Current Standard Premier cutlery & production process:
Right now Eurostar is using the cutlery as shown here above. The business model we are using here is that we receive a planning from Momentum. These numbers are based on reports and expected consumption. Those numbers are shared with Sola and together we decide whether mass production needs to be started for what volumes and for what items, all taking proper notice of production – and transport lead times.
As soon as new stock has been produced, this is put in the same container as our other European clients. This container is shipped to Rotterdam harbour and later on moved to our warehouse in Zeist. There it is stored free-of-charge till we receive call-offs for specific quantities, which are then transported to the U.K.
The advantage of this model is that Eurostar is never out of stock. In fact – there is a buffer available. The only thing we need to do is monitor frequently about our stock position and whether we need to make adjustments. Sometime one item can show a higher consumption, and we are than flexible enough to make sure there are no shortages.
Before I can give you an idea of the prices, I need to inform you about the production process first. I will try to do that by showing you images and videos I took with my cell phone when I was at one of our factories in China to do an audit for Lufthansa. You do not need to become a full cutlery expert, but it is vital information for the prices we are offering for our cutlery. It might be interesting to see part of the whole process. And interesting detail – the majority of these images are made in the same factory as where the Eurostar cutlery is produced.
The production of cutlery is a sequence of steps starting from a coil of steel in a very specific quality, in a specific thickness. As these coils are too large and heavy to move around, they need to be cut into smaller pieces. This is called the blanking process:
Even though the steel is cut into smaller pieces, there is an enormous amount of weight that needs to be continuously moved from one process to the other. That is why you will always see large baskets waiting to be processed. Metal baskets are used for knives as they are hot forged and remain very hot for a long period of time.
Sola has multiple factories available. I will come to that later. There are also factories who have automated the blanking process.
These smaller pieces are pressed into a mould. The mould is the most important tool as it has the final design embedded in it. Moulds are big blocks of steel that are cut by machines and hardened in ovens.
Here you can see an image of a top and bottom mould. You need two for the handle as during the pressing process the handle is formed in one step. You can already see the decoration embedded in the steel. That is done very early in the production process. You can also see the head part is not there yet. This is done later.
Pressing & deepening:
Without going too much into detail, but the next phase is the actual pressing of the steel into the mould. Followed by the head parts. Both forks and spoons need to be cut first into shape and deepened.
The head parts of forks and spoons are not as thick as the handle. They do not need to be as thick as you cannot eat properly with it if we leave them as thick. The balance would also be ruined. This video shows you both the old way of deepening bowl parts and cutting them, as well as the new automatic way. There you can see that a robot-machine is flattening the top part that will become a spoon. It is rolled on both sides between contra-rotating metal rolls to a specific thickness.
Once the pressing process is finished, all parts are moved to the grinding and polishing department. By grinding the items we remove burrs and residue material. We are now coming to the end of the production process. Polishing is a key-element. I am showing you a video of how it is done the old-fashioned way. This is where a dozen of items are put into a clamp we call “flippers”. They are pressed against high-speed rotating cotton wheels, that have a special polishing paste on them. They are turned/flipped to polish the other side too.
As you can see this is not one of the cleanest stage of the whole process. That is also why new inventions are used, like the automatic polishing machines. Although dust and particles still occur, they are better ventilated and less hand-labour becomes involved.
These are just a few images and video footage taken from various factories. I am skipping the preparation of the mould, creation and preparation and maintenance of the machinery. Not adding details on grinding. The logo options are left out, and the constant quality checks in between stages. In the pictures you can hopefully get a glimpse of the massive organisation it takes to produce mass scale cutlery at a high level of quality. There is an incredible amount of hand-labor involved, ofcourse with the help of machines, but it is not a fully automatic process as some people might think.
I am also skipping the cleaning and packing department. This is where a final check is performed, before the items are all individually packed in polybags. Cartons are already produced in advance in the specific size and printed with the company name, part number, content/volume before they are moved to the shipping side of the plant.
Sea containers are brought to the factory where they are loaded according the planning we already discussed and agreed upon weeks before. These are then moved to the harbour before the closing date of the ocean vessel and transported to Rotterdam harbour.
The factory that produces the Eurostar cutlery (and others) is located near Beijing, China. It is located in an industrial area. Some factory workers live nearby and some of them further away. Those are most of the time specialized staff to operate complicated machinery and preparation of moulds. These people are given the opportunity to stay at the factory ground and have their own private house.
Eurostar and Momentum are both invited to come and see our factory when that is possible or wanted. There are no secrets. This is one of the factories we have at our disposal. What we require from them is a high level of control and craftsmanship and the willingness of the factory to come up with a product we are proud to supply. That is part of our selection process. And that is why we frequently visit our factories and on top of that have Sola Korea Ltd present every other week, just to keep up with the planning and volume output.
Sola is one of the largest cutlery suppliers worldwide for the railway and airline industry, but there is also the hotel/restaurant market, cruise line and retail division. And everybody wants to have their product in-time. It means we are forced to have multiple factories under our control. Otherwise we could never come up with the volumes we need on an average day. This is also why we are always so keen on planning, especially way before Chinese New Year.