Behind the Film – Inside the ILFORD factory

Behind the Film – Inside the ILFORD factory

have you ever wondered what goes into
making a roll of film? Since 1879 ILFORD products have provided photographers
with a way to see the world in black and white. To take a look behind the film we must
travel to where it’s made a little village called Mobberley In Cheshire, England just 15 miles south
of Manchester lies the quiet village of Mobberley home to a hundred and forty
years of ILFORD filmmaking magic through the Harman Technology Factory. The site
first acquired by ILFORD in 1928 manufactures black-and-white films paper
and chemicals for photographic use. Harman technology’s dedication to
quality starts with its employees if you were to ask anyone how long they’ve
worked for the company decades of experience tally up. I’ve been in this
role now for just over 20 years, worked for ILFORD for 15 years, 34 years, 35
years, going on 32 years, because i’ve been doing it for that long now it’s just
like second nature really but I really enjoy what I do. Both Kevin and I have
been here for over 30 years each I’ve been the plant manager of
the emulsion making making plant for 20 years. in the plant we make photographic
emulsion. We begin at the start of the process with photographic emulsion the
key ingredient in the making of photographic film and paper so let’s go inside and have a look at what photographic emulsion looks like. So this is photographic emulsion which
are very small crystals of silver halide dispersed in in gelatin. Over here is
an electron mic of what the crystals look like and they’re dispersed in
gelatin. After the product is made it’s put into a cold store and then it’s
spread onto film or paper base for photographic customers. The emulsion is
created in total darkness and with the help of this machine is pumped into 5
kilo bags and placed into a cold storage set at 6 degrees Celsius. Nice and cold yes?
There are different recipes for photographic emulsion with an important
variable being the crystals. The crystals help determine important factors for a
photographer such as the grain of the film as well as its ability to capture
light, its ISO speed. In general terms they greater the surface area of the
crystal they the faster it will be. As you go through from PANF to FP4 to HP5 we’re increasing speed. The crystals are bigger and in general terms the
iodide content is greater as well. Before the emulsions can go into
full-scale coding production they’re heavily tested by research and
development scientists on a smaller scale. I’m Beth and I’m one of the
sciences here at Harman technology. Me personally I get to work in both
analytical and product and development so I get to start right at the beginning
from raw material testing and get to have a product come in see exactly what
it is and if it’s the right product and then I get to come downstairs and put it
in my own coating package. It’s part of my job in research and development to
make sure that you’re giving the customers confidence in when they put
that film into their camera and that they’re going to get a picture out that
they expect to get and not something that’s completely different and so
that’s why we test our products so much. So once we’ve formulated a coding
package we’ll bring it down here to our pilot coding facility and here is a much
smaller version of our main production facility it’s about a twentieth of the
size. We’ll bring it here and we’ll put each layer into one of these, so we’ll
put non-stress, wetting agent, emulsion layer and then we’ll connect the pumps
and it’s all done by computers our pump rate so we can decide at what rate that
they come through the three slot coating head over here and once they’re coming
through smoothly Sylvia can decide when to push the coating head towards the film
and start coating the package. Check line three. And we can also change the coating
speed to decide how much is laid down which can give us our
characteristics of how much silver is on there. And once that’s done it will go
through the dryer which is in a room behind us.
Once they’ve been incubated we will test them for a range of things such as
granularity and hardness, how much silver is on there is it what we expected and
from there we can decide whether to recoat on our pilot machine or take it
through to production and scale up the whole process. This is the coating plant. The bags of
gelatin emulsion from the emulsion plant are melted at 40 degrees Celsius in a
vessel and mixed with the chemical ingredients to form what is called the
coating circuit. Giant rolls of paper or film are fed through and can be coated
with emulsion at speeds of 3,200 meters per minute. This is number 14 coding
machine there was actually only 12 before and no one wanted to call this
one number 13, superstition! You know we use cascade coating technology so the
solutions will flow through the chamber, out of the exit slot, down the slide and
then the base will come and take those solutions at 40 degrees away from the
coater. The second layer flows right over the top and the third layer over
the top. To see the next part of the process
special jump suits, foot covers and hair nets are required to keep the area as
clean as possible. We’re entering the setting room where freshly coated bases
are cooled on rollers. We chill by contact with cold rollers so we apply a
vacuum to get maximum contact. and then we go into our dryer
where in 19 sections the web of paper or film is dried slowly over time to avoid
imperfections. At the end of the conditioner we have a scanner which is
scanning the web thousands of times per second. It’s looking for changes in
signal, it can be used in transmission or reflection depending on what product
we’re on so it’s looking for change of signal. If it sees a bubble you’ll see
a change of signal that then gets passed to our QC area and they have a pattern
that is printed out both of the length and across the web after the coating process is complete
there’s just one problem. How do you move giant light-sensitive rolls to the next
stage of the process located in an entirely different building? The solution lies in
coffins. They are effectively film roll boxes but we call them coffins because they
looked like coffins. They’re just effectively metal boxes
which the film sits and rests in. It’s light tight clearly, and they are used to
transport the film from the coating area to the finishing area. Before the sensitised base can be turned
into the 35 mm film we all know and love, the metal cassettes must first
be created. That’s where the CMU cassette manufacturing unit comes into play.
Here’s Anthony to tell us more about the process. The CMU line
manufactures the cassettes for film to be put into. It starts off with the sheet which is fed into the machine where it’s stamped with the mouthpiece than this is
flipped over, goes through an oven, a strip of velvet is applied at either
side of the mouthpiece this is then flipped back over by the machine, goes
into the velvet cutter a guillotine cuts it into a single unit. This is then
pushed in to the forming head and its squished into the size of a cassette.
This then travels down the line where a spool is pushed in and an end cap is put
on either side and these are then crimped. After the 35 mm
cassettes are formed they’re moved down the line to marry up with the film. These
machines work hard to perform many small tasks to go from this, to this. OK so we’re on the 35 mm
cassette making line. The first thing that happens is we receive a parent
roll from M14 and it’s slit into 31 pancakes so it’s just 35 mm in
width and it’s around about 600 meters in length. These pancakes are delivered
to the line in light tight boxes. This is a training aid so don’t worry! This pancake is loaded onto a rotary perforating head which creates what we
know as the sprocket holes.The information of the film such as the film
stock, frame numbers, and unique four-digit batch number are also signed
onto the film. Meanwhile a hopper orientates the cassettes into the proper
direction for the barcode to be read ensuring the right film stock is
entering the cassette. The conveyor then takes the cassettes
into the darkroom where the machine spools off either 24 or 36 exposure
rolls. The loaded cassettes then exit the darkroom and head over to packaging. The 120 process is a different story
entirely. Instead of being contained within a
cassette 120 film is wrapped onto a plastic core of paper backing and then
wrapped into a foil wrapper and boxed Film is sent down from our coating machines upstairs in light tight boxes. We transfer those slits over to light tight
magazines and the magazines are loaded onto our roll film machine which places
the film on a core, adds a paper backing, inserts exposed and unexposed labels, and
deposits the final product into a bin. As the bins fill with film a technician
moves them across the room to the foil wrapper machine where film is
transferred to be wrapped in shiny silver. The rolls travel up this conveyor where
they’re sent through the foiling machine. The foil is stamped with the film stock
type and sealed around each roll. A bin full of foil-wrapped rolls is then
collected and sent to the boxing machine. So how do Harman technology ensure
that each roll of film you load into your camera is reliable? That’s where the
quality control specialists come in. They work concurrently with film production
to ensure the line is producing the best possible product. Kevin Clark I do
quality control for Harman technology / ILFORD Photo. This is my kingdom, to
say this is what I enjoy doing the best. My job is to make sure that any work we
produce is top quality and that no faults go out to the customers I’ll be
looking for scratches, repeat marks, anything really. We’ll just get anything
that 14 find, bring it down, process it and then look for the faults. I’d say they
usually get four tests in about every four to five minutes. Roll film would be
about every 15-20 minutes and we have to keep up with it to make sure we don’t
produce any rubbish! At the end of the 35mm
and 120 lines plastic sealed bricks of film are boxed and loaded on the pallets
by the machine. From there they’re sent to the warehouse where they await their
final destinations. My name is Duncan Appleton I’ve been
with ILFORD since 1986. I am the warehouse manager. The warehouse receives
and stows goods manufactured on site. We then receive orders for customers and
we ship them on a daily and weekly basis. So for instance we’ve received this
pallet here from our film production department. We will stow this pallet on
stock until such time we receive a customer order,. where we were split it
down to satisfy that order and we can then ship it both within the UK, within
the European Union, to the USA, Australia we’re effectively shipping globally. The next time you venture into your
local camera shop to buy a roll of ILFORD film you’ll likely already be
contemplating the images you’ll make but perhaps now you’ll also think of the
hard work that goes on behind the film and the dedicated staff at the factory
in Mobberley.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. I first used Ilford films,papers & chemicals more than sixty years ago, as a professional working in England & Australia ; great products !

  2. I was forwarded this link by a friend, and I just sat down to enjoy viewing it, but please allow me to post a few requests:

    1. Never stop making rolls of B&W film.
    2. Never stop making sheets of B&W film.
    3. BRING BACK Cibachrome/Ilfochrome! (including the microfilm variants!)


  3. What a brilliant film. A hugely impressive factory and bunch on people.
    I'm a bit of a camera spotter – I often glance at people's cameras just to be nosy and I'm always surprised by how many people still use film, hopefully plenty of them using Ilford.

  4. Some 40 odd years ago I was the darkroom technician / quality controller in a small east coast seaside town in Yorkshire processing all the colour (C35 process) and black and white films and transparencies, before passing the processed films onto the girls making the actual paper prints. I remember it was such a great time for me at the tender age of 17…..! 🤔

  5. I have to say, I had thought Ilford had gone the way of so many other non-digital companies, but it's great to see they are still going. Their film still has a special place in my heart from learning photography as a boy, and later doing my own developing and printing. The real groundbreaker for me was the Ilfospeed resin coated papers that gave such stunning finishes.
    Long may you continue!

  6. I wonder what will happen to this industry when these people retire? Do the management has program to train new young people for it or something else – I am simply curious.

  7. Greetings to All of you … from a retired ex-colleague in Marly … had a great time together … good luck for the future !

  8. This brings back memories from the 1980s when I worked in a photo laboratory in Norway. In my mind is black and white the real thing.

  9. Really impressed to see the efforts made by Ilford lately, really a great sign for the analog community! HP5 is one of the best b/w films 🙂

  10. I used to work at the Kodak factory producing film and paper in Harrow until it closed. The Ilford and Kodak manufacturing processes are so  similar.

  11. This beautifully-made video shows perfectly how Harman has succeeded in keeping their great Ilford products alive. The dedication and care with which the people at Mobberley is impressive. Long may it continue!

  12. B&W Film photography, and processing is really magical. I remember my son at 8 years old in my darkroom seeing for the first time an image come up on paper in the developer, it was just like magic to as well. I no longer do film, or darkroom, but maybe one day I will get back to it.

  13. Love ILFORD films and paper too. I still have some unopened HP5 Plus 400 and Delta 100 films. Amazing films with Oriental Seagull papers too.

  14. Wonderful production. I've used Ilford films since the late 1960's and is still my preference for Mamiya C330 twin-lens reflex camera. The film has a smooth and deep tonal range.

  15. It is great to see that Ilford Photo is still producing real film in this digital age. I used Iford in the late 70s in my Minolta SR101. Best wishes to you all at Ilford.

  16. I had a tour round the factory years ago. It was fascinating. Look out for the ILFORD factory if you land at Manchester Airport.

  17. Superb film – enjoyed every minute. The portraits of the staff at the end were brilliant (I'd love to have taken them LOL.) Timmee on Purpleport.

  18. I feel so thankful for all this people that makes possible our art, knowing about this makes me love more and more photography

  19. What a great video. Thank you very much. Makes me want to load my Hasselblad with a 120 HP5 and go shooting 🙂

  20. Magic and superb quality – I worked in Ilford for 30+ years and this so evocative of that time, remember M14 man Kevin Hodgson from when in R+D. The technology is mature now, but your clips of the fantastic kit show well what an incredibly technological product people are using. Amazed to see roll film still in production, backing paper rarely mentioned, yet the source of much angst in my day following complaints from the illustrious David Bailey. 35mm high-speed slitter sourced from Agfa engineers, I was lucky to meet their teams in Germany, we had Slivovitz competitions! Well done and thank you.

  21. So whose gonna replace these guys? Not to be rude but they're old and need to pass on the knowledge before it's lost

  22. Ilford, in my opinion, has always been the bomb with its wide array of film offerings to us folk still wanting to capture images on film. I've been with Ilford products since my early start in photography in 1972. Thankyou for giving me a lifetime of fun. Believe me when I tell you I have some 40 year old stock still in my freezer. 12 % additional development time is all that's needed.

  23. Thanks a alot for this video. I'm an Ilford film lover! Long live to film! You can see my photos here (my favourite film is the FP4 )

  24. My dead grandfather shot Ilford 125 monochrome film. I never got to know him, and his pictures were never found. But to this day, i am a loyal customer of photographic Ilford film.

  25. Great film. Did my first two years of photography study from 1988-90 just a few miles from Mobberly, at Mid Cheshire College of Art. One of my classmates went on to work at Ilford. Great products. Great people.

  26. Enjoyed this video, and thanks for putting it together. Good job..
    mit freundlichem Gruß aus dem Schaumburger Land


  27. Now I know where my favorite film comes from. Thank you guys for your work, I'll keep using your excellent product to create my best pictures. Best regards from Berlin!

  28. It says a lot when employees work for a company for so long and still enjoy their work 👍 I use Ilford film and I will use even more now 📷🙏👏

  29. Very nice video. Thank you for producing wonderful black and white films. Love classical emulsions like HP5, FP4, but Delta's are very nice too. And don't forget XP2. You can have perfect b&w photos from film which ca be developed in every lab with C-41 process. Excellent possibility.

  30. thank you for showing this process & congrats for decision to continue manufacture of a beautiful old craft pity digital has done so much harm to traditional film

  31. this is a pure pleasure for me a big thank you this will serve as preserved craft for future peoples to view as history

  32. Great to be reminded about analog photography. Unfortunately, for Ilford, there is an "elephant in the room" that nobody is talking about. Films are in demand so long as there are cameras, and …… nobody is making film cameras anymore, with the exception of specialist cameras. So as the film camera stock dwindles away through aging, lost, wear and tear, etc, the market will be in relentless decline.

  33. YOU are our heroes. The cornerstone of film photography outside of any welcome diy film fashion and industry destroy-go-away and comebackers.

    I buy ilford more than I can consume and share with others.

    Thank YOU very much.

  34. What a lovely documentary about my most favourite film manufacturing company! Please do more of these videos – say on 35mm bulk rolls, large format films, PS papers and so on. I love Delta 100, FP4+ and HP5+. Thank you very much. 🙂

  35. I'm shooting Ilford films. And i had watched old Kodak's film production movie. But this Ilford's one is wonderful. And seeing the film's life span from the start to end is fantastic feeling that we always shooted film brand.

  36. Thank you, that was a great pleasure to watch. HP5 still my favorite for reportages ( i push it from 3200 to 6400 iso ) and portrait ( 400 to 1600 iso ). Those people work there for such a long time, its impressive. Woud love to meet them. is it possible to visit the factory ? And to buy films there ? Your films are going to be more expansive after the brexit ?

  37. Make me so proud that I'm not only using a fantastic product but also using a 100% British product. I only use ilford. Thank you for all your hard work in producing an outstanding film.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *