At Tinplate R&D we used to have a hand beader on loan from Impress. Before I continue I should explain what beads signify in connection with food cans: they’re the sort of ribs you see indenting the cylindrical body of a food can. Their main function is to give the can body some degree of rigidity when it goes through the heating and cooling cycle when the food is being cooked inside the can. We did have an MB80 industrial beader to give our cans a standard bead, but if you want to investigate the effect of different bead geometries on the can properties, then you need to have a process where you can apply a variety of geometries rather than one standard one. That’s where the hand beader comes in.
Anyhow, to get on with the story, at some stage Impress said they wanted the hand beader returned, which left us without the means to implement our research programme just as we were about to launch into a extended study of how different bead profiles affected the can properties. Fortunately we had the drawings, and knew what needed to be done to produce a copy of the machine that had gone walkies.
The only thing we now had to overcome was the inertia of the British Steel ordering system, where the concept of approved suppliers had been introduced fairly recently, and which could have set us back several months unless we managed to find a back door solution. A good thing that Norman Leah knew of a small workshop in Ammanford which was an the approved supplier list, and was in the line of work that could supply us with most of the framework. Somehow along the line I had the impression that Norman might know the person in charge and was pushing him some jobs whenever he could as a favour.
Still, that was only a vague impression, and if it helped speed up the project, who was I to complain or dig any deeper for possible ulterior motives. Another way of getting things done quickly was to buy standard parts with cash, which could then be reclaimed from expenses. Anything to avoid going through a system of getting three approved suppliers, get a quote from each of them, and then leave it up the purchase department to come up with a decision, which might or might not take several weeks.
In the end we managed to have the hand beader rebuilt in about a month, from the moment the original one was returned until the moment that we had a fully working replacement. Basically it put our research programme back on track with only a minor delay, whereas it could otherwise easily have been derailed. It was a very satisfying moment, a rare occurrence during my time when I worked for David Jones.