More awards please

Messrs Dewhurst, Southcombe and EllementThe one thing that brings our old friends out of the woodwork for the SLTC Annual Conference is the award of Life Membership…..perhaps the committee needs to establish an annual award to keep all retirees and old friends coming back year after year. Certainly the conference has become a truly excellent meeting place and social occasion over the last few years seeing our old characters really adds to it. Certificates handed out this weekend at Telford included those to Ken Nokes, recently retired President of the SLTC and also from SATRA, Peter Ellement who was Head of the BSLT before Dick Roy, Joe Dewhurst from Claytons of Chesterfield, and Alex Southcombe of CIBA GEIGY. Mostly alumni via the Procter Department at Leeds.

Messrs Rothwell and PercivalWe all know that the huge reduction in the trade in the UK over the last 50 years has forced changes on the SLTC and that support for travel and expenses from companies is not what it was then. Yet we do seem to be seeing a renewed growth and excitement with both the technical side and social side developing a real dynamic. No one is talking of decline in the SLTC any more. Additional good news is the determination to put more effort, along with more financial aid, towards students and younger members to attend and get a feel for the benefit of interfacing with colleagues like this. Particularly so now that more people are attending from overseas and from allied industries – motor, furniture, sausage skins and the like – all of which become increasingly relevant as we work more in value chain and network concepts.

The fact that a group from a Turkish University attended and fitted it in with a visit to the University of Northampton the day before demonstrates just why we are planning ahead for next July’s centenary celebrations. Now is the time for people who have to come a long way to see what other things might usefully be fitted around such a trip.

The Ecological Tannage

Dr Germann from Reutlingen gave the opening Procter lecture. He laid out with real clarity the current state of chromium tannage and the pros and cons in quality and environmental aspects of chromium alongside its alternates. Getting these matters laid out objectively in the industry is rare these days; we usually get told by sales people who are ignorant of the truth or deliberately twisting it. So often we come across designers and leather buyers we are confused about “good” and “bad” leather. We need to listen to people like Dr Germann in order to get our facts straight. “A window on the past: a focus on the future” as the Chairman put it.

Two current Northampton research projects were also presented, one by Anne Lama on the fact that bacteria appear to survive the wet end processes much longer than expected, diving into apparently dormant states until the pH and temperature adjust. This caused a stir in terms of what happens with sausage skins and gelatine. The other by Anca Roberts on leather and subjectivity started with her surprise to discover that a material as important as leather had not been assessed in this way before. Her “Leather narratives through Q methodology” identified buyer groups such as “tough guy”, “pragmatists”, “the glamorous image”, and “rebels in search of adventure”. Axel Landmann jump to the crux “is leather sexy; and if so how do we make it more so?” The study is still working on that one.

Mike Redwood

28th September 2008

A drum is not a drum any more

It’s raining and the skies are grey. We are sitting looking at a video on the lap top of Ludwig Dose. He is showing us the action that goes on in the new Dose Motion drums and demonstrating how despite a slow revolution speed and a very wide self design dyestuff is fully distributed within the drum in less than half a revolution.

As anyone visiting the experimental tannery in the BSLT will see drums have changed a lot in recent years. Power saving, water saving, and chemical saving are all to be considered. Options for materials and internal configuration are many. We do not have a full set in Northampton but quite enough to let students know what the options are.

We are in China. Trade is not so good here in Shanghai at the ACLE and everyone is working out the implications of the changes going in China – rising costs, the implications of the new social contract and the introduction of tax penalties. New opportunities are therefore arising and we are seeing some big footwear investments in places like Bangladesh and Indonesia. Certainly many companies who abandoned Indonesia a few years ago for China are now returning with their tails between their legs.

Most notable right now is the pain in the chemical companies who have been raising prices all year as costs rocket. At the same time, though, margins are suffering as with trade difficult and the retail situation looking so poor there is little room in the value chain to absorb price increases.

Perhaps outside helping tanneries reduce operating costs with new drums education and research is the best place to be right now in the leather industry. If the UK government behave responsibly with visas student numbers should be quite good and as we enter our centenary celebration year demand seems to be growing for M.Sc. courses, short courses and that very important sector of continuous professional development.

Hopefully all the new drums will be up and running for the new session and things will start to move on the finishing side, where the new driers are already installed. Certainly the tannery looks totally different to a year ago and should be in good shape for all the visitors expected next year. If you have not had your mailing about events go to the corium club pages and register or just email me.

Mike Redwood

September 5, 2008