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Family firm’s half century at the forefront of toolmaking industry Part One

By john workman  |  Posted: September 28, 2013

Managers, apprentices, and invited guests, marking a special day in the history of Whiston Industries.

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Back in 1963 the late Bill Whiston founded Whiston Industries as a contract toolmaker for the automotive and motorbike industry, and after spending seven years at Forge Lane in Halesowen he moved his business to Oak Street, Cradley Heath in 1970, where the firm he established is now proudly celebrating half a century of success.

If you leaf through any old directories such as White’s Directories for Staffordshire, or magazines published by the Country Express in the early years of the 20th century entitled The Black Country and its Industries, you will discover hundreds of firms involved in a wide variety of manufacturing, including glass-making, fire clay and brick works, the iron and steel trades, boiler-makers and iron founders, tubes and tube fittings, chain and anchor works, galvanized hollow-ware, enamelling, japanning, spades and shovels, frost nails, studs, cogs, and horse shoes, wrought iron fencing, and many more industries that employed local people and which underpinned the Black Country’s position as the very heart of British industry.

But the traditional industries that for many years relied upon on slow, almost snail-like advances in technology were beginning to stare down the barrel of a gun. Machines began to replace labour; customers both at home and abroad, some of whom had been doing business for 100 years or more, looked elsewhere for cheaper options; and huge factories that were gradually underused were eventually mothballed. The leviathans of industry, just like the famous Titanic, had sunk and the industrial heartland became an industrial wasteland as the modern age was born and the age of hi-tech arrived.

But like a phoenix emerging from the ashes, repair and replacement was on its way.

Smaller, more efficient manufacturers, without the burden of being too long in the tooth, were able to grasp the nettle of new technology.

In 1983 Whiston Industries Ltd, with brothers Bob and Bruce Whiston at the helm, went full CAD/CAM (computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing), propelling the company to the forefront of the toolmaking industry, and as a result new premises were built in 2001 at the Oak Street/Park Street site in Cradley Heath.

After successfully navigating the stormy waters of business throughout the past 50 years, a half century that has included three recessions and one depression, Whiston Industries Ltd.

now represent all that its positive about the future of British industry and have become one of the most important and progressive engineering tool makers in the Black Country, if not in the whole of Britain.

These days the company is proud to be seen as an efficient tool room, based at the heart of England’s industrial Black Country, employing a highly skilled workforce who simulate, design, and manufacture press tools utilising the very latest machines and technology to an international press work market.

Leading car manufacturers, such as Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, and Audi, are now regular customers, and by all accounts wouldn’t go anywhere else for the expertise and experience that Whiston Industries has to offer. Jaguar Land Rover recently announced a £1.5bn investment in a new range of family oriented cars made entirely of aluminium and Whiston Industries are involved at the cutting edge of this development.

To mark the 50th anniversary celebrations the Whiston family invited the Deputy Mayor of Sandwell, Councillor Barbara Price, together with her husband, local councillors from both the Cradley Heath and Old Hill wards, representatives from the LEMA Advanced Apprenticeship Programme, the Nat West Bank, and the press, to observe the different stages of manufacture in the factory, from the initial designs sent in by customers, to the finished articles made from the tools.

On arrival Bob Whiston thanked everyone for the support the firm had received over the years from customers, the bank, suppliers and a whole host of friends. Then, after several photographs had been taken, the Bugle joined others in a guided tour of the plant in the capable hands of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Andrew Whiston, a third generation member of the family who is currently in charge of the day-to-day running of the business.

It was awe inspiring to witness each stage of the operation; the casting; the laser shop; the engineer’s office where all the work is carried out using the latest computer technology. For the layman it was a mind boggling experience, but at the same time it was very uplifting and exciting.

Part two follows tomorrow Sunday 29th September.

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