Product Design students visit plastics manufacturer

By Max Lobbenberg, 6.2 and Product Design Don

On 21 November, the 6.2 Product Design class visited Broanmain Ltd, a specialist technical plastics moulder. Broanmain is a family-owned company, which has been operating for over 60 years. They support a wide range of industries from aerospace, electronics and defence to the science sector and consumer goods.

After a presentation on how the injection moulding machines work, Broanmain’s Operations Director, Jo Davis, and Production Manager, Thomas Catinat, showed us around their factory.

Whilst the core of their business is focused on producing injection moulded polymer components, they are one of only 15 companies in the UK to operate specialist thermoset compressive moulding machines. The key difference with these to the usual thermoplastics is that the material is not re-mouldable, and is therefore non-recyclable.

You may be thinking that this isn’t the kind of company we should be visiting, given the high levels of plastic pollution we are all too aware of currently. However, we found that the type of products they produce are high quality and durable, therefore long-lasting. Plastic is a much maligned material, however it is important to have a balanced understanding of this material and its vital properties, which we depend on in our everyday lives. Broanmain do not manufacture single-use plastic products, instead preferring to focus on high quality, long lasting durable components.

Whilst at Broanmain, we also learnt about their business models, with dynamic Gannt charts, industry standards such as ISO 9001, global trade factors, production margins, post processing and assembly issues, Just In Time manufacturing, Health & Safety and Quality Control and Assurance. We were intrigued to see the hundreds of moulds, each costing from £5,000-£30,000 and weighing hundreds – or sometimes thousands – of kilograms. We learnt about the different materials used for different moulds. We then explored the factory floor, where they still use machines up to 50 years old, whilst also adopting efficient, high-precision, state-of-the-art equipment. We got to see the machines at work, watching as the ejection pins pushed out new parts for all manner of things, from thermostat cases, to specialist drone turbines, to water filter components.

All of this fed directly into our examination preparation and really brought it to life. Jo and Thomas were more than happy to answer our questions. Another interesting topic raised during our visit was Brexit, and how the company is currently being affected by it, and how it would continue to affect it. It was interesting to see how something that the class had mixed opinions about effected a company and real people.

Thank you to Alex McNaughton for taking us on an engaging trip and the whole Broanmain team for having us.