In the small group of pioneers that brought a new industry to life in the 1960s, the youngest was an apprentice, Keith Fidgett, and it was the sad news that Keith had lost his wife Jean, that brought memories of those challenging days back to mind. The enterprise which began life as Westwind Turbines Ltd in 1963 was established to develop and manufacture Britain’s first generation of industrial tools incorporating gas lubricated bearings based upon fundamental research carried out at the University of Southampton. After supplying international markets with a range of drilling spindles with air bearings, the company changed its name to Westwind Air bearings, a name it trades under to this day.
If Keith Fidgett was the youngest at Westwind in the 1960s, Walter Kammerling was one of the oldest. A refugee from the Nazi takeover of Austria, Walter had come to England at the age of 16 and gained professional qualifications in both mechanical and electrical engineering. As chief engineer he played a central role in the practical application of the new technology, and turning forty in 1964 he was the senior member of a relatively youthful team. Now 91, Walter Kammerling has recently released the harrowing story of his family’s fate in the holocaust. He is remembered by his workmates at Westwind for his high professional skills and total integrity.
The secret of manufacturing air bearings was to realise a new level of precision engineering and in the early days this involved the process of honing at a level of skill perhaps never previously achieved. But for the genius of Lesley Somers the early gas lubricated machines might never have been produced with the required accuracy. Still using the old Imperial unit of inches in the 1960s, Lesley could adjust a bearing bore diameter by a tenth of a thousandth of an inch in what he would cheerfully call a quick tickle. Les, as he was known to his workmates, was for many years the jovial Welsh heart of a precision manufacturing operation.
Playing a key role in the creation of new products was development engineer, Michael Tempest. A veteran of a gas lubrication experimental programme at Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd, Mike came to Westwind to see the technology applied in manufacturing industry. As an essential contributor to the introduction of a series of innovative products, Mike Tempest served Westwind until retirement and was retained as a consultant for several years after.
Only a few of the pioneers have been mentioned, but Westwind Air Bearings is still manufacturing high-speed precision micro-hole drilling spindles for the worlds electronics industries and claims to command seventy percent of the global market. Most of the computers, mobile telephones and other widely used electronic aids to modern life contain micro holes drilled by Westwind products. The company has provided thousands of person-years of employment and earned millions of pounds from export sales, thanks to that happy band of pioneers and many worthy heirs who have succeeded them.