THE PART PLAYED BY EVODE LTD
IN THE HISTORY OF THE
UK CERAMIC TILE ADHESIVE INDUSTRY

Before the 1950’s ceramic tiles were always fixed in a traditional cement/sand mortar bed, as had been the case from the availability of ordinary Portland cement in the middle of the 19th. century, around the same time as Minton Hollins manufactured the first dust pressed tile in Stoke-on-Trent. Prior to this time mixtures of lime, sand and sometimes pozzalanic fuel ash were used, especially in Roman and Greek cities such as Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Around 1950 Andrew Cornes, a director of UK tile manufacturer Richards Tiles, had visited the USA and had seen a new method of fixing ceramic wall tiles which had impressed him greatly. The speed and accuracy of fixing with no mixing of raw materials and hence a reduced chance of mixing errors convinced him that here was a wonderful opportunity to grow the ceramic tile market.

On his return from the USA he invited a number of well-known adhesive companies, such as Bostik and Dunlop, to develop a product along the lines of the American technology. Evode Ltd., who by now were producing solvented adhesives for laminate bonding ( Evo-stik “Impact” Adhesive ) were not on the original list of companies invited to submit a tile adhesive formulation. However, Dr. Simon, always the entrepreneur, learned of the project and asked that Evode Ltd. be included. This was agreed and culminated in the Evode formulation being selected by tiling contractors as the best of the developments.

The product was based on reclaim rubber and solvent which gave it high grab ( non-slip ) and good adhesion. It has to be said that the adhesive was not altogether user friendly as it was black in colour with a strong odour of petroleum solvent. Nevertheless, it was launched by Messrs Richards Tiles and was branded “ Richafix “; not surprisingly, it became known as “ black Richafix “.

Over the next six or seven years Richafix became the generic name of ceramic tile adhesives – the “ Hoover “ of the tile industry. The relatively short life of “ black Richafix “ ended in 1959 with the launch of a water borne ready mixed based on styrene butadiene rubber ( SBR ). The product was branded Richafix Green Seal and continued to be made in Stafford by Evode Ltd, who had carried out the development work.

Towards the end of the fifties two significant technical developments occurred. The first saw the availability of a new synthetic polymer ideal for making a ready mixed ceramic tile adhesive. Polyvinyl acetate, which could accept high loadings of filler and did not age like rubber, became a popular binder for tile adhesive and companies such as Nicobond Ltd. of London launched a very successful white PVA-based product. Then, we saw the introduction of the “ thin-set mortars “, products formulated around white Portland cement which could be used at a bed thickness of 3mm. Pilkington Tiles of Manchester promoted these systems which became generically known as CTF ( Ceramic Tile Fixative ). There was CTF 1, CTF 2 and CTF Flooring, the latter being based on grey OPC and being the first time that a thin bed proprietary adhesive product had been developed for floor tiling. The late fifties and early sixties was a revolutionary period in the ceramic tile industry; a new tile body was introduced with new manufacturing methods and we witnessed the launch of many new installation products.

Evode continued to manufacture both water borne and solvented tile adhesives under the Richafix brand into the 1960’s; Green , Gold, Red and Blue Seal were all established Richafix brands.

Both commercial and domestic installations adopted the new fixing systems and tiling contractors readily accepted adhesives for wall tiling for internal situations as their use did not require tiles to be pre-soaked prior to fixing. Adhesive fixing was about four times faster than cement/sand, there was no on site mixing of materials ( often a source of problems ), no problems due to variations in sands, higher bond strength and far less likelihood of tiles crazing. The new thin bed cementitious adhesives could be used internally, externally and in total immersion conditions. The widespread adoption of adhesive fixing for floor tiles came some years later, in the 1970’s, especially for large commercial installations where traditional cement/sand, the separating layer technique and the semi dry mix methods were preferred to adhesives as it was necessary to have a good flat screed laid initially to allow adhesive fixing to be feasible.

It was in this climate of rapid technology change that the tile manufacturers in the British Ceramic Tile Council, who were becoming increasingly concerned over the “ unproven durability “ of adhesive technology, decided to form a company whose task was to develop and sell a high quality range of these new fixing systems, backed by a comprehensive Technical Advisory Service. Thus, Building Adhesives Limited was formed in 1963 and the now familiar BAL brand was born.

However, Evode Ltd. continued to manufacture product for BAL as it was not until 1967 that the latter began to install the capacity to manufacture its own products. Initially, in late 1967, it was the cementitious products ( adhesives and grouts ) and then in 1974 a ready mixed plant was installed. This signalled the end of the Evode/BAL relationship which for 11 years had seen a spectacular growth in the use of adhesives for fixing tiles.

The break up of the relationship with BAL enabled Evode to launch its own range of ceramic tile fixing products under the Evo-Stik brand name. The principal ready mixed adhesive was branded Evo-Stik Hi-White CTA and shortly afterwards a water resistant adhesive, Evo-Stik Watertite, was added. The range also included cementitious and rubber crumb modified synthetic latex cement adhesives as well as grouts.

The initial impact of the Evo-Stik launch saw three of the UK’s leading specialist tile distributors transfer their business from BAL to Evode. Ramus Tile in London, Midland Tile in Stourbridge and Glazed and Floor Tile Supplies in Manchester and Sutton Coldfield, along with many other distributors, stocked the Evo-Stik brand because they knew and trusted the proven technology and they appreciated the strength in the market of the Evo-Stik name. Throughout the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s Evode technical staff played a prominent role in the development of British Standard Codes of Practice for wall and floor tiling and British and European Standards for ceramic tile adhesives.

In those early days many of the tile businesses were family proprietorial concerns who generally on a regional basis. Tile design in the sixties was generally quite limited and basic. Johnsons vein and cameo tiles under the Cristal brand and Pilkintons Cosmic design being the most popular of the patterned tiles. The vast majority of tiles sold then were 41/4 in. x 41/4in. x 5/32in. ; imported tiles occupied a very small percentage of tiles sold and H&R Johnson had around 65% market share in 1970.

The next significant change in the industry saw the introduction onto the high street of the specialist DIY retail shops, forerunners of todays “ sheds “. One in particular, Calypso DIY, had several shops in the Midlands and Regent Warehouse ( forerunner of Great Mills ) was developing in the North and Midlands. This was also the early days of Topps Tiles, now the biggest UK DIY tile retailer.

These outlets with a number of shops demanded a direct account with manufacturers and would not entertain being supplied by distributors. Evode Ltd. were presented with a critical decision – to continue to supply the specialist tile distributors and lose out on the emerging DIY market or to gamble on the latter and risk losing the former. Because of the opportunity of selling other products in the Evo-Stik range eg. sealants, contact adhesives, soft flooring adhesives, etc. the decision was taken to open direct accounts with these new outlets. The effect was immediate as many of the specialist tile distributors returned to BAL.

Nevertheless, Evode developed its range of consumer and trade adhesives, sealants, waterproofing products, timber finishes, etc. and established a healthy market share in its chosen sector. In more recent years, assisted by the strength of its sister company in Ireland, Evode Industries, the Evode Technik brand was launched into the trade and specialist tile distributor sector. The acquisition by Bostik/ATO Findley has given the brand more “ muscle “ and the Evo-Stik brand name continues to be one of the most recognised brands in the adhesive industry, thus keeping alive the link with the introduction of Europe’s first commercial ceramic tile adhesive.

Written by Mike Wheat, August 2006