All Areas Tour March 20 2015
Billinghams are unlike any other bags and the way they are designed and made is key to their unique character.
We have already highlighted how important quality and detail are to us, so it will come as no surprise for you to learn that there are typically more than one hundred individual components in a Billingham bag – the majority of which are custom-made by us or for us.
Some of the components that are used in the production of a Billingham bag are hidden during manufacture, but are still essential ingredients to the performance of each and every bag we make. You can imagine how much time, skill and patience goes into turning all those separate parts into a finished product – and because so much of that hard work goes unseen, we thought you might like a quick factory tour to see how our bags are put together and to hear about some of those hidden details you will never see.
Step out of the offices and the first department you will find is the where the vegetable-dyed, top grain leather
is held for quality checking and evaluation. We only use the best leather, but as no two hides are the same, it takes great skill to judge their quality and decide if they’re good enough for us – and if they are – where the various sections should best be used.
For example, strong but supple leather which will take on and maintain a curve might best be used on a corner, while thicker, tougher pieces would be more suited to a Quick Release System strap or handle.
Once a hide has been evaluated and accepted, the next step is to cut out the relevant shapes. When this has
been done, the back of some pieces need to have precise amounts of material carefully removed from them so they can do their job perfectly. The cut edges are then stained by hand and where required, embossed with our logo. The leather components are now ready to be passed on to our pre-assembly section.
Next to the leather areas, all the many panels that make up a bag are precisely cut out from either StormBlock Canvas or FibreNyte. Each bag has a surprising number of individual panels, which need to be set out on the fabric in a process called ‘nesting’. Once cut, inspected and passed they will join the leather parts in pre-assembly where studs, feet, the Quick Release System's straps and ClogBalls, zips, etc, will be fitted to the panels.
The ClogBall is the brass button that forms the metal part of the Quick Release System, that the leather strap fits onto. To give you some idea of the detail that goes into the design of something so apparently mundane, our ClogBalls have 6 radii and a threaded hole machined into them before they meet our specification. They are only ever secured to the leather strap with aluminium washers and stainless steel bolts with thread locking compound, tightened to a specific torque with an air driven impact wrench. All this so you never have to think twice about your Billingham’s feel or performance.
To secure our custom-made brass feet, we use polypropylene washers rather than aluminium because the metal could eventually damage the fabric on the bag’s base.
Moving further into the assembly line, a hot knife is used to cut and seal the webbing straps which are then attached to the bag’s structural panels by an automatic sewing machine. We use the automatic rather than manual machine for the same reason they are used on car seat belts – consistency.
Gradually, as the bag makes its way around the production area, the panels are sewn together with polyester thread which is designed to absorb just enough moisture to allow it to expand slightly to close up the hole left by the sewing needle. The seams are then bound with tape for further waterproofing and although it's inside-out at this stage, it is already starting to look like a Billingham.
The details of the team who made your bag and the components used, are recorded in a unique barcode that is added at this stage. This is also the point at which the bag has to be turned the right way round - a skilful and physically demanding task to get the bag to take on the smooth curves and lines we expect.
Whether the design calls for an insert, as in the case of the Hadley and Packington, or a SuperFlex System interior, this is then added. Regardless of which interior a bag uses, the principle is the same - we use impact absorbing high density foams and cover it with the same lining material as the bags for a perfect match. Velcro® touch fastener strips are stitched to both insert and dividers and SuperFlex components to hold them in position in the bag's interior.
Then the finished bag is placed into a protective transit bag, but not before one final inspection. If a fault is found the bag will be sent back for rectification. It is very unusual for a fault to be found at this late stage, because everyone who works for us forms an intrinsic part of
our quality control system so the bags are constantly assessed by everyone who works on them. That is why you will never find a ‘second’ Billingham product. As far as we are concerned, if something isn’t exactly right – it’s wrong. That’s also why you can trust the Billingham brand.
That brings us to the end of the short tour – we hope it has given you a better idea of how much work goes into the making of our products.