counters figuring out a formula where it was more profitable this way? Or does it have to do with having a level of self-sufficiency, so no matter what kind of outside catastrophe happens, speakers and electronics will still continue to flow from the line? Scott and Bill nodded their heads a little bit to that, but there was more -- and it has to do mainly with quality.
Paradigms been operating for more than 20 years, and in that time they've grown from a small operation to the giant we see today -- and theyve also had more than enough opportunities to evaluate the work of outside suppliers. In fact, given the number of products they send from their doors, they likely have suppliers banging on their doors to get in. But throughout those years they've learned what's best to let someone else build, and what's best to build themselves. So every time they found something where an outside party could not meet their specifications and/or expectations, they brought that process in-house to get the necessary quality they need.
A simple but effective example is the windings on driver voice coils. According to Mark Aling, years ago when the company went to outside suppliers for voice coils, it was normal to receive the coils wound to within +/- half a turn. When you look at a voice coil, half a turn is actually quite large. Paradigm, though, simply didnt want to live with such tolerances, and when they could not find a supplier to do better, the choice of what to do became obvious. So today Paradigm creates their own voice coils -- and the rest of the parts for their drivers too, for that matter -- with the exact amount of turns in the coils. And sometimes bringing the process in-house means that they have to get specialized equipment to complete the procedure -- equipment thats sometimes not available. And how do they handle that? They build some of their equipment in-house too!
Suffice it to say that the level of manufacturing that goes on at Paradigm and Anthem is impressive. But stay tuned for my February column, in which I'll tell you about Paradigm's design facilities and the largest anechoic chamber Ive ever seen.
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