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Working safely through COVID-19: James Walker & Co.

James Walker & Co., Cockermouth James Walker & Co., Cockermouth

James Walker, one of Cumbria’s largest employers, continues to operate at its Cockermouth manufacturing site as well as the Group’s other sites across the UK, as a critical part of the supply chain meeting the demands of essential industries around the globe.

Design and manufacture of components for ventilators and oxygen equipment is an obvious priority for James Walker at present, with urgent orders being quickly completed to help the businesses that have taken up the challenge of manufacturing these critical items.

In addition, James Walker was quick off the mark in registering with the UK Ventilator Challenge organised by Innovate UK.

The following are examples of urgent demands placed on James Walker by both existing and new customers in the current crisis:

Existing precision engineering customer -- As a manufacturer of high precision gas regulators, this customer has previously come to James Walker for supply of critical O rings. This time, at the start of the current crisis, it was for urgent supply of O rings for oxygen regulators. The products were required in a non-standard material to a specification that involves significant testing and quality assurance certification requirements. The non-standard material meant that manufacture was from scratch – material being compounded from raw materials before being processed into finished O rings. The normal lead time for such an order would be a minimum of 20 days, however, due to the current situation and the critical nature of the request, we managed to deliver in 5 days. This included all of the required testing protocols to ensure compliance with the specification, including provision of a full set of quality assurance documentation.

Components for new oxygen regulator design -- This manufacturer of valves and couplings had been approached regarding a regulator design that is to be used in the ventilator systems used to treat victims of the COVID-19 virus. The part requested from James Walker is a non-standard product and a new design to our customer. Within less than 10 hours we had recommended a suitable pharmaceutical grade material, sourced tooling, created and configured the required item on our systems and quoted for supply of 8,500 off diaphragm units with an emergency lead time of 10 working days, including suitable cleaning for use in oxygen. We even stood ready to manufacture sample diaphragms overnight on the same day that we received the original enquiry if required. The customer has now supplied prototypes of the regulator and we await the call to action on acceptance of the design.

Specialised products for nuclear application -- Following an unscheduled break in operations, an existing nuclear industry customer approached us with an urgent request to cover the restart of a specific operation following a decision by the nuclear industry regulator and British Government. The demand is for O rings manufactured in a specialist material suited to the application and these have to be available within two weeks, including all of the detailed material testing requirements associated with this specification. James Walker accepted the two week deadline and commenced manufacture under material quarantine so that production and testing can proceed concurrently in order to meet the deadline and allow the on-site work to restart safely. The fact that any delay is reportable to the nuclear industry regulator and the Government, demonstrates the critical nature of James Walker’s part in this particular task.

Site director Ed Surman said: “James Walker’s well-developed incident management and business continuity plans have allowed us to facilitate many personnel to work from home and assist staff who are in high risk categories, or in households forced to self-isolate. These contingency plans were introduced prior to the UK Government’s instructions. Overall, thanks to the efforts of our staff, our production cells are operating at close to normal levels despite the implementation of all necessary protection measures for those still working on site.

“We continue to closely monitor the wellbeing of all our people, both on site and at home, and are assisting the community in any way we are able to at this time. Where possible, employees started working from home prior to the UK Government’s lockdown announcement. For those involved in essential production on-site, James Walker has adjusted shift patterns from a 5 day operation to a 7 day operation, reducing the number of people on site at any one time. Additionally, the World Health Organisation’s social distancing measures are strictly observed, and the company is providing employees with more flexibility to organise child care arrangements following the closure of schools.

“The vast majority of work currently going through the Cockermouth factory is destined for critical industries in applications such as pharmaceutical production and medical devices, food and drink manufacture and power generation. We are operating a priority service covering any of these requirements, and will endeavour to remain operational to continue this support. Our knowledgeable and experienced team are ready to provide support to essential manufacturing supply chains during the uncertainty of the days and weeks to come.”

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