Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
As we get ready to make our way to the NAB Show, we’re posting an extra Site of the Week this week, for three reasons: first, because we’ve had eastern North Carolina on our mind ever since seeing the dramatic photos of the Voice of America’s Site A in Greenville being demolished last week – and so we’re featuring our March visit to the nearby mirror-image VOA Site B on Friday’s regular edition of Site of the Week. Second, because if you, too, are headed to the show, we want to make sure you know about our big Vegas Radio Kickoff Party Sunday night at the MGM Grand. And third, because we’ll be doing video podcasts from the show all next week – and for that, we’re partnering with our friends at Wheatstone.
So it only makes sense that we show you today what we were up to the day after our VOA tour in March: touring the huge Wheatstone factory in New Bern, about half an hour south of Site B in an industrial park on the western edge of town.
“Uncle Wheaty” moved down here right around the turn of the millennium, and it’s grown immensely since making the move.
You really need to get down to New Bern in person to get the full idea of the size and scope of what Wheatstone does here, but here are a few glimpses to give you a sense of the place:
At the back of the huge factory floor, Wheatstone does much more of its own in-house work than a lot of manufacturers these days. There’s a full metal shop that takes raw pieces of aluminum and steel and turns them into the bodies of consoles, processors and other gear, for instance. Powder-coating is done in house, and so are screen printing and laser engraving (which is seriously cool to watch in action.)
Those classy wooden sides to some of the company’s consoles? Those are made in-house, too.
A few things are better done by outside vendors: chip fabrication and circuit-board manufacturing happen outside – but most of the surface mounting of components to those boards happens right here at the middle of the floor, helped along by computerized automation.
There’s a big supply of spare parts and components for both current units and many older models. We saw some vintage gear on the floor, some of it sent back for repair and some in the form of reference units that the repair staff keep on hand so they can figure out what some of that vintage gear is supposed to look like when it comes back for service!
Toward the back of the main floor, a big open area serves a double role: it’s a staging and training area when customers come by to watch big projects take shape. And for the first few months of each calendar year, it’s where Wheatstone puts together its big NAB Show exhibit before breaking it all down to be shipped to Las Vegas.
At the front of the building, the office space is enlivened by several working Wheatstone consoles set up for training and testing. And one of those offices is much more than just an office: behold the processing lab in which Wheatstone’s magic ears, including our host Mike Erickson, does his tweaking, testing and comparisons against the competition.
See you in Vegas! (Or on the web with our videos from Vegas…)
And don’t miss a big batch of North Carolina IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
On Friday: Voice of America Site B, Greenville, NC