Essex spotlight: Manufacturing in Maldon

Posted on 28 Jul 2020 by The Manufacturer

Eiko Ichikawa-White, Director of Maldon-based Blackman & White, shares how the company’s location has enabled it to innovate, prosper, and most recently, respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

Blackman & White is the UK’s only manufacturer of digital flatbed cutting machinery and has been based in Essex since 1965, and at our current site in Maldon since 2000.

Our location puts us at the heart of a county with a thriving advanced manufacturing sector, with large-scale and ongoing investment by global engineering powerhouses such as Ford and CNH.

Maldon’s manufacturing heritage goes back to the early 20th century when Bentall employed more than 700 people over 14 acres for large-scale manufacturing of agricultural equipment.

Evolving over the years since then, and benefiting from its proximity to London, and in recent decades, the town’s strong transportation links to the rest of the UK, Europe and globally, Maldon has proven to be an ideal location for our manufacturing and R&D operations.

A robust local supply chain enables reduced cost and complexity of logistics and quality control, and has also helped provide a buffer against the exchange rate shocks seen in recent years.

A digital future

Maldon’s prime position near world-recognised academic institutions facilitates strong R&D capabilities with access to some of the world’s leading engineering, motion control, robotics and software programming experts.

In this exciting era of digitisation and connectivity, Blackman & White can attribute much of its success in recognising, developing and supplying future-thinking equipment, to this strong technical infrastructure.

Blackman & White is the UK’s only manufacturer of digital flatbed cutting machinery

Blackman & White is the UK’s only manufacturer of digital flatbed cutting machinery.

With a unique insight into product manufacture across numerous sectors, and a reputation built on a passion for developing new and innovative ways to improve productivity, Blackman & White has come a long way from the days when machines were standalone pieces of equipment run by skilled operators.

Blackman & White machines are now increasingly connected and data-driven, offering new levels of productivity, efficiency and functionality, so crucial in these times of rapid change.

In 2019, we launched a cutting industry first with our Genesis-Z multi-tool cutter. Harnessing decades of expertise, the machine features the trademark Blackman & White Laser, Router and interchangeable knife tooling station on a conveyorised platform.

The machine uses cutting-edge scanning and safety systems, with Industry 4.0 connectivity built into the company’s new generation motion control system.

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly underlined the prudence of increased connectivity as a risk management strategy for global workforces, supply chains and information transfer, and with transportation uncertainties and social distancing, this stands only to increase.

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The technology offers significant opportunities across all sectors from aerospace and composites to marine, automotive and industrial applications such as gaskets and medical equipment.

During the Covid-19 crisis, Genesis-Z has been installed in factories cutting printed face masks, where the vision technology has enabled dramatic output increases.

Innovation and resilience

Having built its reputation and longevity by fostering strong collaborative relationships with its customers globally, much of Blackman & White’s industry insight and innovative capability stems from decades of bespoke manufacture of machinery.

The collaborative relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic has seen Blackman & White working with many of its customers in PPE manufacture, all offering their cutting expertise, working long shifts at their own cost, sourcing materials through fundraising groups.

It is a testament to the agility of manufacturing that companies have shown the operational and technical capability to shift production from products as varied as aerospace components and yacht sails to the very differing requirements of PPE production.

Blackman & White has been cutting PPE on their laser and knife cutters

Blackman & White engineers created a visor made from polycarbonate or acetate to make the most of its in-house machine capabilities.

In conjunction with Lonton & Gray, an Essex-based sailmaking company, Blackman & White has been cutting PPE on their laser and knife cutters as part of a large initiative led by Essex community volunteers.

Working closely with an army of committed voluntary sewing machinists from the many industrial fabric product manufacturers across Essex, thousands of units of PPE have been supplied to hospitals, hospices and care homes across the county.

The skills base reflected in this and in the manufacture across the country of vital supplies such as mobile wash basins, ventilators and other crucial equipment, demonstrates the importance and resilience of the UK manufacturing industry, and its contribution to the resilience of the UK – so crucial in times of crisis.

Not to mention domestic and export demand opportunities that have arisen as a direct result of the escalation in the profile of manufacturing during the pandemic.

While the PPE work has kept Blackman & White busy during the lockdown, in parallel the business has used the time to consider and undergo operational structural enhancements.

Eiko Ichikawa-White, director, Blackman & White.
Eiko Ichikawa-White, director, Blackman & White.

By keeping the factory open and enlisting the experience and skills of senior supervisors, the business has been able to fast track infrastructure projects such as implementation of new CRM systems, internal communication strategies, sales and marketing and process improvements, taking advantage of the new online world.

New materials will continue to be developed, cut and processed, to meet customer and regulatory demands such as sustainable and ecologically friendly products – and the Blackman & White team will continue to invest in developing new manufacturing methods and techniques required to handle these new materials.

By being based in Essex, Blackman & White sees a big future in being able to develop adaptive and connected technologies and respond to evolving market opportunities.