The Cutlery & Allied Trades Research Association was set up in 1952 to provide Research and Development facilities for the local Cutlery and Knife Manufacturers.
At a request by the British Cutlery Industry, of which the majority were based in Sheffield, the British Government’s Board of Trade went on to set up the Cutlery Research Council which utilised laboratory facilities and seconded staff from the British Iron & Steel Research Association on Hoyle Sheet, Sheffield.
In 1962 the name was changed to Cutlery & Allied Trades Research Association and it became a limited company (by Guarantee). After the nationalisation of the British Steel Industry in 1966, CATRA moved out of the BISRA Laboratories into purpose built facilities on Henry Street, Sheffield.
Funding for research activities between 1952 and 1988 came from both the UK Government and a levy of British Cutlery Manufacturers, which allowed the makers of table cutlery, kitchen and professional knives, folding knives and scissors to unlimited access to the Research and Development output and technical problem solving services. In 1988 this Stainless Steel Scientific Research Levy was abolished by the Government, thereby ending 36 years of compulsory support by the UK’s Cutlery Industry. CATRA still continued to receive Government funds until 1989, but in the latter years the business has been very successful in attaining commercial contracts for its very wide range of services.
During its history the Association has varied in size from 12 to 22 staff and has grown particularly strongly since 1994. The sales turnover doubled between 1994 and 2000 as the client base became Worldwide. Over the 60 years the Cutlery Research Council / CATRA has only had three Directors of Research, C N Kington was the founding Director who passed the reins to E A Oldfield (Ted) in 1956, who had joined the laboratories in 1952 as a Graduate Metallurgist having worked previously at Balfour Darwins Steel Plant. Ted steered the research activities into all technical aspects of cutlery type products from materials, manufacturing process and machinery to quality / testing issues. Ted retired as Director in 1988, but continued for 5 more years acting as a consultant, sadly he passed away in October 2002. During his era, CATRA and Ted were responsible for many major developments including :
- A full understanding of the implication of overheating of knife blades and development of techniques to test for it and methods of avoidance
- Development of the CATRA Spiral Interlocking Knife Sharpening Machines, which have become a significant part of business activities today
- Research and development into Knife Sharpness Testing Methods, culminating in the production of the CATRA Automatic Edge Test Machine, which is the only commonly available machine of its type on the market. The International Standard ISO 8442-5 for Sharpness Measurement is based entirely on the CATRA machine
- A wide range of cutting type product standards, including British, European and International were developed and written by CATRA
In 1988 Roger C Hamby took over as Director of Research having joined the Association in 1976 as Senior Engineer and had been working with Ted Oldfield very closely on all aspects of the business. Roger’s Directorship started as the compulsory industry funding ended and the decline of the British Cutlery Industry was becoming a major concern for the future of CATRA. Historically to this point the level of commercial activity had been low and CATRA would not carryout any work or pass any research papers to non British Companies. It was clear therefore that CATRA’s survival depended on commercial growth and in particular sales to overseas clients.
This business plan paid off and in the last 25 years export sales has risen to over 55% and all commercial activities have risen to 98% of total income from below 5% in the early 1980’s.
In 2016 Roger celebrated 40 years at CATRA.
The growth in the size of the business has also enabled a broadening of the expertise in relation to the products that CATRA is involved with.
In particular they have become the Worlds only independent razor / shave technology business, carrying out development and testing work for large and small razor companies throughout the globe.
In the last 25 years both commercial testing, test equipment and sharpening machinery manufacture have become the main stay of the activities, supported by many self funded research and development activities. Such self investment as led to new innovative products like the Sheffield made CATRAHONE Diamond Power Knife Sharpener whose sales to the domestic kitchen market are growing rapidly and enjoying tremendous customer acclaim.
Globalisation and vigorous industrial development in the low wage cost countries, such as China, lead to very difficult trading conditions for UK producers who must meet western wage costs and employment conditions. EU social policies continually expand the gap between costs of production here and there. Much production of high labour content goods such as cutlery and tools already migrated to the third world, and this process must be expected to continue – though we can be sure that at least some high quality cutlery will still be made in Sheffield with its 700 years deep skills allied to the latest technology
It seems ironic that CATRA – originally set up to serve British industry alone – now devotes much of its efforts testing products from the low labour cost countries but the UK and the western world’s massive appetite for cheaper goods is feeding more and more products such as cutlery, knives, kitchen gadgets, tools and cookware through the doors of CATRA for testing. Honest testing of these cheaper imports is however a real service to UK consumer protection and the fact that it is done by CATRA reinforces Sheffield’s long established technical leadership in the cutlery world.
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