Producing cast, rolled and sandcast lead is a fascinating process and one that Roofing Today was lucky enough to get an insight into on a visit to Midland Lead’s base in Swadlincote, Derbyshire.
Midland Lead is an envious position as a business, in that the raw resources for its production are wholly supplied as recycled material. That means the business’s green credentials are second to none, especially when you consider lead’s exceptional life cycle, and makes it part of a sophisticated global circular economy supply chain.
The price for lead notoriously fluctuates, subject to the vagaries of trading on the commodity markets. At the moment, lead values are at a historical low of around £1400 per tonne – a price not seen since 2003. Nevertheless, demand is buoyant and Midland Lead produces 15,000 tonnes a year of lead sheet at all codes, machine cast lead and sandcast products mostly for the roofing industry, but also for the healthcare, security and heritage sectors.
Once the recovered lead is collected it is heated in 120 tonne kettles, turning from solid to molten lead at exactly 327.1oC. Repeatedly heated, at each stage ‘dross’ in removed to refine the metal and remove impurities, before the lead passes across rollers to be stored on huge 7.5 tonne spindles in different thicknesses, depending on the code required or to be manufactured for bespoke customer orders.
Midland Lead’s ability to respond to an amazing range of customer demand is almost legendary. The company is asked to produce a huge variety of products, from sand casting a 200-foot-long replacement heritage gutter, forming a Dutch cathedral organ lead pipe, to supplying tiny lead lumps to form ballet shoe pointes. And the business prides itself on meeting all these requests with the same efficient service it brings to its day-to-day operation of supplying lead to the UK’s network of building merchants. That the company succeeds in its ambitions was shown when it recently won the H&B Group’s 2018 Supplier of the Year award.
Midland Lead runs a very tight ship, not only because of the extremely high security the company necessarily operates, but also because the majority of its 60 employees can count their time with the company in decades. Their knowledge and skills mean the company can continually develop and hone its processes as Managing Director, Boudewijn Tuinenburg explains: “Our team are experts in lead production and they are each committed to ensuring that our customers receive the best service in the industry.
“Lead is such a fantastic material, it’s the most sustainable construction material being 100% recyclable and its durability can exceed 100 years. When our customers specify and fit lead they know they’ve got a roofing material that will outlast the rest of the roof!”