Business is not always about boardrooms, briefings and black coffee. So, in tribute to those who take a more unusual approach to enterprise, Deputy Business Editor Steven Hugill examines the unconventional, alternative or downright difficult careers in the North-East

MODEL enthusiasts' passion for wartime figures and vehicles continues to grow at a rapid pace as collectors yearn to recreate and remember significant moments in time. Chris Ford, 43, runs Enigma Design Services, in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, which designs moulds for mini models.

How did your career start?

I LEFT grammar school at 16 and joined a toolmaking firm as an apprentice toolmaker. A toolmaker makes injection mould tools and has nothing to do with spanners. After moving through the manufacturing process, I moved into the drawing office and was involved in the early days of 3D CAD-CAM design and production methods, while being trained as a tool designer.

What are the origins of your company?

AFTER 11 years, I left and set up on my own as a sub contract, self employed tool designer. In 2004 we became a limited company and continued to use the latest 3D software for product design and mould tool design. We got involved in more and more product design over the years, and we now do a mix of tool design and product design.

How did you get involved with wartime figures?

WE were approached by manufacturers within the wargames industry to produce tool designs, and then got involved in the product design of things. We have designed or been involved in minature vehicles, buildings, figurines and other things for the wargames industry, and this is one area we have decided to expand into.

We recently moved into new offices, and expanded our workforce to enable us to add more products to the things that we can do. As well as purchasing more computers and hiring more staff, we have also purchased a high quality 3D printer, which allows us to print out the models and figures we are designing.

This means we can make sure that they are correct before expensive tool manufacture takes place.

Are you looking to develop your company further?

WE are aiming to bring the 3D printing to the wargamer, and wargames clubs through a new website. We are also looking at producing our own scale buildings for the wargames market, in injection moulded hard plastic, in a way that nobody will have seen before. We are very excited about this, and are beavering away in preparation for its unveiling.

What is it like to work in the plastic industry?

MOST people don't realise the amount of work and expense that goes into manufacturing plastic parts, and assume that all plastic parts and products now come from China.

This is a very big misconception. If you went back 25 years there were still plenty of large industrial factories, employing hundreds of people at a time, in visible buildings. Now there are a lot less people, in smaller businesses, in clean industrial units doing the same amount of work as before. What took six months to make can now be done in about ten weeks thanks to advances in technology.

The type of work the UK plastics industry is involved has changed as well, and it mostly now serves a high tech, high value sector such as the automotive, medical and telecommunications industries. Most of the cheaper consumer goods come from China.

What is the future of the industry?

AS a business, we have decided to move more into making things for ourselves to sell, rather than just making other peoples products for them to sell, and we are hopeful of continuing our expansion in the future.

The industry desperately needs high quality people to come into it, the lack of proper and meaningful apprenticeships over the last 20 years has resulted in a major shortage of knowledge and skills.

Industry has managed to cope up until now because the number of people in manufacturing has reduced as advances in technology have improved. But we are moving into the danger zone where there will no longer be enough skills to go around. Manufacturing has the capacity to expand and do much more for our economy, but could well be held back from contributing more because of a lack of people capable of doing the job.

Producing skilled engineers is not something we can do in a short time, it takes many years of training. Much has changed, but for anyone looking for a career in these difficult times, they should seriously consider engineering and manufacturing.