Factory as Sales Tool
I have reading about architecture and in particular Gillian Darley’s book Factory. In chapter 6 she discusses Factory as Sales Tool ….”The Factory is its own most effective shop window, conveying an image of modernity or tradition as required” (1)
Although it’s clear Hethel is not a factory it does contain the type of research and development that once was housed within a company’s factory buildings. The need for a company to have its own factory has greatly diminished, as globalisation and digital file sharing make it easy to work with the the most appropriate manufacture where ever they are in the world.
Over a number of years I was very fortunate to work with artist Richard Layzell ( http://www.rescen.net/Richard_Layzell/r_layzell.html) as a mentor. Many of our conversations were focused around professional practice and my wanting to do an industry based residency. He has significant experience of working with industry and so helped me to develop this project. Last year Richard was in China undertaking a Visiting Arts project and I asked him to buy me up a packet of ordinary sewing needles. The packet was purchased from a market in Shanghai and its interesting to see the industrial landscape represented on the packaging.
1. Gillian Darley Factory London, Reaktion Books 2003 p. 157
What does engineering look like?
In a recent post (#17) I was considering what I though engineering looked like (before I had seen Hethel). I spent a morning last week at Scion Sprays http://www.scion-sprays.co.uk/ the first tenants at Hethel) where they kindly agreed to let me photograph their workshops. It didn’t look like the Eminox workshop (see post #17) I had seen years back or the images in the film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and that’s because Hethel is a research and development environment and not a large scale production facility / factory. There is an obvious delineation between research & development and production but one I hadn’t until now considered fully enough. Within art practice, research and development often occurs in the same space as the making or manufacture of the work, unless the objects are made by someone else that is. So with the workshops at Scion Sprays, the photographs reflect a development environment, set up for the production of prototypes and extensive testing.
Jeff, the lead engineer showed me round, answering my questions about what things were called and what they did. It’s difficult to follow very complicated engineering processes (or even very basic ones sometimes) but I try to link what is being said onto my own knowledge and experiences as an end user of engineered products. I’m learning new things all the time – I didn’t know that petrol has different properties in summer and winter and imagine many people who buy petrol didn’t know that either.
We talked about the integration of digital technologies and how some of the traditional aesthetics of engineering have been lost, like blueprints for example through the use of digital processes. I’m booked on a blueprinting day next week so I can explore the process for myself. We also talked about the de-skilling of engineering through the abandonment of apprenticeships and Derek and I spoke previously about how the role of the digital is changing the skills required within the discipline.
There is a view of engineering that remains linked to the heavy industries of the industrial revolution and no doubt when the layman considers engineering Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a civil engineer responsible for bridges, dockyards and railways comes to mind. The imaginings of large structures constructed in iron works is far removed from what can be seen at Hethel. This is a different type of engineering with this workshop containing computers, spray benches, a clean room and lab coats in addition to the expected lathes and mills (that’s a type of drill to you and I). Just as in art practice the overarching engineering term covers a great range of interests, skills and approaches.
I asked Jeff if engineers work within the parameters of what can be manufactured and yes some engineers do work like that (engineering for manufacturing so to speak) but there is also the blue sky engineer of which Jeff is one.
There was talk of art classes for engineers which needs to be explored further and they have invited me beck to photograph their manufacturing processes once they go into production next year which is great.
Using diagrams helps me to record my thoughts, and then order then in someway. As a meticulous documenter of process i find i amass large collections which feed my process as practice approach. I showed Derek my inception to completion diagram from 2006 (from an architecture practice residency) and asked him to draw an equivalent. His diagram helps me to understand a practice based approach to engineering (as apposed to a theoretical one).
I met up with Ben again another engineer and we discussed both diagrams. He talked about APQP (Advanced Product Quality Planning) which is a very extensive procedural working system used within the automotive industry. As teams of designers / engineers / manufacturers are often in different locations, possibly on different sides of the world, it manages the work flow from design through to supply chain to manufacture to customer. I need to try and locate a diagram of this APQP.
Ben also spoke about when he was employed as an engineer there would a blue book in the office. This book held all the ideas the engineers/designers had when at work, which would then belong to the company. If the idea gained a patent the engineer /designer would get $500 and I assume the company gets to exploit the patent. I know very little about patents, but think they operate to protect ideas and inventions for specific periods of time and cross all kinds of disciplines, from engineering to pharmaceuticals. Our art world equivalent is obviously Copyright. My own ‘blue book’ is actually, currently a black book (with an obligatory post it note stuck to the front) in which I record all sorts of ideas and reflections. I have a whole load of these books in all shapes and sizes, all of which feel very valuable as i image they do to the many artists that use them.
Oh yes and The Man in the White Suit (1951) is an Ealing Comedy which explores the fear of technological change within the textile industry.
Images of engineering
I haven’t been at Hethel for a few weeks however Thursday brought a full day of a variety of tasks. It started with Derek delivering some RP parts to Scion-Sprays at the other end of the corridor who focus on engine management systems for small engines. My first question of course was what is a small engine – the answer anything under 250 cc like some motorbikes, scooters lawnmowers etc. Gavin the Managing Director showed me round their workshop and it was here that he explained what we were looking at that I managed to make a link to my two stroke lawnmower (small) engine ‘knowledge’ from horticultural college in the mid 1990’s. It is sometimes difficult to follow the explanations simply because I don’t have the vocabulary or working knowledge, but it is very intriguing.
My image of engineering prior to coming to Hethel was based on my experience of seeing the workshops at Eminox http://www.eminox.com/home/when my mum worked there some years back where the workshop contained lathes, welding equipment and steel cutters. I had never seen a CNC machine before I visited Hethel. When I was thinking about doing this project I watched Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (based on Alan Sillitoe’s novel) from 1960, set in a factory where the protagonist Arthur Seaton (played by Albert Finney) works a lathe having to make a thousand (identical) parts per day. Seaton works in a busy, crowded, dirty and noisy environment a far cry from the modern clean Hethel environment.
After the tour of the workshop Derek and I had a coffee and I was asking him about ‘Planned Obsolesce’ that I have been reading about in Made to Break (by Giles Slade). It’s a concept where objects are designed with obsolesce within a specific time frame. Promoted in America in 1932 as a way of ending the depression (1), which can be related to the current economic downturn and the promotion of ‘spending our way out of recession’.
Back to my RP objects. The terminology Rapid Prototyping is being replaced. Its original context is one where the technology did in fact offer a rapid process when compared with the historical alternative of making a prototype by hand at a lathe for example. And the terms prototype is being challenged as the processes can also be actual manufacturing. In the US they call it ‘digital manufacturing’, here in the UK its ‘additive layer manufacture’. This is because the process consists of adding a layer to a base material to build the object (or part), as apposed to subtractive engineering/manufacturing where a block of metal is reduced to the part. So with my second set of no pointed needles whichwere made of the plaster based material they needed to be strengthened so we used two methods. Some were slowly lowered into hot wax, then others were painted with epoxy resin, both were left to dry. The plaster based objects have a very different quality to the plastic objects they have a finer finish and feel more fragile. With both methods the process of production is apparent the layering is evident from the side of the object. I have to take some time to reflect on these objects and if the form is the one I really want. I imagine drawing and macro photography will help me to consider what changes I will need to make.
And finally, Derek and I, in the sprit of cross discipline working have been exchanging literature from our respective fields. Discussing these publications has been interesting and varied, with some exchanges being more engaging that others (from both our perspectives). I quite liked reading TCT (Time Compression Technologies – although nothing can actually compress time can it –isn’t that some kind of impossibility in terms of physics) as it offered a trade perspective on some of the subjects I am exploring on the residency. Perhaps I should lend Derek an Artist Newsletter?
1. Giles Slade Made to Break, Technology and obsolescence in America London, Harvard University Press, 2007 p. 151
“Industry and Arts must walk hand in hand” – Mr Duce (1)
And so to Muriel Spark’s The Ballard of Peckham Rye an absorbing book where the central character Dougal Douglas is engaged as “Arts man” in the factory firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley. He researches his fellow workers and the residents of Peckham gaining their confidence so they revealed things about themselves they didn’t seem to initially want to. With its situation in a factory (although Douglas spends very little time there) there are numerous references in the book which have intrigued me: time and motion studies, pecking orders, human research and feeding the line (the assembly line), industrial relations and trade unions. In the book Douglas describes “Industry as a great tradition”(2) . And I’m wondering about this word ‘industry’ a coverall word for so many different aspects of manufacturing, engineering, trade, business and work contexts and I’m wondering where its stands now. As for ‘tradition’ the idea of handing things down through the generations, ways of doing things, patterns and procedures have now been infiltrated and altered by the digital. During my early Secondary School education I used a computer in maths to ‘draw’ an image of a house using a set of typed commands, these were the days before the graphics interface (mouse) which has since its invention and mass dissemination revolutionised digital use. We are now in a place where the digital is now both tool of work and tool of leisure.
Reading this book coincides with my having to leave my studio in a former shoe factory (Bally) where I have been documenting the manufacturing (trade) marks on the fixtures and fittings (amongst other things) and the communication connections (and disconnections) of this making space. So many of the factories components have makers marks clearly proclaiming county of origin, now so often overlooked, hidden away or completely absent. Of the examples I found I am interested to see one Tamlex http://www.proteusswitchgear.co.uk/about_tamlex.asp is still based and producing in the UK where as the other Matter & Platt has been through many changes (http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/index.php?title=Mather_and_Platt&printable=yes). Set up in 1845, it developed to such an extent that in the 1940’ and 50’s it opened subsidiaries in India with the company eventually transferred its registration there. The company milestones can be seen on the Wilo / Mather & Platt website ( http://www.matherplatt.com/milestones.htm ).
Now the Bally building is almost empty of its current tenants, (as we were all given notice to quit) I’m left reflecting on both the objects made there and the people who made them which reminds me of I’m alight Jack – more of that next time.
1. Muriel Spark The Ballard of Peckham Rye London penguin Books 1999 (first published 1960). P. 15
2. ibid p. 17.