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Rushden Echo and Argus, 13th April 1956, transcribed by Jim Hollis
TitleAutomation in the Shoe Trade
‘Not yet’ say local manufacturers

Local manufacturers’ views on automation in the shoe industry coincide to a great degree with those of union leaders. Automation will be introduced into the industry, they say, but not for some time.

Mr. G. W. Marriott (Eaton and Co. (Rushden), Ltd) said: “In considering the possibilities of automation in the footwear industry we must realise that at present the actual machine time required for making a pair of shoes is comparatively short, and therefore, we have to consider how far the human skill in operating the machinery can be eliminated or reduced.

“Machinery manufacturers have been considering this matter for many years, and when in America with the productivity team in 1950, we had an opportunity of seeing drawings and discussing automatic machinery. But although there are possibilities of automation on some of the operations in shoe manufacture, some of these – for the more difficult operations where a high degree of skill are required, and where the various shapes of the last used have to be taken into account – are likely to take many years to perfect, and probably be extremely expensive to buy. They may only be considered if labour becomes acutely short.

Open Minds

“I am glad to say that, as an industry, both the manufacturers and the operatives’ union have approached this problem with open minds, so that when automation comes, in whatever degree and at whatever time it may be possible it will be introduced, based on the knowledge and experience that advanced technique have in the long run been to the benefit of the industry and the country.”

Mr. Dick Cheaney (Joseph Cheaney and Sons, Ltd): “Automation, to my mind, is a continuance of machine production.

“But automation is not something we can do so much better than we are doing them now.

“Although I don’t profess to be an expert on the subject, I can’t see automation as we understand it in connection with other industries, coming into the shoe trade. Certainly machines will be introduced which will perform completely operations now requiring an operative but not for a long time yet.

First Task

“The immediate task is to improve the present machinery to carry out operations more easily, more logically, and better than now. At the moment Satra is experimenting with a pick-up machine for the preparation department. This sort of thing can make the industry more efficient without being revolutionary.

“There is still much of the craftsman’s art involved in the making of shoes, and I don’t think we shall ever dispense with it.

“What we have to do, in my opinion, is to make the handling of shoes more efficient than at present.”

Mr. F. W. Russell (Freeman, Hardy and Willis, Ltd): “Automation as it is known in the engineering industry is not likely to come into the shoe trade for many years. Against it is the fact that leather is a natural material, and that every piece has its own properties.


“Automation will probably be applied in the transfer of shoes from one machine to another, but this sort of thing is likely to be introduced very gradually. The operative, I think, will still be necessary.

“Efforts will undoubtedly be made to save labour.”

Mr. Lewis Langford (E. K. Coles (Burton Latimer), Ltd): “It is going to be a long time before we get automation, but there is no doubt it will be introduced. I think our trade will be a bit behind the others. “As less leather is used in the trade, so will automation become easier, and the general trend at present is to make more shoes with less leather.

“But automation is not something we are going to get in twelve months; it is going to be a gradual process.”

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