Keeping you in the picture with Chris' Briefs!
This is the third in a series of briefs which will hopefully keep you in the picture with all things related to Kernow Model Rail Centre. It won't be every week, or even at set intervals, but just whenever I think there is something that needs to be said! You can read the previous briefs here.
Hong Kong Phooey - Number 1 Factory Visit!
A bit of a tenuous link for the title of this brief! The opportunity arose to visit the factory manufacturing our Adams O2 and Beattie Well Tank models and I was very keen to take up this offer, even if I was a little worried about the food. Being a traditional meat and two veg man and thinking a Pizza was exotic I was not sure what to expect. My host, Dave Jones of DJModels, had assured me there would be no problems and had also warned me just how hot and humid Hong Kong would be in December. I booked up the train from Camborne to Heathrow and the flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong, requested a Visa from the Chinese Embassy and some Hong Kong Dollars from our Nat West branch in Camborne. The Visa application made the bureaucracy of our own Civil Service look a model of efficiency! Eventually it was deemed I had ticked all of the correct boxes, supplied the exhaustingly precise details of my itinerary and given my family history going back several generations and was thus granted two visits to China. A few days before departure Nat West called to let me know my currency had arrived and it was presented to me in the Camborne branch by the cashiers who were singing the Hong Kong Phooey theme song as they handed the currency over!
I dragged my two small bags through Camborne to the station and bang on time I boarded the First Great Western High Speed Train to Liskeard, where several coaches were waiting to take us to Plymouth due to engineering works. A quick and efficient transfer between the two with plenty of staff on hand to assist and we were soon in Plymouth and boarding the HST to London Paddington.
Intercity 125 High Speed Train - the best way to travel!
HST First Great Western new seating.
Provisioned up for the journey!
Being a Sunday we were diverted via Bristol which made a nice change from the usual Westbury routing and as we did not call anywhere between Taunton and Reading it did not take much longer either and we were soon pulling into the transformed Reading. A brief station stop was long enough to see that the place is unrecognisable from when I used to change here for North Camp on my way to Aldershot, and we were soon underway again and pulled into London Paddington bang on time. A quick transfer onto the Heathrow Express where the seat was probably the most comfortable seat I have ever sat in on a train but there was only 15 minutes to enjoy that before arriving at Heathrow Airport.
Heathrow Express very comfortable!
Virgin checked me in with a minimum of fuss and the security checks were all undertaken very quickly so I then had about 4 hours to kill before the flight left at 2100. Fortunately Dave had arranged access to the lounge and we met up and had dinner and discussed the plan for the next few days. Soon we were boarding and as the plane was only about half full we had plenty of space for the 13 hour flight.
Arrival into Hong Kong was very efficient and we were soon through customs and immigration and boarding the airport shuttle to Kowloon, followed by the free bus transfer to our hotel. Even though by now I had been travelling for 23 hours I was keen to see a bit of Hong Kong and Dave took me to see the nightly light show which was amazing. Then it was time to stagger back to the hotel and sleep for two days! Well that was the plan, but I only managed about 5 hours...
I won't bore you all with every detail of the trip, but the first full day was spent recovering and taking in the sights of Hong Kong, including riding the trams, taking a trip to the top of Hong Kong, being photographed with Jackie Chan, watching the student protests and seeing people being rescued from the ferris wheel!
Train to the top of Hong Kong - at one point it feels almost vertical!
This should have been me on top of Hong Kong with one of our carrier bags. Unfortunately I picked up the wrong bag and instead have one of Invicta Model Rail's bags which is a Warley-throwback when I got some of their excellent Bachmann CCT vans. Thanks Vernon and Kerry!
A view from the ferry crossing between Hong Kong and Kowloon - that is what you call an anchor!
Fireman rescuing people from the Ferris Wheel. It is difficult to make out but there are people dangling from ropes on the top cars!
View from my hotel room
Factory Visit number 1
Our hotel was directly above the ferry terminal but an early start was still needed as the ferry trip to China would take about two hours. We met ManKing in the hotel lobby and he would spend the day escorting us to the factory and answering any questions etc. ManKing oversees the design work in the Hong Kong office and liaises with the factory. The two hours flew by and the ferry was soon tying up in ZhongSan and after passing through Customs and Immigration we were met by factory owner William who then drove us to the factory.
Ferry docking at Kowloon prior to us boarding for ZhongSan.
My first time in China - ZhongSan ferry terminal.
William and ManKing taking us to the factory.
The first thing I saw upon entering the meeting room was the Model of the Year award for our Beattie Well Tank and it was really good to see that this achievement had been marked in the factory that made the models. There were several other awards for other models made in the same factory and William also had display cabinets packed with models made by his factory.
Beattie Well Tank Model of the Year 2011!
Our previous Well Tank on display.
Soon we were being shown around the factory and the tour was made in the order of production so that we could follow the process from start to finish. Not all of the stages could be photographed as quite understandably there were other models being produced at the same as our Well Tank and it would be very poor form to show those here.
First stop was the design office where we met Albert, the factory supervisor, and he showed us the four or five computers where the CADs from the Hong Kong office are received. These can then be tweaked as required or if ready to proceed the data is passed to the tooling room to enable the tools to be created.
There are many heavy machines in use in the tool room and I was shown a tool and asked to pick it up. I totally failed to even budge it a few millimetres off the ground! There were some familiar models in the tool room and Albert showed me how the various slides are combined to make the full tool which then passes on to injection moulding.
Before we moved on we were taken to a side room and this was full of lathes which were busy producing wheels, gears, axles etc. It was a fascinating room and it was interesting to see how much computers are now involved in controlling the process. It was a big step forward from when I spent a summer of work experience at Holman Brothers watching lathes and grinders being controlled by hand with a guy who could judge by eye how accurate it was! Despite all the computers though it was good to see that some old-fashioned string and heavy weights were used to push the raw materials through the lathe!
Wheels for the Well Tank being assembled on their axle
We soon moved on to the injection moulding section and saw many different models being produced. The tool for the particular item being produced was already in situ in the injection moulding machine and the operator, mostly women in this case, would close the machine, squirt the plastic, wait a few seconds, then open the machine and eject the finished item into a box. Any rejects just get melted down and put back through again.
Dave Jones happy to recognise his Austerity in the tool room!
Next we entered the spray room and again there were many recognisable models being sprayed in the base colours. Around 10 people were spraying a constant stream of models and it was interesting to see what looked like fairly basic wooden lumps being used as spray masks as the liveries were built up. Finished items were again loaded into boxes ready to be moved on to the next room.
Moving on the next room was for tampo printing and this has to be one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Watching as a machine dunks into a reservoir of colour and then passes over to the model and leaves tiny sharp letters, stripes, logos etc, was incredible and I could have stayed and watched it all day! Some of the machines were able to do several models at once and there was obviously a production line in process as more colours were added to create the complete decoration. I seem to remember the Hornby Gresley Teak coaches needed more than 50 passes through the tampo print process and watching how long it took for a BR Late Crest to be built up for example, I can see how it takes so long and adds to the cost to do this properly. It is also evident how the Railroad style models with simplified decoration can be made much more cheaply by not needing much of this process.
Moving on again we left the first building and entered a new building where the final assembly takes place. There were three production lines running on this day, one of which was assembling our Beattie Well Tank. Twelve ladies were working on our Well Tank and at the start was a collection of body parts that were passed along the line to have various parts added. By the twelfth lady the model was complete and the next series of images show this process from start to finish.
Partially completed body shells at the start of the final assembly line.
The start of the assembly line as the chassis is assembled. Note the workers are in overcoats because it was unseasonably cold, but this is a relative term as it was 70F and I was in a T-Shirt and happy it was not any warmer!
Checking the assembly before initial testing.
A partially-completed Well Tank undergoes initial test. If it is not working at this stage it is rejected for correction before proceeding to have additional details fitted.
More small parts to be fitted!
Gears and other small parts being added.
Handrails and other small parts being added.
Completed models receiving final details and touching up as required. The face mask is because the lady concerned has a cold and it is considered bad form to pass your germs on.
Overview of the assembly line.
We spent some time watching this assembly process before Albert warned us the lunch gong was about to sound and we would be advised to leave quickly to avoid getting caught up in the rush. We headed back towards the meeting room and were almost back when the gong sounded. During our tour each room I thought had only housed about 10 - 20 people but it seemed as if thousands of people were streaming out of the factory!
Back in the meeting room we discussed the progress with the O2 model and sorted out a few minor points. We were then presented with two fully-decorated O2s to bring back to the UK for further scrutiny. In passing Albert produced a board showing all the different slides for the O2 and I pounced on this and took some images to show how many variations we have paid for. This shows how you can cut costs by not catering for the variations if you are inclined to do so. It is my understanding that cheaper tooling methods are available that do not allow these variations. We certainly do not intend to make use of these options as I believe the market has demonstrated that having these variations is fully justified even if it does add to the cost.
O2 Samples with a reflection of Albert in the table top!
O2 Slides showing how many different variations have been catered for.
William and ManKing then took us to lunch which was something I had partly been dreading. I need not have worried as the pork meal (which I cannot hope to remember the proper name of) was amazing! During lunch I was keen to find out about the terms and conditions of the workers in the factory and was quite surprised to find that they work for four hours in the morning, then have 90 minutes for lunch, before working for a further four hours in the afternoon. The normal working week is five days, but if they do work on a Saturday they get paid double time and if they work on a Sunday they get paid triple time. I was even more surprised when they mentioned in passing that some of the ladies are part time and work between school times. A combination of this and trying to keep the local people on the workforce means that they do not have such a big problem with Chinese New Year, but even so there is a fairly large staff turnover.
We were soon on our way back to the ferry port and swiftly through the formalities of customs and immigration. A couple of hours later our ferry docked at the hotel and I spent the rest of the day looking over the O2 models and taking in what I had seen and heard.
Factory Visit number 2
Not quite such an early start was needed this time so I took full advantage of the all-you-can eat breakfast! As this was Hong Kong there was full English on offer as well as Continental and Chinese food. Soon it was time to board the train at Tsim Sha Tsui, with changes at Mong Kok and Kowloon Tong, we were soon at the border of Lo Wu. Passing through customs and immigration again we were met by Charlie who would be our escort for the day. He took us to get our tickets for the train to DongGuan which required our passports and we were soon boarding the train. The journey was about 50 minutes and the Passenger Information System gave us our speed and time as well as the next stop throughout the journey.
On arrival at DongGuan we wanted to get a picture of us with the train behind as it continued on it's journey. This caused utter consternation and confusion with the uniformed staff on the platform who shouted a torrent of Chinese at us, which Charlie returned with equal gusto!
We were soon outside the station and the encounter had obviously confused Charlie as he could not find where he had left his car, so he left us to watch a massive video screen which was showing Chinese pedestrians and cyclists being hit by cars at road junctions accompanied by classical music. We never quite worked out if this was for entertainment or education.
The large video screen on the side of the lorry outside the station showing accidents!
Charlie found his car and took us on the hour or so trip to the factory and for most of the journey he did remember how to drive but there were a few lapses! This seems to be normal though and several times you would encounter traffic coming straight at you as they could not be bothered to wait in the queue on their side of the road, and all the time bikes were ploughing straight across junctions oblivious to other traffic!
MOT presumably not as strict as ours!
On arrival we met Dennis the factory owner and he loaded up the CAD for our PBA Tiger wagon. We spent some time going over this before being given a factory tour. The basic layout and operating practices were virtually identical to the previous factory but fascinating none the less and I again spent much time watching the tampo printing in operation.
Looking over the PBA progress.
Dennis has our website loaded in his office and set to the PBA page!
Soon it was time for lunch and my second proper Chinese meal. Dennis and Charlie claimed the meal I had the previous day did not count as it was Hong Kong style so this time it was proper Chinese complete with chopsticks. Again it was thoroughly enjoyable and it was really useful meeting the people we deal with in person and getting to know each other as this really transforms any business partnership.
The menu! I think I had one of the fish from the top tank having pointed at it on the way in by mistake!
Chinese meal with Dennis and Charlie in which I made full use of the chopsticks. They rated me "above novice".
Another 23 hour journey awaited and it did not start well when our plane was stranded on the tarmac at Hong Kong with the fuel hose jammed into the tank. It took about two hours to free it, by which time we had already been fed and watered and seen the first film! This flight was due to leave at 2300 and I was hoping for much more sleep on the return journey than the few hours I had managed on the way out. I noticed the time was about 0100 when we took off and soon after fell asleep. When I woke later I looked at the time to see how long I had been asleep and was horrified to find it was only 0130! I thought this was going to be a really long flight until I discovered that something had gone wrong with the clocks and it was actually about 0430! The delay meant it was highly likely I would miss my train to Cornwall and the cheap pre-booked ticket I had was only valid via Reading on the specified service. I need not have worried as once I got to the platform at Heathrow I found that the train service had collapsed due to track circuit failures around Hayes and the only trains running were direct to Paddington. As I was now off-route and on later trains I expected hassle all the way having to explain what had gone wrong but at every stage of the journey the staff on board and at stations were excellent. I had to change at Paddington and Newton Abbot but was back in Camborne around 1500 that afternoon and so concluded the trip.
Hong Kong Airport shuttle train.
The welcome sight of the Royal Albert Bridge which means just 90 minutes to go before I am back in Camborne!
Back to work
Straight back to work the next day it was in full pre-Christmas rush with many deliveries and an unbelievable number of emails waiting for me - I had only been gone 7 days! The journey back gave me plenty of time to think and the best thing about the entire trip was how keen the Chinese were to work with us and to deliver what we want. They were also very keen to show how much capacity they had and how they could expand if needed if only we could give them more work. Overall they were also very proud of what they do and it was good to feel a part of the process and the trip re-ignited some of my passion for producing models.
As I write this in January the Christmas rush is over and the Hornby new products have been added to our system leaving me free to concentrate on our exclusive models again. With grateful thanks to Dave Jones of DJModels for inviting me - all the best until my next brief!
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