Dave Calway worked in the blade shop at Westland and remembers when the department was automated

I think Westlands led the way in trying to bring in new, modern machines. I was involved in two machines that were brought in, they were Milwaukee’s EBs, I think they were. They were numerical tape controlled and the experiment was done on those that a job was sub-contracted and the EBs took one hour compared to ten hours on a sub-contracted job. Basically, they were ten times faster.

What’s an EB?

An EB is a machining station where you’ve got a table which will rotate and on that table you can fix a fixture, as they call it, and on that fixture you would put a block of metal and then you would have tools which had been pre-set to the required length and diameters, whatever radius the thing needed and once they were loaded up into the machine, you pressed the button and that machine did all the machining and the boring and the drilling, everything without you touching it again apart from taking the finished component off the machine. So, it was a real step forward in how things were machined. Prior to that it was you milled a bit on a machine, then you took it off, you went to maybe a lathe and you’d turn it, maybe to a drilling machine and, you know, boring machine and so it could have been five or six different machines that had to do a bit of work on that block of metal to make the finished part.

How did you feel about these machines taking on work? I mean they were taking your job away weren’t they, to some extent?

It never seemed like that back in those days actually. There were only two of them there and employment was good then. Westlands went through many, many years without any redundancy, you know, so we, as workers down there, didn’t know the meaning of redundancies and that didn’t come in until, oh, a long, long time, maybe in the 90’s, the first redundancies at Westlands. The only thing I felt about them was, yes, skilled men were employed on these Milwaukee’s, as I was. And, for three months I worked on that machine but it was deadly. I did not like that at all. In fact, I went to the foreman and said “I’ve got to come off these machines or I’m going mad” because all you did was put the job on the machine and take it off the machine. To me, there’s no skill in that, and I know a lot of the lads stayed on those machines and they used to read papers all day and that sort of stuff, but I couldn’t do that.

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