Making a shopping list

20150114_064139A really important part of the visit to Liuyang is to see product demonstrations. Every single night, I have been outside watching demos and you know what? It is bloomin’ freezing when you are sitting still for over an hour.

Some factories specialise in just one type of firework, such as aerial shells. Others produce a wider range of materials and hence the demonstrations for these can be longer. The largest one I went to featured over 70 different fireworks and effects. That’s a lot to take in and remember, and so we are given mark sheets. To a certain extent, it’s like being back in the classroom.

After two or three demos, one’s brain becomes a bit saturated and so the group comes together to review and share thoughts on all of the material seen so far.

We go through our notes whilst watching videos of the demos we’ve seen. The video is a really helpful reminder.

The conversations are around the blend of effects and the markets that they are suitable for. There are three areas that we are looking at this week: Consumer retail goods, professional fireworks and stage pyrotechnics. The requirements of each are very different. For consumer material, we have to think about the calibre, height and burst diameter. We are also considering mine effects in cakes; stars that erupt from the ground around the main projectile to fill the lower part of the sky. There is a surprising difference in quality and spread – basically, you wouldn’t want to have too large a spread on a firework if it is intended to be lit by hand!

We are also looking for symmetry of spherical bursts and consistency of height in multi-shot materials. This varied quite a lot for some manufacturers, something that I hadn’t really appreciated until now.

Lab testingSome of the more sophisticated factories have introduced detailed testing and analysis of the raw ingredients and finished powder mixtures. One factory that I visited has automated several of its processes, including installing a machine that fills cakes, ensuring that even the cardboard discs are all pushed in to the same level in every single tube. Both of these can have an effect on the performance height of a projectile.

The group has some very detailed discussions about certain fireworks, freeze-framing the video and almost doing a frame-by-frame dissection of the effects. In some cases, we’ve decided to take the mine of one and blend it with the aerial glittering effect of another. This is how much control we have over the fireworks. I can’t give any specific details as some of this is commercially sensitive information; I’ve been sworn to secrecy!

A lot of people ask me if we customise or design fireworks for import – this is exactly what is going on in this meeting.

As this particular group imports shop goods and is the largest importer of professional (Category 4) fireworks to the United Kingdom, what you see in the shops and at many UK professional displays in late Summer and Autumn 2015 will be a direct result of this meeting.

Cool, eh?