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Cheshire photography legend makes ‘multi-million’ investment in future of analogue film

A Cheshire business is cementing its place as a world-leader in manufacturing analogue film following a multi-million-pound investment, as demand continues to swell for traditional forms of photography.

Harman Technology, the maker of the renowned Ilford brand, among others, is undertaking one of the most significant film modernisation projects of the 21st century, designing and building two new state-of-the-art converting machines – the first to be produced since before the millennium.

The new kit, which will more than double the number of film cassettes Harman produces every year, has been designed from scratch and custom-built for the business. The equipment allows Harman to manufacture the metal cassettes that house the film, before ‘spooling’ the 35mm photographic film into the cassettes and boxing them ready to be shipped around the world.

Greg Summers, managing director at Harman Technology, said: “This type of equipment has not been commissioned by film manufacturers since the 1990s. So, the team has had to start from scratch, designing the equipment from the ground up, introducing modern standards of throughput and automation.”

The investment, supported by a multi-year, multi-million funding package from Lloyds Bank, is part of Harman’s ambition to fast-track innovation in an industry characterised by its vintage processes and equipment.

Harman Technology is the UK’s only film manufacturer and one of only two companies globally with the capacity to produce, package and distribute millions of film rolls to photographers around the world. Its facility is operated by 200 staff based on its 48-acre site in Mobberley, from which it ships to over 85 countries. This includes a burgeoning R&D team – believed to be the largest in the world dedicated to advancing film research, reinforcing the business’ commitment to safeguarding the future of analogue film.

Demand for analogue photography is surging, with the so-called ‘Newtro culture’ gathering momentum and pushing renewed growth in sectors that predate the adoption of digital technologies, such as knitting and vinyl records. In fact, the global film camera market value is set to reach almost £311 million by 2030, growing by 5.2% each year from £223.2 million in 2023.

Sales of Ilford film, probably the world’s best-known black and white film and dating back to 1879, have been growing steadily over the last decade, with the business standing alongside Kodak and Fujifilm as film community stalwarts.

Alongside film, Harman also produces photographic chemicals, darkroom papers and associated equipment and has recently launched Harman Phoenix 200, its first ever colour film made entirely in the UK, and a major milestone for both the company and industry.

This investment will also serve to support businesses in the wider film industry, who rely on Harman to help with manufacturing and distributing their own products.

Summers added: “Film photography is a passion, not just a hobby, for millions of people across the world. Analogue cameras and skills have been passed down through generations, and we’re seeing new people fall in love with the format of film photography every day. However, users have limited choice and manufacturers are battling old machinery and processes, and replacement parts that just don’t exist anymore. We’re taking a huge leap to address that with this investment.

“Our hub in Mobberley is going to become a centre of photographic excellence, as we aim to pioneer new ways to manufacture, produce and develop 35mm – both black and white and colour. It’s now a better time than ever to push resources into our team and build on the market’s momentum. We’re making sure that we have a wealth of young talent that is ready to take the reins from industry veterans, combining their experience with innovative processes to produce the future of film photography.”

The eight-figure funding package from Lloyds Bank included support for working capital, invoice finance, asset finance, export financing and capital import finance.

Susie Power, relationship director at Lloyds Bank, said: “Harman has truly tapped into the needs and wants of its customers, making sure that film photography remains an accessible passion for them, both now and in the future. Along with reinvigorating the market with the introduction of its new experimental colour film, its dedication to the analogue film community and re-inventing age-old processes makes Harman a true leader in its field…We’re excited to be supporting a business that puts its community at the forefront and strives to sustain film photography for generations to come.”

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