Reproduced from: The Optician, December 31st 1954

The New B.A.O.

Kidwelly Factory




UNTIL a few years ago the little Welsh market town of Kidwelly had no particular significance for opticians, except perhaps for those who are interested in history. They knew it as the site of one of the most magnificent castles in Wales and as the magnet that drew some famous characters of medieval times.

At the Norman Conquest it was a place of some importance. In the twelfth century a furious battle was fought nearby, to end in the total defeat of Gwenllian princess of South Wales. The battlefield is still called “Maes Gwenllian”.

In later years the importance of the town faded and by the beginning of the twentieth century Kidwelly's population was no more than about 2,300.

Today it has a new significance for opticians, as the site of one of the newest and most modernly equipped of British ophthalmic optical factories, operated by British American Optical Company Ltd. It was sited in Kidwelly to further the Government's plan for extending light industries into special areas. The first sod of what had been farm land (the factory's official designation is “Greenfields”) was turned in 1946. The first saleable output was in June 1950.

At the invitation of the B.A.O. directors l recently travelled down to Kidwelly to look over the factory. With me went Mr. M. R. Pyke and Mr. E. Worth. The latter has been mainly responsible for organising the plant, and few men in the world are better qualified for such a task. His whole adult life has been spent in production, particularly lens production, and he has had top-level experience in Britain, the United States, and Canada.

We were met at the factory by Len Steward, the resident works manager. He, with four other men, have constituted the key men of the factory: they were transferred there from the B.A.O. Watford plant. Practically every other one of the nearly 400 workers at Kidwelly have been trained on the spot.

This is a remarkable achievement. The people from whom the factory's workers have been drawn had absolutely no knowledge of, or experience in, ophthalmic optical work. They came from what was mainly an agricultural community. Yet in five years, B.A.O. has recruited and trained a body of people who, according to Ed. Worth, are “first rate”. Labour relations are excellent. Productive efficiency is already high. Quality standards set by the firm were soon reached and are well maintained. The visitor is quickly impressed with the workmanlike “atmosphere” which pervades the factory.

A few general impressions are worth recording. Most of the Kidwelly factory's floor space is taken up with the manufacture of single vision spectacle lenses. In the past it has been assumed that many large-scale lens-making operations necessitate the employment of male workers. At Kidwelly some of these operations are done by women.

The twelve blank moulding ovens and the six blank inspection points at Kidwelly

This has been made possible by the skilful planning and extensive use of the "moving platform “ to convey work through the various operations.

The working conditions are good but not "soft”. Plant layout is economical of space, and clockwise flow of production is the rule. Careful attention has obviously been given to heating, lighting and ventilation. It was at once noticed that the workers take pride in the cleanliness and tidiness of their immediate environment.

An impressive feature of the Kidwelly factory is the abrasive plant. This surprised me. I had been given no special information about it in advance, and therefore, was quite unprepared for the massive equipment which is used. From this plant it is possible to produce twelve tons of special abrasive each week. The output goes not only to lens workers but also to other industries in which precision surface grinding is essential. The production of high efficiency internal combustion engines is a typical example.

Another impressive feature of the Kidwelly the lens moulding section. The general arrangements here must be very close to the the absolute ideal. Siting of the ovens, ventilation, moulding lighting, and working conditions are first rate. It was not surprising to learn that the output of blanks from this section of the plant is a very large one: indeed, it is claimed to be the largest in Britain.

All the moulders have been trained from locally recruited workers. l asked Len Steward how he tackled the problem of training a newcomer to department.

First, the new man stands at the elbow of an experienced moulder watching every movement, of the hand and foot. Rhythmic movements are the first essential. The movements must be timed to split seconds.

When the newcomer has got the movements and routine into his mind he begins work at a cold furnace, gradually building up his rhythm. When he is deemed safe to work at a live furnace he is given a batch of “scrap” discs and then puts his “theory” into practice. Gradually he acquires the right rhythm and technique. When he reaches the necessary minimum standard of confidence he is put into normal production, and slowly works up to his optimum speed.

All the moulders work a shorter period than their colleagues so that they can have a “cooling off” time. Salt pills are taken to prevent ill effects from exposure to heat, because, though every furnace is veiled by a special shield of Calorex Green, the air temperature adjacent to the bank of furnaces is, inevitably, high.

Blank inspection is carried out in the actual moulding department, but the inspections posts are so arranged that the girls are not subjected to high temperatures.

In the main section of the factory the production is restricted to single vision lenses in white, Crookes, Cruxite and Infrex. The stock range includes meniscus up to + and - 8.00 D. Torics + and - 0.25 D to 800D sphere; + 0.25 to + 4.00D cyl.; with + and 3.75D to being made in a new large size (uncuts) 52 mm. square.

An impressive feature of this main section of the factory is the bank of 132 diamond grinders arranged in rows of six along one bay of the plant. All of these have been specially adapted by the firm to meet its production standards. Girls have been trained to keep this great bank of grinders in constant production. Routine tests are made at every stage of manufacture to produce spectacle lenses of superb and consistent quality.

Two other features that caught our eye were the “stripping” plants. Lens blocks come to each of these stations at the end of the production cycle on a moving roller-way. The lens blocks are fed in at one end of the plant, and at the other end they emerge ready for dissembling, so that the lens blocks are ready for another clock-wise journey through the production cycle.

Because the factory is so far away from any ancillary engineering facilities it must be virtually self-supporting in its maintenance services. Consequently there is a well equipped engineering shop where, in addition to plant maintenance, new tools are made. Mr. Worth told us that B.A.O. now produces all of its diamond impregnated wheels.

The inspection department has been allotted plenty of space and the entire operation of checking the finished lenses has been well broken down. Here again the staff is exclusively female and it is interesting to note how girls who, a short time ago, had never handled a spectacle lens are able to spot the very

occasional fault which would probably pass unnoticed by an optician of long experience.

Every lens is checked for accuracy of optical properties as well as visual standards. Quality control is maintained by the staff who are continually checking the individual operator's standard of inspection.

Every week the Kidwelly factory's output goes by road in the familiar B.A.O. van to Watford and the Hatton Garden stockrooms, whence it is distributed to users in Britain and all parts of the world.

Before we left Kidwelly we talked with Tom Williams, the personnel officer. Tom is a Welshman who has had long experience of industrial relations overseas. It was soon obvious that he really knows the people who work for B.A.O. at Kidwelly. To him come many of the personal troubles and problems of workers. He keeps track of those who are sick, and on the day we spoke he was much concerned because 36 workers were away with flu. The local schools were closed.

Tom introduced us to several workers who offered interesting human interest stories. He told us of some of the achievements of other workers. We sensed a pride in his big family. And it was good to hear him say that relations between the firm and the local people are splendid.

We were introduced to Tommy John, ex-miner disabled with pneumoeoniosis, who apart from his job at the plant is also councillor in the Kidwelly Borough, local district secretary T. & G.W.U., secretary Shop Stewards, B.A.O. Factory, and secretary of the Kidwelly Rugby Club. Incidentally he told us that in the West Wales League Kidwelly had not been defeated this season up to November. We photographed him at his job, blocking on bowl feed.

Four other people on the Kidwelly pay-roll are Billy Williams, ex-tinplate worker, and his three daughters, Nanette, aged 18, generating operator, Vera, aged 17, bowl feed polisher and Pat, aged 16, lens moulding tray glass. All the girls started in the factory on leaving school. They all like the atmosphere and their work so much that they are trying to persuade their mother to sign on at the plant.

Four of Kidwelly's young women at various operations in the B.A.O. plant

Tommy John, a member of Kidwelly Borough Council
who works at the factory
Above and below, two views of
the abrasive making shop

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