As part of my induction training at Rollins Group (the parent company of Bulldog Tools) I have been asked to spend a month in the forge at Wigan in order to understand exactly what goes on in the manufacturing process. I arrived last Monday after a four and a half hour journey, thank you M1 roadworks, keen to learn.
After my Health and Safety briefing, I was taken on a guided tour of the factory. It had been a long time since my first visit to the forge and I had forgotten how much skill went into the manufacturing process. It is very unusual to see a forge of any kind in the UK now, as it is the ‘Last Forge of its Kind in Britain,’ it was pretty special to see the place in action. (Check out the factory tour video below). The heat and noise off the forge is immense. The speed and skill with which the guys in the forge produce the one piece tools is quite incredible.
The majority of my week has been spent with the in house engineering team. The engineers are an important factor in keeping the factory manufacturing, one of their main tasks is to maintain the forge machinery. As well as routinely checking the machines, the engineers have to be ready to fix breakdowns on the production line. Their knowledge of the machines and tooling is invaluable, only acquired through years of hands on training and experience. A number of the engineering team came through an apprentice scheme which once took place on the Bulldog site, thereby giving them the knowledge they needed for the job.
Another aspect of the engineer’s job is to prepare the forge for production. Each different tool head and socket requires a different set of ‘tooling.’ These vary in shapes and sizes, depending on the tool itself. For instance, the size of a Premier Garden Spade would be de different to a Premier Border Spade. In order for production to commence, the tooling for the job needs to be in place and ready for use. It is important that this takes place on time and done correctly so that production isn’t halted, down-time is very costly for any factory.
Due to the nature of the forging process, tooling becomes warn and damaged, either needing replacing or re-working in order to be used again. Behind-the-scenes a lot of work is done to keep the tooling in good working condition and preparing it for the next time its needed. New tooling is an expensive option, we no longer have the facilities to manufacture tooling on site, so it would have to be sent out and manufactured externally increasing the cost. The same costs are also a factor in designing new products or changing existing designs.
Whilst working in the engineer shop it was decided that the design of one of the spade shapes should be amended in order to reduce production time. This meant that the tooling had to be changed so that the new design could be manufactured. The skill and ability of the engineers made this task look relatively easy. It involved 1) stripping the to tool down to it’s constituent parts,2) changing the component which stamps out the shape of the head, 3) testing , 4) when finished putting it through its paces on the production line. This took a team of four men, three days, and just shows how much work can go into what seems a simple product change.
Week two sees me working in the forge itself, stay tuned. Please feel free to comment or leave a question, I will try my best to answer it.