A History of Mather & Platt Ltd.
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business EnterpriseLink to full frames site if you have arrived on this single page.
Part 6 - Research and Development

The direct employment of scientifically trained personnel on technical research is an innovation of no long standing in many branches of industry but it has been established for many years in engineering. In all its branches, modern engineering has stemmed from the scientist and is sustained by the technician. This may not always be apparent. For example, there are no outward signs of the researches of the scientific worker in the small jobbing iron foundry but, nevertheless, he is active behind the scenes in controlling the production of the pig irons, the coke, the grinding abrasives, the oils, the core compounds, and other raw materials. The scientific man is little in evidence in the machine shops: nevertheless, modern production rests largely on the achievements of the metallurgist. The mere mention of one item alone, high-speed steel, brings home to us what we owe to decades of laboratory workers and to the present day technicians: without it, and its associate tungsten carbide, production would fall to a small fraction of its present value.

The firm of Mather & Platt Ltd has long been in the forefront in the quality of its various manufactures but, more than this, it has an outstanding pioneering record - the fruits of the efforts of virile business men and capable engineers who have been ever ready to take advantage of what science has had to offer through the years. Some of the scientists who collaborated with the Company, notably Osborne Reynolds in the creation of the turbine pump and John Hopkinson in the evolution of electrical machinery, are world famous: others could be named of little less distinction.

The manufactures of the Company cover an extraordinarily wide range. They include some standard lines which lend themselves to repetition production but by far the greater part of the output consists of special machines to serve specific purposes — each machine being designed to meet some precise requirement. It is not always realised that the more industry turns to mass production, the greater is the demand for high-output machines of special - even of unique - design. It is to meet this important and ever growing demand that the Company devotes a big percentage of its total efforts. The furtherance of such a policy demands as a primary essential the employment of scientific personnel in a high degree.

Machinery for the bleaching, dyeing and finishing of textile fabrics covers a big field and calls for exact knowledge of the intricate chemical and physical processes involved. In recent years the problems confronting this industry have broadened materially following the invention of new synthetic fibres: each of these has its own characteristics and limitations which have to be closely studied by technicians devising the appropriate equipment for processing it. The anti-crease resin finishes have brought their special requirements, as have also the delicate crepe materials in vogue at the present time. Special machines are at present being made to enable manufacturers to meet the public demand for pre-shrunk fabrics. Dyeing, which a

few years ago had settled down to a somewhat standard procedure, is now being revolutionised by methods calling for plant of an entirely new type. The design of appliances for drying cloth is constantly being modified to meet the need for still greater speeds of drying, employing the higher steam pressures now available in modern works.

There is similarly constant evolution in the centrifugal pump department, notably in ‘the production of feed pumps for the present-day boilers, with pressures up to 3000 lb. per square inch, and of pumps to deal at high pressures and high temperatures with the corrosive fluids encountered in the modern oil refinery. New materials have been developed by the Company for use in pumps dealing with the corrosive and abrasive liquors and waters of chemical works and mines.

The maintenance of the fire engineering department in its leading position in the realms of fire fighting rests on the constant activities of technical men in devising new features and ensuring high quality in established products. Mention could be made specifically of the inventions of the Quartzoid Bulb sprinkler, the Mulsifyre System for extinguishing oil fires and ‘Fyretron equipment employed in the protection of aircraft hangars - all pioneered by members of the research staff at Park Works. It is an inherent feature of inventions of the kind in question that trained technicians play an indispensable part in planning their practical applications.

A similar story could be told of the Food Machinery department which has to make a wide variety of machines for the processing of the various foodstuffs handled by the present day Canner.

Designers have to be constantly at work on the task of devising new features and in taking advantage of what the advances in metallurgy and physics have to offer.

In the production of electrical machinery progress would be impossible without the highly trained designers to lay down the proportions of the magnetic circuit as well as the details and insulation of the complicated windings. The essential materials used for the purpose, the silicon steel for the laminations, the magnet steel, the high-conductivity electrolytic copper, the insulating varnishes etc, are all the outcome of a wealth of scientific labour. Behind all this lies the fundamental discoveries and inventiveness of laboratory geniuses from Michael Faraday downwards - each contributing his quota to the evolution of the present day appliances which the user of today is so apt to take for granted without pausing to reflect how they were derived. Much of the electrical machinery produced by the Company is used for purposes for which conventional machines are not suitable; calling for specific design to meet individual requirements.

The Works staff also has to include its quota of the scientific all trained, to deal with the many matters that arise in connection with tool design, heat treatment and so forth. The varied and specialised nature of the work carried out in each of the principal sections of the Company’s business over a period of years resulted in the gradual building up of an effective staff of well trained and experienced technicians to serve design and manufacture and qualified to discuss technical issues with prospective purchasers. The Directors, nevertheless, decided in 1919 to supplement the already extensive scientific resources of the Company by the establishment of a Central research department. This department has well appointed chemical, metallurgical and electrical laboratories and equipment necessary for carrying out hydraulic and other engineering investigations. The scientists in this department are provided with a wide range of machines and instruments for the physical testing of materials — metals and textiles. In addition, the department is particularly well equipped for dealing with fire-protection problems, its special apparatus for ‘this purpose including fire test-sheds, extensive equipment for oil fire tests and facilities for carrying out large scale tests with the other fire-fighting appliances which are included in the Company’s specialities.

The policy of the Company is to mobilise all its resources in research and development, working as a team to produce the best results. Some development can be done only in the appropriate design departments, followed by trials in the Works or on the pump or electrical test beds: in other forms, the advances may be of the type test initiated and proved in the research department. In the case of some cloth finishing and canning machinery, developments projected in the design departments can be tried out only under full scale working conditions at the customer’s promises so calling for his collaboration. The same is true of the pumping plant supplied, for work in oil refineries and on the oilfields.

The energetic prosecution of this comprehensive research and development policy involves considerable expense but the cost has proved to be well justified through the years in maintaining the varied products of Mather & Platt Ltd. at such a level that they set the standard of excellence in many of the open markets of the world.