J Atkinson & Co.

The Organisation

J Atkinson and Co., based in Lancaster, supply a large number of cafes across north Lancashire and beyond, as well as shop customers, with roasted coffee. They have a long working relationship with Lancaster University - whom they supply with coffee - and have benefited from student expertise through industry-focused PhDs.


The Challenge

The Uno 7lb roaster, which was originally built in London in 1919, was salvaged from Liverpool’s famous Lewis’ department store when it closed in 2010, by Ian Steel, owner of specialist Lancaster-based coffee roasters J Atkinson and Co. However, after inspecting his purchase, Mr Steel discovered that several key components were broken or missing.

Seeking help to get the 7lb Uno roaster back in working order, Mr Steel contacted the Engineering Engagement Team within Lancaster University, which helps small businesses grow by providing engineering support to develop products and services.

Skills Sought

  • 3D model designing skills
  • Design drawing skills

The Solution

Engineering graduate Craig McAlister, who is also studying for an MSc at Lancaster University, identified and redesigned the missing parts using 3D modelling software, as well as addressing technical and maintenance issues – despite having no original drawings available. He produced design drawings that will enable J Atkinson and Co. to get the replacement parts manufactured and bring the roaster back to life.


This project was part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the university’s Sustainable Design for Rapid/Additive Manufacturing: Engineering Design Academy (SusDRAM:EDA), a programme of technical business support for companies in the northwest of England.


The project got the Uno roaster working again, and allowed J Atkinson & Co. to sell “genuine artisan coffee,” and “let more people enjoy coffee like they were doing almost a century ago.”

Benefits to the company

  • Provided J Atkinson & Co. with a unique selling point
  • Increased the company’s product range

Benefits to the university

  • Developed the university’s knowledge of 3D modelling and 100-year-old manufacturing techniques

Benefits to society

  • Enabled more people to enjoy coffee like they were doing almost a century ago

Company Feedback

“The Uno is an amazing, elegant piece of design, including a beautiful A-frame and a drum, and it roasts the most amazing coffee. We have a larger 14lb Uno in our shop, which is 70 years old and wins competitions, beating more technologically-advanced modern machines.

“This is genuine artisan coffee. The Uno heats the beans from the centre of the barrel using an open flame, resulting in a more complex flavour. It is a real novelty thing and it is a lovely addition to our stable of roasters. My dream would be to put these Uno machines back into production – it would be fantastic to be able to revive such an elegant, simple design and let more people enjoy coffee like they were doing almost a century ago.” Ian Steel, Owner, J Atkinson & Co.

Student Feedback

“There were broken parts, which we were able to do 3D models of fairly easily, but then there were parts completely missing, such as a clutch control handle; a drum tap and pulley wheel; and a pulley system for the belt drive. This meant there was a lot of creative design required. It has been a very interesting challenge because it is a very old piece of kit - almost 100 years old - it was fascinating for me to get an insight into some of the old manufacturing techniques.” Craig McAlister, Engineering MSc, Lancaster University.

Future Plans

The company plans to continue their collaborative relationship with Lancaster University.