Most of you will have noticed the lack of information or new releases recently. There has been a lot going on behind the scenes and I think I need to take some time to explain what has been going on.
I thought I had solved my problems last year when I bought the new vulcaniser from the Italian company but this machine has proved to be a disappointment. The machine is designed for vulcanising silicon and has a less powerful 'jack' (the hydraulic ram which provides the pressure element of the machine) than I am used to - 16 tons as opposed to 30. The result is that it does not cope well with organic rubber moulds if the figure is at all intricate. Every third or fourth mould I make on this machine has to be discarded as it is not up to the standard I am used to. This machine does indeed make excellent silicone moulds and you may be wondering why I don�t simply change from organic rubber to silicone but there are very good reasons for not doing this. First of all, the big problem with silicone moulds is that they have a much shorter casting life than moulds made with organic rubber. Manufacturers have improved the working life of silicone dramatically in the last ten years or so but still can't match the toughness of organic rubber. I went on a silicone mould making course last year and was struck by the care one has to take to make a problem free silicone mould. A mould which took several hours to prepare in silicon would have taken me half an hour to prepare in organic rubber. This sort of consideration matters when you are making runs of production moulds! Another problem is that silicone is very sensitive to 'super glue'. The cyanide in the super glue stops the silicone from curing and you are left with a sticky mess when the figures are taken out as well as a useless mould. I use very little super glue in my sculpting process but it is an indispensible aid when quick conversions (such as the special packs I like to add to my ranges) or repairs are required. I could stop using it altogether but this would mean a radical reappraisal of my sculpting techniques. Since my sculpting is not the fundamental problem, I am not keen to go down this route.
I have finally had to face the inevitable fact that this machine needs to be replaced. The same Italian company make a larger machine with a 25 ton ram that would probably do the job. Unfortunately, this machine is very expensive and, due to the way they are manufactured with an enclosed cabinet, has a carcass that is too big to get into my workshop. The solution is either to import a machine from the States or to start manufacturing these machines again in the UK. I looked into the US option but the two reliable companies that manufacture these machines do not have trained engineers in the UK to service the machines should problems arise. I would either have to go out there and learn how to service the machines myself, or replace them every time a problem arose. The home grown option is the one I have gone for more by chance than anything else.
A few months ago I got in contact with Ray Tutt, the last manufacturer of quality casting machines in the UK, and the genesis of a new option seemed to take shape on its own. Ray stopped manufacture due to health issues. His first contact with casting machines was with MCP, the manufacturer of the machines I bought originally. Ray helped to design the machines which I used without problem for almost 14 years. Eventually he left MCP and started his own business, S&R engineering, producing casting machines which are still prized and sought after.
Ray explained that despite the fact that he had to retire, he has continued to repair machines when possible. Retirement has given him time to think of ways of improving the designs of the machines he used to produce. He added that he had all the design drawings available. I tentatively asked him if he knew anyone who could manufacture his designs. He suggested the company his ex-partner at S&R now works for - CG Hydraulics.
Getting this project off the ground has taken less time than you might anticipate. Both Ray and the directors of CG have been enthusiastic in this attempt to save Ray's designs. We all want this to work! The first Vulcaniser is well on the way to completion and should be ready for delivery by the beginning of March. I see no reason why this improved version of my original vulcaniser (with a 30 ton jack) should not work, but it is the first machine we have produced and I will need to test it for a couple of months before I�m sure we've got it right. If there are no problems, we intend to manufacture a casting machine next and then to start offering them for sale again.
I would like to emphasise that I am not an engineer. I did not set out to start manufacturing casting machines in the UK again; all I wanted (or still want) is a working vulcaniser so that I can carry on producing quality figures. In the process I seem to have ended up with an opportunity to save Ray's designs which I simply could not turn my back on. The UK does not manufacture much nowadays but we are still the centre of the wargames figure industry. Presently, manufacturers are producing figures on rapidly aging machines maintained largely by Ray. At some point these old machines are going to develop problems, much as my vulcaniser did, and there is going to be no one in the UK to fix or replace them. Am I the only one who sees this as a ticking time-bomb for our industry?
I have had two torrid years, with one disappointment after another. I do have many new figures ready to go into moulds but will not put them into the unreliable machine I have at present as the few attempts I have made have ended in disaster (the Saxon grenadiers will have to be re-sculpted). I sincerely hope that the new Ray Tutt designed vulcaniser will end my problems otherwise I am 'chucking it in' and taking up fishing! I will keep you posted.
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