Image 1: Tool room apprentice Kamil Stec uses a traditional clock gauge to measure a mould tool

Since our inception in the late 1950s, Broanmain Plastics has invested in its people. As a family-run business, upskilling and supporting staff in achieving their fullest potential and career goals, underpins our ongoing success. Our longest serving team member discusses how he and new starter Kamil Stec are learning from each other.

Len Walker joined our company way back in 1959. Currently working three days a week, he took apprentice and now tool shop manager Kamil Stec under his wing, imparting smart nuggets of information, including 60-years-worth of engineering, tooling and plastic moulding knowledge.

Kamil, meanwhile, has appreciated the bond the two formed working in Broanmain’s toolshop. In particular, the apprentice enjoyed sharing with Len modern-day engineering and CAD design techniques learned on-the-job and at East Surrey College where he studied.

Both applicants initially regarded their positions with our Dorking-based moulding firm as work stopgaps. Aged 16, Len had aspirations to become a mechanic. Joining MRA, as the company was then known, was for him a fill-in job. He recently celebrated his sixtieth year with the firm. Apprentice Kamil joined as a temporary worker three years ago. Starting out in Broanmain’s finishing department, Kamil completed his Level 3 in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and now manages the tooling department.

While plastic moulding technology has evolved considerably throughout the decades, both Len and Kamil respect the importance of understanding the engineering basics. Back in the late 50s, plastic moulding, predominantly mass-produced compression plastics, really started to gain traction.

A teenager at the time, Len recalls: “It was post World War II. Metal was in short supply having been allocated to military operations. There was high demand for more cost effective plastic components to be mass-manufactured.” 

Throughout the era of Bakelite plastic, Len worked as a maintenance engineer and fitter for the compression press. Even today, Len says that the company still undertakes compression moulding projects. The team also uses traditional laser machines, mills and tools to create inserts. Len explains: “Although CNC machines are predominantly used, it’s always handy to have tools like these at our disposal.”

Breaking with tradition

Len also believes that the same is true for traditional engineering and problem solving skills. “It doesn’t mean we are any less innovative. But when people today have basic engineering knowledge it means that they aren’t reliant on just tapping information into a programme.” 

Knowing how to take measurements off a lathe or understanding the speed to cut metals are just several examples where Len cites the importance of having basic engineering knowledge. “It’s like riding a bike. You have to learn how to do it before you can start peddling,” emphasises Len.

Kamil, whose role involves repairing, maintaining and modifying tools, agrees. He adds that while some of the new CAD design and coordinating machines make it easier and faster to take measurements, he still uses hand tools, a granite surface plate and digital test indicators on a regular basis. “From a engineering perspective, my role is still very much focused on solving problems and coming up with a better way to complete a task.”

Using the Electrode Discharging Machine to cut out tool sections is one example of a traditional high precision tool that Kamil had to rapidly get to grips with. “Moulding tools are by nature hard materials that cannot be recalibrated. I use the EDM to cut out inserts or create mould tool cavities. Much of this is automated, although selecting the right settings is critical. And that’s when my mechanical engineering knowledge is tested.”

Other tricks and techniques that Len has passed onto Kamil include the easiest way to strip a tool and how to safely prise open, how to sharpen a drill piece, plus ways to protect tools from corrosion. “Part of my training has been to observe Len and shadow him. When I watch him working on the manual machines, the speed in which he performs a task utilises decades of experience, and looks almost instinctive.”

Managing Director Jo Davis comments: “There is a typical view that experienced employees have more information to share. Yet, many younger employees have diverse experiences, including working oversees. In Len’s case, years of service equates to expertise. However, Kamil has different motivations and a hunger to accept new technologies as well as respect traditional skills. That’s why knowledge sharing top-down, bottom-up and laterally is so critical.”

Image 2: Len has worked for the Dorking-based technical moulder since 1959 and recently celebrated sixty years with the firm