Epic Trips

"Epic Trip #6 – The Leather Satchel Co workshop, Huyton"

A small group of Epic Trippers (Adrian, Hakim, Matt) met in leafy Huyton where Keith Hanshaw had generously agreed to show us around. His uncle Steve founded the business as a master craftsman in 1966, and Keith has been innovating by introducing digital fabrication into the mix — we couldn’t wait to get a look at how this all worked.

The laser cutter gets used for creating custom jigs, and for various prototyping duties, like creating custom designs for buckles. The alternative to the latter is to get custom cutting dies machined: these are brutally efficient for mass production, but too expensive/slow for fast iteration.

Laser-cut jigs and a clever focus-tool for materials of different widths

Laser-cut jigs and a clever focus-tool for materials of different widths

Machined Buckle die cutters from the production line.

Machined Buckle die cutters from the production line.

Keith has also innovated by introducing a top-of-the-range UV printer. We watched as he printed a design directly onto leather for a new customizable satchel range they’ve partnered on. This allows them to do single or small-batch designs which would be otherwise impossible (getting printed leather from tanneries requires committing to at least 1,000 satchels in that design.) As well as the cost of the printer, learning to use it effectively with a pliable material like leather took them 18 months.

UV Printer.

UV Printer.

Keith admits that the Leather Satchel Co. is the smallest of the three big players in the UK (Cambridge Satchel, and Zatchel are the big fish) but is confident that they’re the “market leader” in terms of craftmanship, quality, innovation, and customization (from what we saw in the trip, this seems plausible.) Part of this is through the investment in digital fabrication, but actually much of it is from retaining the skills as master craftsmen in-house rather than out-sourcing.

Part of the production workshop

Part of the production workshop


Keith shows us the leather stitching machines

Keith shows us the leather stitching machines

The other major factor is the relationships with partners. None of us knew much if anything about tanneries, but it’s a fascinating topic. They work with a number of them, mostly in the Netherlands for various reasons: the UK ones have mostly closed (though there’s a resurgence in small-scale craft tanning), Southern European tanneries tend to produce harder leather which is good for shoes (due to the grass in the cows diet being less rich!), Indian ones have been implicated in environmental issues (with the chrome chemicals used in the colour dying getting flushed into the water system), and Eastern European tanneries use such different processes that they’re harder to work and communicate with. On that last point, Keith mentions that as a customer they’ve effectively had to teach their suppliers how to provide exactly the best sort of leather for them to work with!

Leather stacked for quality control

Leather stacked for quality control

The vast majority of leather satchels are sold to Asia — though there is even a Chinese counterfeiter of their products, the traditional British craftmanship is massively popular. Export requires a keen understanding of differences in expectation: even the high-quality stitching used for the European market had to become even more consistent to avoid whole batches getting rejected by the Japanese!

Afterwards, in the Epic Trip tradition, we went for a drink (Camp and Furnace) and mind-expanding converation about world domination, authenticity, RFID tags, Perl 6, and why QR codes are rubbish.

See more photos of the trip!

"EMF Camp Report"

Our correspondent Francis Irving sends this report whilst on the train back from the excellent EMF Camp:

It is part the UK’s national hackerspace festival with an amazing number of spaces turning up from all over the country. Stunning.

And part an out shoot of Chaos Communications Camp (CCC), so there were lots of continental Europeans on the crazy circuit of such spinoff camps.

Highlights for me were:

  • Seeing quadcopters fly high and wide
  • Sociology of computer security talk (by Jessica Barker)
  • Why is there no hacking of housing infrastructure? And a call for more (Vinay Gupta)
  • Learn to speak dog body language
  • Arm knitting workshop
  • Playing the terrifyingly realistic Nuclear Poker arms race simulation card game
  • Physical version of Space Team game

Plus generally hanging out with a wide range of geek friends from all sorts of places.

Overall there was lots of talks, workshops, and good opportunities to make makery connections. And if you have a project, get help, advice, customers and so on.

e.g. A friend of my Tom Oinn gave a short talk about a simple Arduino based wheel robot with easy mounting points (eg for robot arms) he has made, and in the audience someone from Ragworm appeared, seriously interested in selling it.

Also, was good to hear unprompted reports of DoES startup Housahedron from Berlin expats!

All told, our national maker infrastructure is getting pretty good.

Would be fun to have DoES camp next time, but only if we have fun stuff to show, and the work of organising it isn’t by our overburdened usual suspects!

  • john
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  • Comments Off on DoES Epic Trip #5 – Do Excellent Stuff in windy places? Another Epic journey
"DoES Epic Trip #5 – Do Excellent Stuff in windy places? Another Epic journey"

The fifth Epic Trip was to the Scout Moor wind farm and Paul Marrow kindly wrote up a report:

Image from Paul Anderson via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA licensed

Following in the emerging tradition of epic DoES Liverpool journeys yesterday the journey was indeed epic, from Liverpool via Maghull to Scout Moor, in what remains of Lancashire, 0.5 miles from the edge of Greater Manchester (Rochdale) and only 5 miles from West Yorkshire. Scout Moor is apparently the location of the largest (in terms of energy production) wind farm in the UK and it was indeed an impressive site. The trip from Maghull was supported by the wind turbine development company responsible, in order to assist greater understanding and support for a smaller, pending, project in a lower-lying area north of Liverpool (about which more later.) I met people from FoE Liverpool and FoE Southport but I am not sure whether anybody else who identified this from the DoES mailing list attended.

More about Scout Moor: as its name suggests this is exposed moorland which from its plant biodiversity appears to have been used for sheep grazing for a long period. (The nearest human habitation is a sheep farm.) It is open access land so walkers (and sheep) can walk around the turbines without limit (except attempting to gain access to the interior of the turbine tower where the transformer is located.) In order to be an effective wind farm it needs to be windy, and indeed it was, also rather wet. Is this a surprise in Northern British moorland?

While the weather might be bad for humans, the turbines kept turning. The rotation of the blades is converted into electrical power through the gear mechanism at the hub of each turbine, and then transformed through several different voltages before being fed into the national electrical grid presumably some distance away.

Key disadvantages that people have suggested: the disruption of natural viewpoints, the obstruction of traffic in transporting turbine components to the site, the impact on biodiversity on the site. Well, having lived near a nuclear power station I think Scout Moor looks more aesthetically pleasing, but I understand that must be subjective. There are issues in transporting components to the site when building the wind farm: wind turbine towers and blades are very large and do cause congestion on motorways (I have seen them) and it must be worse for the inhabitants of the nearby towns. It was conceded by representatives of the firm that this is a major hindrance in Wales, where planning applications for a number of onshore wind farms have been accepted, but there is not the road network to bring the components in without paralysing some Welsh towns. Constructing an onshore wind farm does involve some construction activity in a typically remote site, but not on the same scale that would be needed for a conventional or nuclear power station – and there is no primary growth biodiversity on this island in any case. Advantages: the technology is well established at other sites, once constructed it’s easy to start up, and easy to shut down.

But there remains the challenge of what do we want in our back yard, it is a bit crowded on this island. Not everybody will have the same viewpoint. I have on paper information about a proposed site at Lower Alt between Maghull and Formby which I shall leave at DoES Liverpool next time I come in.

From a technology point of view, because onshore wind farms are monitored remotely, I can see some interesting potential for linking monitoring and reports on weather conditions with information about power input and distribution into the electric grid (this comes from my background in telecoms.) I don’t know whether there are any lessons to be learned for smaller-scale technology integration and power generation. Wind farm on the roof of the Gostin’s building. Comments anyone?

"DoES Epic Trip #4 – Waste Not"

DoES Epic Trips are occasional trips to interesting places arranged by members of the DoES Liverpool community. So far we’ve visited the Stafford Beers Archive at LJMU, the Liverpool Traffic Control Centre, and Toxteth Fire Fit Hub Fire Station & Community Centre. The fourth trip (back in June) was to the Merseyside Waste Recycling Centre. I posted a report on the mailing list and am finally posting it to the blog!

The trip to the Waste Recycling Centre will be repeated soon, so if you’re interested take a look at this post on the mailing list.

Just back from the epic trip and thought I’d send a report before I forgot everything. The trip was to the Merseyside Waste Recycling Centre and showed us all about how the recycling for Liverpool, Halton & Knowsley is handled.

Essentially we were shown a large warehouse building with lots of equipment and conveyors in. The recycling comes in mixed together as Liverpool and the other areas have a single bin into which plastic bottles, cardboard, paper, glass & metal cans all go. Out the other end of the system comes bales of cardboard, paper, plastic bottles, aluminium, steel and piles of broken glass. A mixed collection tends to result in more recycling, assumedly because it’s easier for us lazy people. As well as I remember the process works as follows:

  • Mixed recycling goes up big conveyor.
  • Humans watch conveyors and pick out big obvious things that shouldn’t be in there as it passes through, plastic bags etc.
  • The mix is then jiggled over essentially a large sieve. The holes are quite big so most things fall through but the cardboard is generally quite large and stays up, is then taken and baled.
  • Humans then check again for any problem items.
  • Paper is then separated out by only allowing flat things through, can’t quite remember how that was done, this may have been air blowing through the material blowing the paper up or a simple filter that only allowed a certain thickness through.
  • A secondary check is then done for paper that looks for bottles & cans that have been flattened or plastic bags, etc. that have got this far. They shine infra red light onto the materials and check for the absorbency of the material and then use air jets to push the non-paper items away.
  • Next is a set of magnets that go around on a conveyor above the recycling that picks out the steel and drops it, which is then also baled.
  • Aluminium is filtered by having a magnetic field induced which repels the aluminium, apparently, wasn’t too clear on that one. Again, that’s then baled.
  • We’re now left with plastic and glass. This is all dropped onto metal spikes. The glass shatters, the plastic doesn’t, I guess they then use a size filter to take away the broken glass.
  • They have suction devices that can take labels and other contaminants off the plastic bottles so this is another stage they go through.

(I’m pretty certain I’ve got the order of some bits wrong but you get the gist.)

It’s all very organised and as you can see many of the processes they use are actually quite obvious, once you know them. A big aim of theirs is to reduce the number of “contaminants” that make it through the process. Obviously the best way is to stop them entering the system but they also have lots of ways to reduce them along the way. Most of the time contaminants can be dealt with at a later stage (e.g. glass bottles should have labels removed, but they can deal with it if they’re left on). It was quite interesting as they tried to juggle the message of “please prepare your recycling” and “we recycle as much as possible of whatever you send to us”.

Main takeaways for what they want people to do:

  • Follow the instructions given by the council, don’t infer things.
  • Don’t bag up your recycling, the plastic bags can get stuck in the system and can’t be recycled as part of this process.
  • Plastic cartons & boxes are not bottles. If you’re told that they can recycle bottles, that means they can only recycle bottles (this actually goes for DoES too!)
  • Don’t crush bottles and cans, because this reduces the thickness they may actually end up being considered paper until late in the sorting route.
  • Recycle as much as possible!

Quite a long [post], always worth writing things up when fresh in your mind 🙂 They do these tours regularly because they’re trying to get the message out about how to recycle and why. If it turned out that more people wanted to go then we could probably arrange another tour. I imagine the above will suffice and that you will all now recycle lots.

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