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Invicta Bakeware bake do and mend in Pickering
In a factory down a peaceful road in the rural North Yorkshire town of Pickering, a hundred years of manufacturing legacy meets new ideas and innovation.
Invicta Bakeware, which has been making cup trays for the baking industry for a century this year, is retaining the best of valuable traditional manufacturing methods, while adapting to customer demand.
John Waddington, managing director, said the business prides itself on making bespoke orders for customers, which range from large plants to smaller craft bakeries.
The main part of Invicta’s business is producing cup trays, for muffins and buns and the like, and over the last three years the business has been able to scale up production with a patented system of locking the cups into the trays.
In 2009, Invicta bought Mackies (GB), and its division, The Cup Tray Company, which has a patented tray locking system. Whereas previously each cup was hand-welded to the tray, the patented system is designed so that the a press can clip the cups into the tray.
Invicta transferred Mackies’ machinery to its Pickering factory and adapted it so that the press punches multiple cups in at one time, rather than individually, speeding up the process even further.
He said: “The concept of the patented design changed the way that we manufactured them. And our engineer has spent a bit more time working on the tooling so we could do a whole row at a time. We have been able to make that a lot more cost effective.”
But it’s not all about volume, said Mr Wadsworth. Keeping manual manufacturing skills alongside investing in new machinery has enabled the business to be inventive in its design and run off small batches.
He said: “Our speciality is having a massive product range, and serving as broad a range of the market as possible. Because we can manufacture bespoke items our range is as infinite as the customer demand, it to be.”
One technique which enables the business to be flexible is hand-spinning, whereby a disk of metal is rotated at high speed while it is formed into shape.
Allan Mitchell, Invicta’s spinner, has been with the business for eight years and is in his 50th year of spinning. He has spun parts as small as mini muffin tins to five-foot diameter light fittings for a shopping centre.
Allan started spinning in 1962 when he left school and a friend of his father’s offered to teach him.
He said he found the work, and moulding the metal, satisfying. He said: “It does take a long time to learn. For six years I had an apprenticeship and then I started to do bigger spinning. After ten years, you know what you’re capable of.
“It is a dying trade though, which is a shame,” he said.
Mr Waddington said other companies may have replaced spinning with CNC (computer numerical control) lathes, which digitally manipulate the metal into the required shape.
“A lot of the companies that specialised in spinning have moved on to CNC lathes. They programme it and stand back while it lathes. But CNC lathe runs really need large batch productions. They take a long time to programme and the tooling costs are more than you ordinarily would pay for the hand lathe.”
For Invicta, he said, it was more cost-effective to use a hand-spinner, because they require smaller, more specialist runs.
“We serve as broad a range of the market as we can.
“We do focus on the craft bakery sector and that’s quite often because we’re able to tailor our production to their individual needs, which has always been an advantage we don’t want to lose. If a customer wants 1,000 special cups spinning, it would be more expensive to tool up and do on a CNC lathe. There’s still a market for specialised production.”
The lack of other companies retaining hand spinners, however, represents a challenge for Invicta, Mr Waddington said.
Mr Mitchell will semi-retire this year, thankfully keeping his hand in at the business, but there are not many other hand spinners in the labour market when he does leave the business, he said. It may have to sub-contract its spinning.
The business also uses traditional tin smithing techniques to manufacture cake tins and cookie cutters by hand, using tools including a roller, hand ginny, seamer and press, the same way the company would have made them 100 years ago, Mr Waddington said.
Mr Waddington, Invicta’s fourth managing director in its 100 years, said he now intends to take on apprentices to ensure a future skilled workforce.
He said: “We still consider ourselves as a family business.” Many of its 32 staff have worked for the business since their schooldays and know the business “intimately”.
There isn’t much room for further expansion at its current premises in Pickering, so the challenge for Mr Waddington is to increase production and efficiency in the space they do have, he said.
They have extended the factory three times since moving there in 1990 from Leeds.
“I want to take steps to improve productivity and get more from the space we have and keep looking for new customers and new markets,” he said.
As well as manufacturing new bakeware, the company refurbishes old products, and manufactures other catering equipment within its capabilities, such as stainless steel tables.
Invicta is also safeguarding its current customer base by working towards accreditations because many of its craft bakery customers are supplying large supermarkets and, as suppliers, they need accreditations, such as Investors In People and ISO 9001 too.