Colchester Engineering Society
Colchester Engineering Society

Recent Lectures

Autumn / Winter Programme 2017-2018

Friday 8th December 2017: Engineering in the Antarctic, presented by Dr. Keith Makinson
 

In the opening part of Keith’s presentation he gave some background to the continent, its geology and geography.  For example, it has active volcanoes in existence with undersea ones having been active in days gone by, the large mountain range that near enough divides the continent in two, large sub-glacial lakes. Its environment which is the coldest, with a recorded temperature of minus 90° C, it is classified as a desert, and is the windiest place on earth.  The size of it is roughly the size of Europe or the USA plus Mexico.  There is so much ice that if it was to melt and it is having a good go with global warming in progress the oceans would rise by about 60 metres, (200 feet). That is without the Arctic. The continent has been around for about 100M years with the ice having started to form about 30M years ago.  He continued by touching on the International Antarctic Treaty of which 53 countries are signatories with another 28 nations having a consultative status thereby hopefully keeping politics and exploitation out of the picture. So far so good. There is undoubtedly great mineral wealth to be had as a temptation.

 

Mentioned also as part of the introduction were some of the first explorers for example; Captain James Cook RN 1773, James Weddell 1823, von Bellinghausen, and Captain Edward Bransfield RN to name a few.  When you consider the distances travelled into the unknown, the conditions endured and the very little chance of rescue should it be needed, these people were truly stout hearted champions of adventure and epitomised mans continued thirst for knowledge. The history of the British Antarctic Survey was touched upon and it transpired that it had its early beginnings in WW2 when the War Cabinet in 1943 decided to deny anchorage to the axis powers and to set our claim on tracts of land. The 1950’s and 60’s witnessed much exploration and the laying down of the foundations for what BAS now does down there and with the rapid advance in technology, science and engineering it has to be said in a far more comfortable style than in the primitive conditions of not so long ago. BAS has at its disposal in the way of transport, 2 polar ships, 5 polar aircraft e.g. Dash 7 and Twin Otters DHC 6 which can carry 1 tonne of equipment 300 miles in one hop. There are about 450 people stationed down there.  The field season is between October and April with field parties consisting of 15-20 scientists and engineers travelling out to their work sites for a period of about 3 months in specialised tracked vehicles.  All accommodation and materiel is pulled on specialised sledges for living and working on the ice.
              
With Keith’s interests much of the scientific investigatory work and supported by engineering is carried out by clean hot water drilling (HWD).  As might be expected most of the techniques and processes have been designed and developed through experience over some years. It is a harsh climate to learn in and can be unkind to those who make mistakes. In the 1972 season drilling was done at a rate of 20-30 m/hr and reached a depth of 120 mts.  Today depths of 2.0km’s are drilled with a hole size of about 30cms with a depth of 3.0km’s aimed for. It is thought that most of the ice sheet sits on sub-glacial lakes, 3 of which are known. Due to the unpolluted nature of the environment and pristine conditions great care is taken regarding cleanliness of all equipment and materials used to prevent contamination. Once holes have been drilled to the required depths and diameters probes and samplers are lowered to the sub-glacial lakes for the gathering of samples and data whilst maintaining the integrity of the environment. To ensure that no snagging of the lines used for the probes and samplers the bottom of the hole is drilled out into a flared or bell mouth shape. Nevertheless recovery key hole cutting processes have been developed if such a need arises.

The HWD is designed to be capable of drilling in a single pass and then maintaining at least a 30cm diameter access hole through ice shelves up to 1000m thick, with an ice temperature as low as –30°C. However, hole diameter is also dependent on drilling speed, with wider holes to allow the passage of larger instruments produced at slow rates, while narrower holes can be produced if more rapid access is needed.  Ice shelves can be 2.5K thick.

 

Parts of the ice sheets form moving glaciers known as ice streams, which flow towards the edges of the continent. Next to the continental shore are many ice shelves. These are floating extensions of out flowing glaciers from the continental ice mass. Offshore, temperatures are also low enough that ice is formed from seawater through most of the year. It is important to understand the various types of Antarctic ice to understand possible effects on sea levels and the implications of global cooling hence the great interest.  Antarctica acts a water mass for the planet.

Although to drill a hole through ice using high pressure hot water may seem a relatively easy task,  everything from the logistics of getting to the Antarctic and staying there like wise with job site, being totally self sufficient in materiels' and provisioning is a mammoth organisational task.  Then there are the different types of ice to be drilled, thermal conductivity of materials and knowing the stresses and strains to be endured all and more comes under the management, control and function of the engineer.  A very interesting presentation by an authority on the subject and with a different dimension to engineering.

 

Bob Barnett

 

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Friday 17th November 2017: The River Stour Trust and the Restoration of Stratford St Mary Lock

The River Stour has been used for transport for hundreds of years, and is one of the oldest navigations in the country with Acts of Parliament in 1705 and 1784 enabling improvements for navigation to be made.

In 1928-34 Essex and Suffolk Waterworks obtained permission to abstract water from the Stour to supply South Essex and NE London, where the population was rapidly expanding.  They built pumping stations at Langham, Stratford St Mary and Brantham, and re-built the 4 lower river locks – Brantham Sea Lock, Flatford, Dedham and Stratford St Mary as part of the agreement.  These new locks replaced the ancient timber-sided structures with the concrete chambers we see today.

 

The nation’s waterways fell into disrepair as canal and river transport declined after WW2, leading to the formation of the Inland Waterways Association in 1947 to protect and restore them, and a subsidiary, the River Stour Trust (RST) in 1968 to fight for the River Stour in particular.  Approaching its 50th year, the Trust can boast some major achievements, the foremost of which must be its successful fight to retain the Right of Navigation on the river when the Essex River Authority tried to extinguish it.  This victory means anyone can take a licenced boat on the Stour today.  The Trust excavated the ancient dry dock at Flatford which appeared in John Constable’s painting “Boat Building at Flatford”, and cleaned and re-gated the lock chambers at Flatford and Dedham to bring them back into operation.  The RST cleared the Quay Basin at Sudbury which had become a tip for builders’ rubble since the 1920s, at the same time making an emergency exit walkway round one of the old warehouses which allowed it to become The Quay Theatre.  The other granary was restored as our HQ building which is now let for functions and has a wedding licence, a tearoom open on Sundays from Easter to the end of October, and is the base for boat trips.  One of the old Stour lighters which were scuttled in Sudbury in 1914 and raised by the Trust in the 1970s, has been restored and now forms part of our fleet of 4 trip boats operating between Sudbury and Henny, plus 2 boats based at Dedham.    The Trust took over ownership of the SCC picnic site at Cattawade in 2013 to maintain one of the few public access points to the river.  

 

After Flatford and Dedham locks the plan was to restore the final concrete lock at Stratford St Mary.   Environment Agency demands and the insurmountable problem of access to the site had effectively stalled the project when the Trust obtained a large HLF grant which they used to build a completely new lock at Cornard, opening in 1997, rather than spend just £30k on new gates for SSM, being all they thought it needed.   A further grant tempted them to build a Visitor Education Centre nearby, the cost exceeding the grant and leaving the Trust with large debts and no money for the Stratford Lock project.  This also caused Ipswich IWA (who had begun working on the site) to leave and start restoration on the River Gipping.

 

In frustration in 2005, Roger Brown proposed a method of doing the job with volunteer labour and offered to manage the project.  Essex and Suffolk Water kindly allowed us to use their waterworks as our base and, in 2006 the restoration began with donated tools and a member’s gift of £5k, with work parties plus tools crossing the river to the site in a 14ft boat to clear the very overgrown site.  Sandbag dams were built to allow working areas to be pumped out so we could dig out mud behind the bottom gates, lifting it out of the chamber by bucket over a pulley until we swung the gate open for the first time in 82 years enabling us to install a barrow run out of the chamber.

 

In 2007, a breakthrough idea of using a Versadock raft, which a member bought and lent us, transformed the job.   Not only could we transport men and materials across the river but we also took a small digger across (once we convinced our insurers!).   The EA Land Drainage Consent obliged us to maintain the drainage of water from low-lying land on the far side of the river through their chunker, which gave us the major task of laying a level plastic pipeline on wooden trestles along the 180m length of the lower approach channel to take this water while we drained and worked in the channel.  This proved to be a constant problem with leaks at joints, floating pipes at times of high water, vandalism etc., and which had to be removed for the winter.  EA would only allow 3” dia posts at 1m intervals (without geotextile backing) along one side of the channel to retain the bank during dredging, and we began installing a gabion wall along the other side.  The digger dug a base trench for the gabions and removed silt, rocks and old geotex from the channel while we filled these baskets with rock transported by barrow from the waterworks on the raft. The gabions took 3 years to complete, due to restricted working space, low trees and unstable mud for the digger to operate on.  We also spent 3 weeks passing a clump of reeds which the EA insisted was not to be disturbed.  Disposal of the spoil was a problem as we were not allowed to put it on the island where we originally planned, so we raised the Armorlok blocks and geotex of the 25m x 10m flood spillway, spread 500mm deep spoil and relaid the blockwork.

 

The gabions were finished by the end of 2009 when we received a letter from a retiring EA environmentalist accusing us of contravening the terms of our consent, which stopped work for 5 years while we proposed many schemes to complete the job.  Under threat of an EA Enforcement Order we completely removed our dams although we had lowered them for water to flow over when we stopped work.

Work started again in 2015 with 7 separate LDCs to dredge the channel to full 1.2m depth and dig out the lock chamber.   The raft was extended for more buoyancy to take dumpers across and volunteers were trained and ticketed to operate them.   Rather than replace the anti-scour rocks along the base of the spillway, the EA wanted them buried as “they don’t look very pretty”, and the top edge of the gabions finished with turf rolls, not the concrete-filled sandbags up to water level as we had proposed.  This was a painfully slow process, with spoil from the lock and dredgings spread over the rocks by hand.

 

In 2016 the EA’s new “Bespoke Permit” allowed us to dig the top approach channel “no deeper than 300mm”, which was successfully appealed.  We made galvanised steel stoplogs to seal both ends of the chamber and spent several hours cutting a slice off each one when we discovered the slot they had to drop into was not square!   The top approach channel was dug through years of silt deposits and edged with timber posts with faggots behind to retain the banks, and as much mud as possible was dug out of the lock chamber with the longest-arm small digger available, leaving 400mm to be cleared manually.  We obtained grants from Cory Environmental and the IWA Tony Harrison Legacy for £85k enabling us to instruct Hargreaves lock gate contractors to fit new gates in August 2017, giving us a tight deadline to clear the remaining mud.  We reverted to our pulley and bucket method to dig sloppy spoil or, worse, the clay bung which went into the digger bucket to be lifted out.  One said “I thought we would never do it”.  When the new gates arrived, Hargreaves lifted the old gates onto our 4 sections of raft in the chamber for us to pole them a mile to the A12 bridge, where they were lifted off and replaced with the new gates to be poled back to the lock for the contractors to fix.  While they completed the gates, including ensuring the mitre sealed by running a handsaw down the faces, our men built a bridge onto the lock island from the concrete footpath.  On September 10th the lock was used by canoeists taking part in our annual Sudbury to the Sea event.

 

Sue Brown

 

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Autumn / Winter Programme 2016-2017

Friday 17th March 2017: Ipswich Flood Barrier Presented by Neil Dorland, Site Project Manager for VBA.

 

The client for this major project is the Environment Agency who has been engaged in a major flood defence scheme for Ipswich for about 10 years, with an overall cost of some £58M. This particular part of the project, a flood barrier (not unlike the Thames Barrier but smaller) is worth £21M and is being undertaken by a consortium of three companies VolkerStevin, a civil engineering contractor specialising in land remediation and regeneration, water and marine infrastructure, and flood and coastal protection. Boskalis Westminister, one of the most experienced dredging and marine contracting companies in the UK. Last but not least there is Atkins, an internationally respected design, engineering and project management consultancy. The EA potentionally uses five main contractors for its major works who nevertheless still have to tender for the projects but their capabilities are known.

A local Ipswich company, Jacksons has already built some of the new harbour walls as this was Phase 1. Phase 2 concerned excavating a large "elderly and somewhat fragile 132 kV electric cable that ran across the river bed just at the point of where the flood barrier was to be located. To overcome this obstacle two shafts either side of the lock had to be dug and a connecting tunnel constructed to house the cable.

Phase 3 was the development of the tidal barrier, the control room and the wet dock flood walls and it is this phase currently under construction. The steel gate will be located to position during the coming months. Due to no manufacturing or skills capability in the UK this part of the barrier is being made in Holland.

To house the gate a 30m² coffer dam has been built with a radius base in which the lifting gate will spend most of its time. There are 48 piles of 1016mm dia.to a depth of 37 to 58 mts. passing through a geological fissure and soft chalk strata. This whole structure where the barrier will locate has consumed 750 tonnes of steel reinforcement and 7.5k cu mts. of concrete. The barrier gate weighs 190 tonnes, is 22mts wide, 9 mts in the vertical, has a design life of 100 years with specified regular maintenance regimes and has access for internal inspection. A mock up has been built on the quay side to demonstrate this capability to the customer. There are several different positions to which the gate can be manoeuvred. For example to allow for flushing river detritus from the flat position or to allow the gate to be lifted into the air, looking like a giant mushroom, for inspection purposes. The gate has a drive mechanism of 2 drive cylinders that have a 16mt stroke.

Innovation and value engineering have played an important part in securing the contract. Normally with such a structure, when the barrier is lifted for maintenance a mobile crane has to be brought to site. Crane hire for the entire duration of maintenance work is very expensive. The incorporation of additional lifting pins to allow the barrier to be lifted to the mushroom position, without a crane, is designed to minimise maintenance costs. The barrier seals (which have a 25 year life expectancy) that would normally be located on the side faces have been positioned on the inner face on either side a little inboard and away from the edges to also reduce maintenance effort. This project is unique to this location and includes several innovative features as described above. For civil engineering structural work of this type within the barrier area there is only a maximum tolerance of 5mm allowed. For a civil engineering job using masses of reinforced concrete which must be of a particular mix and consistency this requirement is, just let's say daunting and very rarely heard of if at all. Nevertheless the technical teams are very confident. Because the concrete specification is so crucial VBA have established their own testing and quality laboratory on site to get "instant" results.

This project has demanded a considerable amount of specialised dredging and the reclamation of material from a new channel and from the gate position. The mud etc. approximately 5k cu. mts has been stored in special geotextile tubes similar to huge sausages, dewatered and cleaned. The resulting silt plus a special additive will be processed by Hydrock, a specialist contractor and used as back fill to build up the bank which will then be landscaped.

The Control Room building will sit on 24 piles and a reinforced sub structure. It will be finished with slate and stainless steel cladding which should look futuristic in its own right. The stakeholders in the project are Associated British Ports, DB Shenker train operator (goods) Persimmon Homes (accommodating much of the site work), Net Work Rail and the Environment Agency as the client.

This project is not all hard engineering. Neil referred to modern computer control techniques used to manage the project, mentioning the need for lucid, fluid, up-to-date communications, data and information in real time, which is a boon to productivity and cost control. It is to this end VBA together with the EA have developed a system called Building Information Modelling with 3D model links which allows total information exchange in real time between any of the operating offices regardless of where they are located. This detail is stored and can be retrieved at will and / or modified as appropriate. Any thing from photographs, drawings, text, spreadsheets, material specifications, costings, H & S issues etc.

The evening was well presented, packed with detail and bang up to date. Two hours well spent.

 

Bob Barnett.

 

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Friday 17th February 2017: From Dream to Steam by Rob Morland BSc (Hons) CEng FIET, Director Electricals, A1 Steam Locomotive Trust and P2 Steam Locomotive Company.

 

Rob introduced himself and how he became involved in the Trust and soon discovered that the driving force behind the whole enterprise was and still is Mark Allat. As a lead into the evening Rob proceeded in telling how the Trust started which was really due to a number of like minded soles who were aggrieved that no steam engines from the LNER railway days existed but there are plenty from the railways that served the western, midland, eastern and southern regions. The reason for this is that following the rapid advance of dieselisation in the 1960’s there were no units of the A1 variety that had been sent to the scrap yard in Barry in Wales as with so many other engine types. The maximum time in operation for the A1s was only 15 years, no time at all.

Photographer Rob Morland of the A1 Trust

 

It was felt that this situation should be rectified and so in 1990 a group of people came together to share an extraordinary ambition - to construct a brand new Peppercorn A1 Pacific steam locomotive. At the time critics said it could never be done. However, an amazing tale of cooperation, skill and sheer hard graft has proved the critics wrong. This group formed The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust and after nineteen years of incredible effort that locomotive, No. 60163 Tornado, moved under its own power for the first time in 2008.

Huge amounts of endeavour were called upon over these years even before metal was formed or cut. What drawing existed in many instances had to be interpreted as to what was actually meant as specific details and / or tolerances were inconclusive or not recorded, just margin notes that meant something to the experienced man of that time. Measurements had to be converted into metric units as sheet and bar steel is now manufactured and sold in metric units. Many of the suppliers that have been used had to be sourced for their specific capabilities. Unfortunately the company contracted for the boiler work now no longer exists and the Trust now has to go to Germany for similar work and specific maintenance. Unfortunately the UK foundry that was used for the Tornado does not exist for the latest project. In many instances fastening and fixings were individually made. In order to run on to-days railway many more safety systems had to be designed and installed. But not only that a sufficient supply of water has to be carried and thought about as there are no water stops on to-days railway. Now the same group is building a second new locomotive - this time it is a Gresley P2 2-8-2 to be named "Prince of Wales". When it is complete it will be the most powerful steam locomotive operating on the British main line.

The A1s were designed by Arthur H Peppercorn (29 January 1889 – 3 March 1951), the last Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER). They were the last in a line of famous express passenger steam locomotives for the East Coast Main Line that included the Stirling Singles, the Ivatt Atlantics and the Gresley Pacifics.

The original 49 Peppercorn Class A1s were ordered by the LNER and built at Doncaster and Darlington for British Railways (BR) in 1948/9, after the nationalisation of the railways. As designed they were ideally suited for the post-war world of poor maintenance and heavy trains, with their 50sq ft grate allowing them to use lower grade coal than their predecessors. The final five were even equipped with roller bearings enabling them to go for an average of 118,000 miles between heavy repairs, making the A1s the cheapest to run of all British steam locomotives in the same category. They were also the most reliable of all of the express passenger steam locomotives owned by British Railways.


The A1 Trust has over 2500 regular supporters (Covenantors) who have all played some part, small or large, in guaranteeing that we have steam on the main line in the 21st Century. The P2 project is in the very early stages of build but has had a very good start to its life, with over £2 million already pledged in just two years towards the expected construction cost of £5 million and metal has started to be cut and parts made.

There many engineering challenges of maintaining a steam locomotive to meet the tough requirements of today's main line but with the experience built up with the Tornado and knowing that there are still suppliers of the highest quality and abilities not just in this country but also in Europe the future looks bright. The presentation was excellent with very many images and we were assured by Rob that there were very many more and he could have spoken for much longer. The whole evening was well appreciated by the audience judging by the many positives comments heard by the author.

Bob Barnett

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Recent Visits

Friday 22nd September: Visit to DP World London Gateway & Tilbury Fort.

 

DP World London Gateway


26 members and guests gathered at Boxted Airfield Historical Group Museum car park ready for our visit to the above, the first port development of its type in the UK for more than a century and probably the last.

 

On arrival we were directed to the restaurant area where we had mid morning refreshment and after a short period of time our host for the next few hours Matt Abbott, the Communications Manager introduced himself, made us feel welcome and described the format for our visit.  We were then shown into a large conference room and there followed a most interesting and informative presentation presented by a very enthusiastic Matt.

 

The site used to be the old Shell haven site which closed in 1999 but was considered an ideal location for DP Worlds future strategy.  The South East of England has a consumer market of about 18M and relatively easily reached and about 99% of cargoes are non European which has to be transported around the country to a variety of distribution point and then redistributed and probably redistributed until arriving at their final destination.  However, by providing a logistics park / hub next to the port with super size warehousing and two railway lines of considerable length which can be used to transport containers and reach any part of the UK (the second will be built as business throughput is ramped up) next to the port costs will be greatly reduced.  Also many thousands of lorry road miles will be eliminated (thought to be about 65K) and thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions will be eliminated and hence the environment benefits.

 

The complex comprises of two distinct areas, the port and the logistics park (hangar style warehousing / distribution centres still being built.  Some will be owned, some will be rented and some will be by lease. Depends what the customer wants).  Both, covering some 1500 acres continue to be developed with the logistics park having residents e.g. UPS and Lidl since 2015.  This park is the largest land bank for logistics services in Europe.

 

The port area covers 220 acres, think 200 football pitches and was started in 2010 and opened for business in late 2013.  Much greenbelt land has been retained as the port has been constructed on reclaimed land, many millions of cubic metres having been dredged from the Thames to give depths of up to 17Mts for the large ocean going container ships.

 

Container ships have been continuously increasing in size since their introduction and their capacity is measured in TEU’s (Twenty Foot Units).  So a 40 foot container = 2TEUs.  The largest container ships as of today can carry over 21K TEU’s’, are about 400 metres long and some 60 metres wide.  During our visit we witnessed the Yang Ming Wind being off loaded by a couple of the dock side cranes which move in parallel to the ships up and down the quay. Due to the strict safety rules and not least the size of the site we were transported around the port in our coach.  These cranes of which there are currently 12, eventually to be 24 are manufactured by ZPMC in Shanghai and shipped complete.  They cost £12M each, can lift up to 90 tonnes, can span a ship, sit on 50 metre deep quay walls and when the booms are raised are taller than the London Eye at around 450 feet.  They are the only ones in Europe that can lift 2, 40 foot containers simultaneously.

 

The port is the most automated in Europe, with various types of robotic handling cranes (60 at present but to ramp up to 120).  Much use is made of laser guidance systems and certainly without complex computer systems the port would not function.  Although there is little human interaction, when the project is finished it is thought that 36K people, directs, that is the port and logistics park and those not working at either but servicing the facility will be employed.  At present the quay is only 1.2km long but will eventually be 3.0km long.

 

DP World takes a keen interesting in environmental issues and in developing the site moved 350K animals by hand, installed 100Km of ecological fencing, created 50 Gt. Crested Newt ponds, 2 mud flats totalling 1Km², about 100 hectares of new habitat and rescued a German JU 88 spy plane from the river having been shot down in 1942 and is now undergoing restoration.  Needless to record there was considerable archaeological surveying and investigation carried out.  They also have a dedicated interest in a strong Health and Safety culture, very good terms of employment including training for their employees, they being considered their best asset.

 

Following the presentation we were driven around the site (as previously mentioned) with Matt pointing out the physicality of what had been earlier presented so that we could see the size of the operation.  What a feat of engineering!  Just to repeat my earlier comments, a very interesting few hours.  Needless to say we were late for our visit to Tilbury Fort but the weather remained good so all was well.

 

Tilbury Fort

  
Although we had pre-booked a guided tour we were a little uncertain as to whether we were going to have it as we found out that filming had been underway over several days.  However, we made it and once having been booked in our tour started and our guide introduced himself and we to the fort which is a scheduled ancient monument managed by English Heritage.  To get a full understanding and appreciation of the layout of the fort and what a formidable structure it was in its heyday and I would suggest still is you need to see a plan view or an aerial view ideally in the flesh, so to speak.  The centre of the fort is taken up by a 2.5 acre parade ground with various buildings around the perimeter.  Water played a major part in the defences with two large moats and of course the River Thames on the bank of which the fort was positioned.

 

The fort which was set up as an artillery fort originates from the time of Henry VIII and was started when he feared a Catholic invasion following the separation from Rome and the setting up of the Church of England.  It was near to this location that Elizabeth 1 gave her famous speech just before the battle with the Spanish Armada.  Major works, much of what we see today occurred in the late1600s around the time of Charles II when he established England’s first standing army and employed a Dutch engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme to review and improve England’s defences.  As time progressed the fort maintained its initial purpose as an artillery fort being upgraded with new guns of the time but it started to loose its significance and has been used as a prison, a major gunpowder store and a logistics hub for stores, materiel and troop movements.  It did not play an important role during WW2 and was demobilised in 1950 and fell into disrepair loosing many of its military features until rescued by English Heritage when a period of refurbishment was started.

 

The day was one of great interest ranging from the not so modern with at one time deterring visitors up the Thames to the ultra modern with an open invitation to visit and trade. Just think separation by a few miles and nearly 500 years.  Of course the good weather also played an important part.

 

Bob Barnett

 

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Visit to A & B Glass Company Ltd. – Tuesday 8th August 2017


Although it is August the day was grey and overcast and later very, very wet.  However, the first of two groups of CES members and guests, (the second group on a dryer Thursday 10th) were treated to a warm welcome as was the second group by Dave Johnson who is responsible for Site and Product Quality and Environmental Certification matters.  All certifications are to recognised international standards, the company being regularly audited for compliance.  Over tea and biscuits and introducing us to the company using film and discussion and acting as one of one of our guides was Dave Richardson, the site Production Manager.  Our second guide was Andy Tatum the site Supervisor who had been with the company for 31 years.

 

Following the initial introduction we progressed to the factory for our factory tour.  I for one and I think I can write on behalf of our group had no idea as to the size of the site, operation or business.  A & B Glass has been in business for a little over 30 years but only based in Sudbury since 2002 having bought out a local company.  The current location is their third due to continued success, business growth and expansion.  Via takeovers and mergers other companies have been bought and there is a further manufacturing plant in Huddersfield with a distribution centre in Gloucester.

 

A & B Glass manufacture their own entire product range e.g. windows, doors (front, bi-fold, patio etc.) and conservatories.  The glass and plastic profiles (frames) are of UK origin produced in other parts of the country but the metal work e.g. locks and stays are imported from China as there is no suitable UK manufacturer.  They have their own installation teams, sales teams and operate all their own transport, delivering daily countrywide.  Interestingly they also manufacture for other installers of double glazed products.  For the group about 3.6K windows and doors are produced per week.

 

Needless to say much computing power is utilised in the business and manufacturing processes, keeping track of a multitude of different orders, monitoring and controlling the automated parts of the process and stock control etc. etc.  There still remains a considerable manual input working across two shifts and possibly soon embarking on a four shift system.  Within the manufacturing process all glass is cut to order size on site from large sheets e.g. 3210mm by 2250mm by 6mm.  In order to maximise the sheet usage and minimise waste the cutting machines are automated and calculate the cutting configuration from each sheet for the orders that have been input to the programme.  Toughened glass is bought in already cut to size because the toughening process has to be performed after the glass is cut and this demands a special process, one for which A & B is not set up for and would be an uneconomic proposition.  Unfortunately the cutting M/C tables are Italian as there is no UK made equivalent.  Once the glass has been cut to size per order they are matched, assembled with the spacers, sealed and then placed in a closed process special but expensive M/C and Argon gas is injected into the sealed unit.  Each panel is then ready for being assembled into the relevant cut to sized profiles the ends of which have been shaped and mitred on automated equipment.  All scrap glass and profile material is recycled as can your own old units.
            
A more recent innovation has been to set up a small operation where a range of coloured glass can be cut, arranged into patterns / shapes and leaded (manually) into windows and doors as may be required by the customer.  This operation used to be a bought in item but is now done in house.

 

If a customer wants a colour other than white, a spray paint shop facility is available but also profiles can be covered in what is known as “foil” which comes in a range of colours and is part of the profile manufacturing process so has to be bought in.

There are three divisions to A & B Glass, the Commercial (retail) serving the domestic market and refurbishment segment and commercial industrial projects, New Builds, serving the construction of new estates and Trade, supplying products to other installers.  All this with a total group labour force of 356.

 

Quality, customer service and care for the environment are key drivers of the business and these are proven factors demonstrated by the continued growth in the business.  Both groups enjoyed the afternoon visits and the time was well spent.  Once again it was a treat to witness a successful manufacturing company.

 

Bob Barnett


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Visit to Percival Engineering - Ardleigh – Tuesday 11th July 2017


On this dismal wet summer evening the light shone through for the attending 26 members and guests with a visit to this local family run niche market engineering company in the Ardleigh countryside started by and run by Richard or as he prefers to be known as Percy.  He started the business as most entrepreneurs do in a small way following redundancy doing basic type repairs and jobbing engineering work but slowly was asked to do more demanding and specialist type of work as his reputation grew.  The majority of work is now gained by recommendation, word of mouth and repeat orders.  You might think that Percy had a strong engineering family background but his deceased father was in fact in market gardening and there are some large green houses to support this still on Percy’s large plot of land.

 

These days and for quite sometime now Percival Engineering has been heavily involved with and has built a nation wide reputation which has also extended to other countries for specialist gear cutting and steam engine transmission systems.  The work often means that the projects require full strip downs and rebuilds which presents considerable challenges when frequently working with something 100 or more years old with no plans, drawings or technical details of any sort and having to define your own datum points.  What you have is what stands before you.  This is where Reverse Engineering with the skills, competence, experience, and knowledge of Percy and his craftsmen come into their own.  The individuals ability to be able to problem solve and “think on their feet” is an absolute must as is their ability to be multi talented and able to operate all of the machines at their disposal on site.  Most of the machine tools are of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and are ideal for the type of work undertaken, mass production not being a requirement although there is a CNC machining centre but this is seldom used.

 

The aim Percy and his team have for each project is to do all the required work to the highest standard possible but in such a way that on the finished job no work appears to have been carried out and everything still looks original.  Percival Engineering is a ‘go to’ organisation for many companies from any where in the world when specialist small numbers or one off out of the ordinary component parts is required because no matter the part it is known that it will be made to a high standard.

 

Although it may not seem much but to give a small example of the skills needed Percy said that he would expect in general to make a key and keyway to fit so that the key could be removed in100 years time as easily as one is removed from something now 100 hundred years old would take about eight hours considering the ‘bluing and scraping required to get a perfect fit.  

 

It is a sad fact that the machines used in the workshop come from  British companies that over the years have gone out of business for various reasons e.g. lack of the type of work they were perhaps expert in, their work can be purchased more cheaply from overseas or Europe or the bank foreclosed the operation etc.  However, for Percy it has been good news because he has been able through the auctions to pick up good machine tools at a good price.  All the really big machines have been snapped up and moved to India so they in many cases are working on 50, 60, year old M/C tools.  As might be guessed the work undertaken demands particular specialist grades of steels and this comes from America or Italy via a stockist in this country, there not being a maker of these steels in the UK.

 

A most enjoyable evening to see solid British engineering craftsmen skills still in demand and not just from the UK but also far afield and to think it is happening tucked away in the parish of Ardleigh.  Who would realise that in England there are about 5 thousand steam engines and in Ardleigh there are 14.  Another company out of the many Colchester can be proud of.

 

Bob Barnett

 

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Visit to Ransomes Jacobsen Ltd. Tuesday 20th June 2017


A party of 17 members and guests braved the hot sun and blue skies and travelled to Ipswich to visit Ransomes Jacobsen for what turned out to be interesting and informative afternoon.  Ransomes was started by Thomas Ransomes in Norwich just over 250 years ago but moved to Ipswich where it has been based for nearly all of that time.

 

Many of our more senior Society members will know Ransomes for designing and making agricultural machinery ploughs in particular but that side of the business went a number or years ago.  For many years Ransomes have been a renowned world leading company in the design, and manufacture of grass care and maintenance machinery and equipment.  You would not believe the development work and technology that goes into such machinery which is as a result of customer demand.  Customers being grass cutting and maintenance contractors, golf clubs, and local authorities etc.  This demand coming in the form of cutting effectiveness and efficiency, operational cost and performance.  This feeds back into how manufacturing out put is achieved and this was demonstrated by being walked through the manufacturing process by their very enthusiastic Quality Team Leader, Mick.  What was out of bounds was the development and testing facility, quite understandable.  Where a process can be automated it has been e.g. bar and pipe bending where by just one operator and one machine now does what used to be done by several and take much longer and having to hold more work in progress, all added cost.  There are also CNC turning machine tools, surface grinders, robot welders and laser and plasma profile cutters etc.

 

The new technologies (not so new these days) has meant that more can be produced with less there is less work held in progress and product quality is more consistent.  All of this means a more competitive edge.  In days gone by over 3000 people were employed but now it is about 10% of that number.  Of course in those days Ransomes had their own foundry and all that went with that type of set up but that no longer exists.  Needless to say there is much that is bought in mainly from specialist suppliers e.g. hydraulic motors, petrol engines, wheels etc.

 

Quality, Heath and Safety and the Environment are all considered to be important for in house purposes but are also good for marketing and selling so Ransome are certificated to internationally recognised standards.  Training is also considered to be an important function by both apprenticeships and customer product training.  It was interesting to note that apprentices do part of their training at Colchester Institute.

 

Not only do Ransomes produce new machines, they also buy back machines, completely overhaul and refurbish them and sell them on which has proved a successful undertaking. All in all a very interesting afternoon proving that engineering and manufacturing for world wide markets is still alive and well in East Anglia.

 

Bob Barnett


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Visit to R.N.L.I Station and Light Vessel  -  Wednesday 7 June 2017

 

The visit to Harwich was unfortunately restricted due to bad weather, not rain this time but very strong winds which made it necessary to moor the “Off Shore” lifeboat in the estuary for safety. We were given a very comprehensive presentation on the work of the R.N.L.I. and saw the Rigid Inflatable Inshore Lifeboat , also stationed at Harwich. The visit to the Light Vessel moored alongside the quay proved extremely interesting. This ex-Trinity House vessel is the last surviving example of a manned light vessel in British Waters and preserved in its original configuration. Designed and built at the yard of Philip and Son, Dartmouth in 1958 she was larger than previous vessels with a length of 137 feet and a crew of 9. She also incorporated many new safety features following the loss of an earlier vessel, moored off the Kent coast on the Goodwin Sands, with the loss of the whole crew. The vessel is now owned by the Pharos Trust and is open to the public on most days during the Summer so if you are in Harwich do go and have a look.

 

Keith Middleton

 

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