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Latest email newsletter from Modratec


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Hi, I imagine most posters in this section will have seen the Modratec announcement, but for those that haven't...

 

"Dear MODRATEC Shop Newsletter Subscriber,

MODRATEC NEEDS YOUR BRIGHT IDEAS!

The bottom line is that I have made the decision that MODRATEC cannot continue as it is.

I am finding that the stress of trying to keep on top of the manufacturing side of the business is threatening my health. You may not realise that I personally make almost every component of every lever frame and every WIT part that MODRATEC sells. Very little is outsourced. This is a "cottage industry" based in our garage.

I have reached a stage in my life when most people have fully retired.

I could do that by simply "pulling the pin" on MODRATEC. But I know that our many clients believe in the MODRATEC lever frame and interlocking system, and I don't want to let you down.

That is why I need your bright ideas.

How can I reduce my work load without disappointing our customers?

One obvious answer is to sell the business, but this is very much a business of niche products for a very limited market. A buyer would need to be as obsessed as I am with railway signalling principles and their application to model railways. They would also need to recognise that this business is not so much about profit as it is about service.

Another possibility that often percolates in my brain is that our products may better suit a cooperative approach - a MODRATEC club whose members use their varied skills, tools, and talents to develop, market, and manufacture. Such a club would ideally be international. Anyone familiar with MERG (merg.org.uk) will see how a club approach to model railway technologies can work very successfully.

And you may have many more fresh ideas.

I am an engineer and designer. I am not a marketer or an entrepreneur. I don't have pots of money with which to buy expertise. That is why I need your help in the form of ideas about how to allow MODRATEC's technologies to persist.

It shocked me to discover that I had not sent out a newsletter for almost exactly three years! That, in itself, is symptomatic of why it is crunch time for me and for the business. Much has changed in three years. My wife and I have packed up a house and a workshop and relocated. We have set up (ongoing!) a new home. We have set up (ongoing!) a new workshop. We have built sheds and a large pergola. We have paved. We have dug garden beds. We have planted and tended. And I've aged three years - at least!

I feel exhausted all over again just reminding myself of all that activity. I'm sure that you will understand that, as a result of the last three years, it has not been possible to offer the high level of service to our customers that had previously been our hallmark. We have several orders that are significantly delayed, and I feel really bad about that. There have been health impacts - nothing too severe - but these can all be traced back to the stress that the business is generating for me, and suggest very strongly that it's time for change.

I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me. I am simply telling it how it is and seeking any thoughts that you may have about how to keep MODRATEC alive.

Our customers are a very varied group. There are currently nearly 3,500 of you registered with us. You come from all over the world, predominantly from UK, continental Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. That is why I expect great ideas to come forth.

I really look forward to your responses. Please feel free to spread the word.

Keep sending the right signals!

Regards,
Harold
(Proprietor)
MODRATEC"

 

 

It would be a tragedy for the hobby if Modratec were to fold, but I'm sure there are some amongst the regular posters on here who will have ideas and/or the ability to help?

 

I should point out that I'm not involved with Modratec in any way.

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It’s a common problem for hobby industries , and we have lost many small concerns to old age or exhaustion over the years. 

 

There’s no easy answer. Open source the plans and cad etc and maybe hope for the best , this is what essentially Martin Wynne is doing with Templot , either that or try and “ give it away “ in the hope a new supplier will take up the challenge 

 

 

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  • 1 year later...
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Sad to hear that Harold's partner has fallen ill. I've only bought one modratec frame, but I found Harold to be incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, always replying to emails next-day (noting, of course, the time zone difference...) and replacing an incorrect part very quickly.

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While not a Modratec customer, yet, I have found the products to be very interesting and perhaps someday, depending on where I see my layout going, I could see me using some of the lever frames.  I have to say that I find Harold's approach an interesting one - ask the hobby for some ideas to keep at least your concept/product alive rather than just closing the thing up whereby everyone loses (I have in mind an entity that produced card models of Southern stations and signal boxes).  I think this foresight is commendable.

 

For an idea. Would it be possible to put the various drawings and some descriptive narrative into a pdf format that could be either downloadable to the masses or sold at a somewhat modest cost through a self publishing entity? Could at least some of his things be uploaded to something like shapeways so that they will be around for a long time? 

 

Again, not being that familiar with his products, I am very interested to learn more and will look through the Modratec website to get a better idea of the products and perhaps make a suggestion or two that hopefully may help.

 

Just some thoughts.

 

Dave

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Rather saddened to read this, but I do appreciate his predicament.  Whilst I have not had any of his frames, I have been very impressed by what I have seen and would be disappointed to see them disappear from the market.

 

I thought about the MERG approach - which for the benefit of those who don't know, means the club sells a large range of kits which have been packed by volunteer members, who order electronic components from a supplier like Rapid in quantities big enough to get discount but consistent with a saleable batch size and pack them up as kits.  I used to be one of those volunteers, although MERG has now discontinued the particular SuperBloc range of DC controller kits that I was doing.  I wasn't the designer - just the bloke who made up the packets for another volunteer to look after the sales side, whilst other people put together the various other kits available to members.     

 

Unfortunately I'm not sure the workload of Modratec can be split up as easily between a group of people in the same way - because I infer that Harold is personally machining brass components etc rather than using laser cutting etc.  I assume some of these components are standard and an order could be met by one person collating the bits with another volunteer producing the levers whilst other members of the group  made the frame, sectors etc.  However they would all need to have suitable skills and machine tools.  On top of that, other parts, notably tappets make well be bespoke.

 

One other point I would make is that such a group should probably be UK-based, if that's where most of the demand and technical knowledge of interlocking is.

 

Another conceivable but perhaps sacrilegious approach would be a plastics solution, using CAD, 3d printing etc.  That's if there is a material sufficiently robust and hard-wearing to be up to the job.  Solidity is the name of the game in mechanical interlocking.

 

For what it's worth my gut feel for this is that he is correct in calling it a cottage industry, and I think that's where the market size is.  I think his approach remains the right way to do it, and the ideal answer would be for somebody younger to buy him out.  It won't be easy for him in Oz to find a suitable buyer as anybody with knowledge of British mechanical signalling is most likely to be a Brit. 

 

Whatever the outcome, I wish him and his good lady a long and happy retirement and the best for their health.

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  • 3 weeks later...

An update it seems.... 

 

MODRATEC. Get on board and join the Club!

It's been quite a while, and I apologise for that. Back in November 2019, I asked for your bright ideas.

Overwhelmingly, you offered support and encouragement. Many of you expressed your belief that MODRATEC should continue in some form - that it is too important a concept to be allowed to just fade away. I am enormously gratified by that, and I BELIEVE THAT IT WILL CONTINUE.

Although I have had contact with some of you since that last newsletter, for many, my "disappearance" will seem mysterious. Initially, I closed the order book so that I could catch up with things. However, soon after that, my wife, Noela, became unwell, and my time needed to be very much concentrated on my devotion and care for her. I am very pleased to report that Noela is now definitely on the mend.

I had also explored the possibility of selling MODRATEC. Although a couple of possibilities did develop, I didn't have the time or energy to pursue these to any conclusion. The COVID crisis didn't help either. In any case, I really feel that MODRATEC is best suited to a non-commercial model. Consequently, I have made the decision to make most of MODRATEC's designs public domain via the mechanism of an online club.

When it comes to manufacturing parts, some people will have the ability and equipment to "do their own thing". Others may be willing to make parts for club members at a negotiated price. Such "cottage manufacturing" could be based in many countries and thereby minimise any shipping costs. Members of the club could collectively develop designs for the benefit of all. There is always room for improvement in any design, and SigScribe4 is certainly well overdue for an update.

At this stage, the one element of MODRATEC that I would retain initially is to provide the interlocking solution required to actually build a working frame. Naturally, this is not required for non-interlocking frames.

So, how do we form this club? How do we make it all happen?

I think that the first step is to recruit a team of advisers so that a suitable club or association model can be devised. I would particularly value the input of people who have direct involvement in existing online clubs.

To that end, please let me know if you are willing to become involved in this way. Just send me an email outlining your particular area of interest or expertise indicating any relevant first-hand experience. Let me know. too, where you are based (time zone considerations), and what experience you have of using MODRATEC products. I would then set up an online meeting so that we can begin the planning process.

I really hope that you find this idea positive an exciting. I look forward to hearing from you..

Please feel free to share this message with anyone else, any groups, that you feel could be interested.

Regards and best wishes,
Harold Fanshawe
MODRATEC

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