Queen’s award for new pencil painting process

Date: Saturday 27th April 2002

STAFF at Keswick’s pencil factory were celebrating this week after receiving the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2002 for a revolutionary advance in the way pencils are painted.

The Cumberland Pencil Company was the only Cumbrian business out of 14 North West companies to receive one of the prestigious awards.

Technical staff at the firm’s Southey Works developed a new process which not only paints pencils “at the speed of light”, but is also environmentally friendly for workers.

On Monday, bosses from the company were in London to hear their Keswick factory had received the award in recognition of the groundbreaking scientific advance.

Cumberland Pencil Company, a division of Acco UK Ltd. which makes the world-famous Derwent range, has invented and implemented a novel process for the application of lacquer in the manufacture of pencils.

The new method has taken a dedicated team of four, assisted by outside specialists, around six years to develop.

Traditionally, the pencil firm used a solvent-based nitro-cellulose resin system at its Main Street works. In response to the requirements of the Environmental Protection Act of 1990, the company developed the new process in which a pencil coated in a clear lacquer is propelled through a “light” box between two high intensity mercury lamps.

This eliminates the need for volatile organic compounds in the lacquer and operator contact with the chemicals involved.

The process has led to a significant improvement in working conditions, has improved reliability, and is some 22,000 times faster than the old method.

Cumberland Pencil Company is the first pencil manufacturer in the world to develop an alternative method of lacquering pencils.

Director and general manager David Sharrock said: “We have been painting pencils for years by the traditional method which the rest of our colleagues in the industry also use.

“Our technical team decided to try and find an alternative and we plumped for the ultraviolet route and developed the new system which paints pencils with the speed of light.”

Mr. Sharrock said the whole process was sealed and never touched the atmosphere.

“We are the only company using the system, he added. “We are now developing phase two of the project to make it even better.”

He said the award was recognition of the work being done at the Keswick factory and it showed that even relatively small concerns could lead the way in scientific advances.

Barbara Murray, who was involved in the development of the process, said: “It has been very worthwhile.

“David Tee, who has now retired, had the original idea and gathered a team of people together from all sides of the factory, including engineeers, technical staff and people from production, over a period of years, to develop the process. This development has made it easier for staff and safer for the environment.”

Cumberland Pencil Company has been based in Keswick since 1832 and Mr. Sharrock felt to win such an award on the company’s 170th anniversary was very satisfying.

He added: “Winning this award is testament to the dedication and skill which exists within the company and I thank all staff for helping to keep us at the forefront of the pencil making industry.”

There was further good news for the company at the weekend when its American parent company announced it had decided to invest more than £500,000 to implement a new colour mixing process developed internally by the firm’s chemists.

A special celebratory ceremony will be held in the Keswick factory later in the year.

The Cumberland Pencil Company was one of 14 North West companies, varying from tiny businesses to giant corporations, to receive one of the prestigious awards but was the only one in Cumbria. The Queen announced 131 awards nationally to honour outstanding companies.

They include the manufacturers of a machine which distributes bedding for cows and other farm animals, producers of domestic appliance controls and hygienic easy-opening bags.

Companies from Cheshire, Lancashire, Manchester and Merseyside made up the 14 North West winners, which were four more than last year.

Employment, Relations and Regions Minister Alan Johnson said the awards demonstrate the talent among the UK’s business community where companies are at the forefront of innovation, international trade and sustainable development.

They recognise the achievements of business units as a whole with management and employees working as a team.

Winners will be able to fly the award flag and use the emblem on letter headings, packaging and goods.