Baker Perkins had a long history of carrying out large projects on behalf of its customers, one of the most significant being carried out in 1966/67 as part of United Biscuits 5-year modernisation plan. Baker Perkins was responsible for all of the planning involved in closing a number of existing factories, dismantling and moving the equipment to other factories and installing new equipment – all without affecting overall levels of production. The plan was to increase total overall capacity, allow for further expansion and gradually reduce the number of factories form nine to five. The project was carried out on time. Planning was carried out using the, at the time, relatively new Critical Path Analysis by Jim Cupit and Dick Preston.

During the 70s and early 80s many large multi-national companies were accepting the fact they were in the business of making products, not engineering. Their policy of reducing in-house engineering departments benefited these companies by minimising overheads but it left them without the capacity to solve the problems inevitable in such industries or to carry out their own large development projects.

Baker Perkins’ reputation was as a highly regarded company whose main purpose was to sell its own range of food machinery but an organisation that was also eager to provide as comprehensive a service as possible to it customers. Of course, one of the over-riding needs associated with such major projects is that of confidentiality and Baker Perkins had built up a high level of trust with its customers from carrying out many new product tests and trials over very many years.

In 1983, Baker Perkins’ project engineering capability took another step forward when the Biscuit division of Baker Perkins Ltd undertook a large project for a major American multi-national company that was seeking to broaden its product range. In this instance the technology was well known to Baker Perkins but a year later the same multi-national wanted to introduce the next generation of manufacturing lines and this time wanted machinery designed and manufactured to produce a product outside Baker Perkins’ normal sphere of activity. The resources needed to carry through the project were greater than existed at Westwood Works and the level of security demanded took even Baker Perkins to new levels.

The need was seen for a new type of business division, unrestricted as to the type of work that it would undertake, able to draw on diverse skills to cope with exceptional one-off situations - and capable of providing a flexible engineering service on a confidential basis. One of the existing bays in the factory was converted into a secure, card locked area with rigorous control of access. A permanent core staff was developed to which was added outside professionals with relevant technical and practical expertise.

John Moore was a foreman in the new business and remembers the effect that the new projects had on the existing facilities:

Special Projects was a division set up within the company, initially to fulfil a contract placed by a major manufacturer to procure, manufacture and assemble 25 complete lines of machinery.

To give some idea of the size of the project, each line was approximately 100 ft long. 6 stations were available within P4 (Westwood Works Plate Shop Bay 4) assembly shop where 6 lines of equipment would be in varying stages of completion and test. Each station within the shop had been fitted with an overhead mezzanine floor in order to house electrical control panels with their power cables and hot melt glue systems. Also, overhead supports for compressed air, chilled water and vacuum pipe work were needed, since it was required that as well as build and mechanically run the lines, we must commission and produce product to a quality acceptable to the quality department of each plant to which the line was designated.

To satisfy this requirement a commissioning team and a process team were set up who gained some experience of the product by the working in one of the customer’s plants already making this product. The contract was so big in terms of man hours and space required that as well as P4 being full, fitting shop S5 was used to build half of each line before finally coupling up to the other half in P4 for testing. Also a further fitting shop at Bretton was set up to build the offline units needed to supply the lines with the materials required to make the product. A storage facility at Orton Southgate was used for the storage of various manufactured and procured parts. P4 had been given a refit with a new reinforced concrete floor ,new electrical power cables to take the loads needed and a dust extraction system.

Portacabins were set up adjacent to the works car park for the use of the planning, technical and admin departments. Since the core businesses within the company were quite busy manpower was in short supply. At the very beginning, personnel seconded to this project were John Reeves (as manager), Barry Gibson (as quality superintendent), Colin Wooten (as foreman), Spencer (Bill) Flowers (as inspector, later foreman), Ivor Jackson (as production engineering, planning and ratefixing engineer) and myself - John Moore - (as foreman). David Brown came from Newall Engineering (as superintendent).

As stated previously manpower was in short supply and a recruitment drive was initiated both at Peterborough and Bedewell to secure the numbers required. Initially, employment was based on temporary contracts, later to be extended and then finally permanent employment. Many of the first recruits were ex Newall Engineering employees recommended by David Brown as they were seeking work since the closure of the Newall factory in Peterborough. Much of the labour required was provided by employment agencies. This was the beginning of Special Projects and what a roller coaster ride it became”.

Other projects for the same customer followed and in 1986 the Special Projects Division became official under Geoff Ridgway. Mike Clay was appointed general sales & marketing manager in 1987.

By now the division had developed as a series of mini-businesses capable of meeting customers’ needs from the beginning of a process through to distribution, including - materials handling, process engineering, product handling, projecting and manufacture and installation. The core personnel comprised chartered engineers, designers, process technologists, mechanical engineers and micro electronic systems personnel. The division expanded and contracted to suit the projects being handled. Geoff Ridgway recalled that “On one particular project we expanded to about 350 people for a one or two year period”.

The projects undertaken varied from feasibility studies to a total turnkey factory, from a prototype to a single machine based on a customer’s design.

Escalators became one of the division’s key businesses in 1987. APV had acquired the brewery equipment manufacturer, Pantin, in 1986. Pantin had developed a close working relationship with London Underground, and installed their first escalator at Manor House in 1987.

After Baker Perkins’ merger with APV in 1987, responsibility for exploiting the new Group’s escalator know-how was centred on Peterborough with design, engineering, marketing and sales being carried out at Westwood Works and Bedewell being responsible for manufacture and testing. By July 1992, APV Baker had won orders for 23 escalators worth £9m from London Underground. The division’s innovative modular design reduced installation times by half. The division installed the new escalators at King’s Cross following the disastrous fire and others at Manor House, Wood Green and Chancery Lane, as well as carrying out re-furbishment and overhaul of many other existing London Underground escalators. The division had worked on 20% of LUL’s escalators by 1992.

The division also worked with British Aerospace to provide a naval surface-to-air missile launch system and became the design authority for the Seacat missile launcher and control console.

1991 saw the Special Projects Division of APV Baker, as it had by now become, winning a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement. The Division’s export growth had begun with the aforementioned multi-million pound projects for a major American multi-national and continued with one its most important later projects - a £50 million contract to supply 10 breakfast cereal-making plants to the Soviet Union.

Geoff Ridgway retired in the early part of 1991 and Brian Harris succeeded him as director and divisional manager of Special Projects.

The contracts in which Special Projects were involved were many and varied. They included – a £6.5m bread and pastry products factory in Spain; a £5.5m contract for three duck processing (breeding to packaging) plants for China; a £4m dried cereal baby food plant in Iran; the supply of software for a full beer keg distribution system for Bass Breweries and equipment for an aluminium smelter in Bahrain and the Senator high-speed packaging systems for biscuit, confectionery and ice cream products.

They built a wind tunnel, the first of its kind in the UK, to test roofing materials; undertook a number of design projects to increase automation of the packaging systems in a number of key food supplier’s factories and improved noise and dust reduction in the processing of pharmaceutical products

The Escalator Division won a Queen’s Award in April 1992, this time for Technology Achievement. This recognised the many modular design features and engineering innovations incorporated in the new range of escalators supplied to London Underground. The Escalator business was sold to O & K GmbH, part of the Finnish KONE Group, in 1995.

The Special Projects division closed in March 1993.

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