Friday 4 July saw a small party of BUStA members following parts of the Tour de France route as we made our way to Accrington and the Senator furniture factory.
Our visit started in the Head Office welcome suite with premium tea, fresh coffee, and an abundance of luxury biscuits, followed by a short presentation in one of their well-appointed meeting rooms by the regional sales director.
Senator manufactures both hard and upholstered office furniture, and they were keen to stress their commitment to the total process of manufacture, including parts that would ordinarily be bought in from third parties. They even service and MOT their own delivery vehicles and are accredited by the major vehicle manufacturers such as Volvo.
After the presentation we transferred to their upholstery site to see the range of traditional skills employed. The production manager took us on a comprehensive tour of the factory floor, starting with the sewing shop. Senator has its own team for fabric and leather stitching – shades of “Underworld” for the Corrie fans amongst us. We then moved on to the main manufacturing area to see the process of upholstering a range of products from sofas to executive chairs, some covered in fabric, others in a remarkably soft and luxurious hide.
We then moved on to the assembly area. Unlike many factory operations Senator are keen wherever possible for the workforce to follow the product through the assembly process from start to finish, and we spent a little time watching the assembly of a complete operator chair to illustrate this.
Next, to the stock areas, with its huge shelving the full height of the high bay warehouse. Picking is done using special fork lift vehicles that lift the operator along with the forks. These vehicles follow a hidden wire guide under the floor to ensure that they keep within the shelving aisles, which may make it sound easy. Those who fancy a career change should however bear in mind that the interview includes having to abseil from the top of the vehicle, this being the only way down should the cab get stuck at the top!
Finally, a peek at the despatch area, where orders are assembled and loaded. As it was Friday when we visited, this part of the facility was largely empty, with Friday’s deliveries already on the road. There was though a chance to see one of their newest products which was being “test assembled” prior to despatch; a range of modular acoustic screens used to create work, interview and meeting spaces.
Senator “did us proud” as they say, with all guests full of praise both of the welcome we received and the interesting and comprehensive nature of the tour.
Then it was on to Southport for a spot of lunch. With the weather being of the liquid variety, the beach was perhaps of less interest than it otherwise might have been. Certainly the weather curbed the cycling ambitions of a couple of us, so a mooch around the shops was the order of the day, with the odd refreshment along the way before we all boarded the coach back to Bradford.
Tuesday 22 July saw another small party of BUStA members pay a visit to Systagenix at Gargrave, followed by a visit to Windermere.
Due to popular demand we are re-running the Norton Motorcycles trip, with the afternoon in Nottingham. The trip is on Friday 13 July with a maximum of 16.
We are also visiting the Leander Forge, where hand made castings are produced. This trip takes place on Wednesday 8 August. Leander is in Buxton so we will remain there for the afternoon. The maximum on this trip is 20.
We will also be taking bookings for a visit to Headen-Quarmby. They are the company that manufacture Mary Portas’ “Kinky Knickers” branded underwear as featured in the TV series “Mary’s Bottom Line” on Friday 12 October. The remainder of the day will be spent in Manchester.
All trips will be charged at £15 for members and £18.
Norton began in 1898, going into motorcycle production at the start of the 20th Century, and was soon established both in competition and the private market. Sadly though the company went into serious decline in the late 60’s, finally closing its doors for the last time in 1974. After a less than successful buy out by a German company, the brand then transferred to the USA, where substantial investment in product development was made. Yet again though the owner failed in their endeavours to get the Norton name back on the road, and the brand was acquired by its current British owner. After some re-engineering of the USA developed prototype, the company was ready to launch the new Norton motorcycle to an eager audience just 18 months ago.
Norton is a small manufacturer that hand builds its product, each bike is built to order by a senior mechanic assisted by a junior member of the team. With just four fully operating bays producing bikes at a rate of one a day, it means they can manage around 16 bikes a week.
After some time quizzing the mechanics and our escorts we moved to the pre-assembly and stores area. Here, parts of the bike (such as the handlebar assembly) are pre-assembled and loaded onto a trolley along with all the parts necessary to build a bike. This is then wheeled to the assembly bay, allowing the mechanic to get on with the job – a system that when introduced reduced build times from 2 ½ days to just 1 per bike.
Here we were shown some of the specialist bodywork that is reserved for the likes of Bremont (a luxury UK watch manufacturer) and the champagne producer Piper-Heidsieck. These are added to works bikes for use in advertising and promotional activities.
Next stop the engine bay where the power units are built. Following a fall out with their supplier of complete units, assembly now takes place in a large portakabin alongside the main building. Even the less mechanically minded could see the quality of the precision engineering that goes into the engines.
Finally we assembled outside where one of the demonstration bikes was fired up so that we could witness the roar of the machine. Despite being a new company with a new product, Norton has captured the very essence of their predecessor’s heritage.
Norton was kind enough to waive a £15 fee for our visit, and BUStA has agreed to make a donation of £150 to the British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association in lieu of their fee.
10th August saw the final BUStA Industrial Visit of the season as we headed off to the New Balance factory in Maryport on the west coast.
The coach had certainly seen better days; heating was either red hot or stone cold, and on the return journey the rain fell inside the coach as well as out, with some passengers having to resort to the brolly as protection from the elements! Suffice to say here that a strong letter of disapproval will by now have found its way to the offices of the coach company, and their name is off the BUStA approved list.
So – it was on to the factory where our hosts gave us a warm welcome. Split into two groups we were taken by our informative guides on a tour of the factory. We were shown the three main ways of making sports shoes (the word “trainer” is a dirty word in this part of the world). The factory can make shoes from scratch, from leather cutting to packaging the final product, but some uppers come to the factory pre-cut and are mounted on the soles in the factory. The computerised sewing machines are a sight to behold and mean that a pair of shoe is made from scratch in an hour, and from a pre-cut upper in just 40 mins.
Uppers are attached in two ways, either using an evil smelling glue (yuk!) or a ceramic method by a specialist machine. The latter is regarded as a better fixing method, and requires less people to make a shoe. Perhaps surprisingly, each shoe type/size is made by a separate gang of between three (using the ceramic method) and six (starting a shoe from scratch), with each gang adopting a team name. The prize for the cleverest name goes to The Indians (because there are no cowboys in their team apparently!). An electronic counter shows each team its target and keeps count of the numbers produced – so it’s all hands to the pumps and keep the shoes coming!
Finally, a visit to the factory shop, with bargains galore to be had. A number of us left with shoes and sports clothing as souvenirs of the visit.
So it was on to Bowness, although sadly by this time, and in typical Lake District fashion, the rain had set in. We were thankful then that due to the delays we had experienced there was only a couple of hours to enjoy the liquid sunshine before our return to Bradford in THAT coach.