Naim Audio has been building audio electronics since the 1970s. So, it knows a thing or two about handling the products it’s building. But when you move into making an amplifier of the size, scale, and weight of Naim’s new Statement, suddenly things change. Suddenly, you have to think more like a custom car maker as well as an amplifier designer.
The Salisbury-based company has devoted a portion of its top-floor product assembly area to the Statement building project, as a result of the early success of the amplifier. All of Naim’s electronics are made in an ESD-free zone, so visitors and workers alike have to wear grounding tags that fit around the heel of a shoe, and an inelegant uniform of white or pale blue coats to limit static electricity build-up. It’s not a clean-room environment, because the devices made do not require a clean-room, but it’s not far off.
The dedicated centre uses colour-corrected lighting, both to the main overhead lighting and the individual magnifiers used for close-up work. This adds absolutely nothing to the build of the product, except that it makes the build process slightly easier for the engineers. That may in turn make the product built with a tiny bit more care and attention, as the engineers do not have to unconsciously adapt to different colour temperatures around the room, but it shows the lengths to which Naim goes to build these devices.
The Statement combines surface mount and hand-soldered devices in a complex, 3D design. This makes assembly more complicated than many amplifier systems and requires both an engineer who can think beyond simple linear board-stuffing, and this is helped by the installation of clever touch-screen CAD/CAM workstations, which allow the builder access to the schematics during build that would have been impossible only a few years ago.
These individual subsection assemblies are placed on shock-mounted jigs for testing and soak testing. This reduces the possibility of failure, not only in situ, but accidental failure due to insertion and removal from the test bench. Such failures are almost unheard of in any device, but the last thing a Statement dealer wants is a ‘Return To Manufacturer’ failure having installed an amp that weighs as much as the person installing it.
When all the subassemblies are produced, the amplifier section as a complete build can go ahead. Naim has built a hydraulic rolling elevator platform for the task, complete with overhead winch. This allows the unit to be moved with one finger (well, two actually…) and positioned in the right place for the build-up at the time. Two engineers work closely to complete the construction of the unit at this workstation.
Why two fingers? Because although the Statement assembly jig can be manoeuvred into any position with one finger, the system has a built-in safety feature to insist the engineer operating the jig has one finger on the controls and one hand on the device, to prevent injury.
Eventually, the completed amplifier section is loaded into its individual flight case from the jig, then an entire roller section rotates through 90° to lower the encased Statement section (Statement Piece?) on to its transport castors.
The compete amplifier is then tested once more before shipping.
The logistics of building up a heavyweight amplifier are not the kind of back-story any of us consider when seeing the end result standing in front of us, but when you think about how a company has to move such a product around and test it while in production (all the while making sure the finish on the amplifier is completely untouched), it quickly becomes the sort of operation commonly associated with Formula One teams, although one that allows a bit of sugar in the tank.
It’s rare for journalists to gain entry to these super-high-end build-ups, in part because they are often made in a more ad hoc manner than happens with the Statement. But with 40 ordered and at least another 60 Statement amplifiers expected to be sold in the coming years, Naim had to build a dedicated space to make a Statement, and we jumped at a chance of photographing the end result!