My employment by Evode began Friday, May 1 1970, although by agreement with Barry Jackson I started work the following Monday. I was working before that in Kent with Berry Wiggins, bitumen refiners and manufacturers of various bitumen products. Here I came in contact with Evode products. When in the laboratory a new product was being tested it was often compared with the Evode equivalent product which was usually the best available. When I announced I had obtained a job at Evode my immediate superior tried to talk me out of it because he said at Evode they have to run to just stand still, and I would have an easier life if I stayed with them.
My job at Evode was in the laboratory working on sealants with Dr Malcolm Welch as chief chemist and Dr Barry Jackson as Director. Barry was in charge of the top floor of the laboratory block. Downstairs was a different world run by John Chard under the direction of V. Vohralik. My first assignment was extruded strip sealants. Evostrip was a tough material but was cracking and needed some adjustment of the formulation. I also worked on a cross linked butyl strip which had very good adhesion. I recall being very nervous speaking to an international conference of Evode licensees on these sealants in the presence of Dr Simon. Later an intumescent strip was added which became part of a fire retardant range.
Dick Osborne was the other sealant chemist. He had developed a very good oil-based sealant GX-5. There were however problems with manufacture and despite all efforts the product was withdrawn. All products were tested for at least a year before being sold. Dick went on to successfully develop the Evode range of silicone sealants with most of the testing being carried out by John Ritchie.
As new polymers came available we would try to find uses for them. EPDM rubber was an interesting product but the sealant proved a sticky mess which would not set. A few days later there was the requirement for a non-setting sealant for British Gypsum and the product was ready to hand - or rather still in the waste bin! This same polymer was later used for the lead-free fishing weight.
The technology drove the company. There were more than one hundred employees on the technical staff. We believed we could do anything, and so did the sales force. With the galloping inflation caused by the oil crisis costs had to be kept in tight control and considerable efforts were put in to 'value engineering'. Particular efforts were made to reduce costs of making Flashband by waste reduction, cheaper release paper and thinner foil by using aluminium alloy instead of pure aluminium.
Not many sealants were based on bitumen but Barry Jackson had invented Flashband and this was in the remit of the sealants section. Production soared and the product was extremely profitable. So when problems occurred with the mass shrinking away from the aluminium foil Dr Simon soon had us all in his office wanting action. I had temperature recorders put on the mixers to follow the mixing cycle and perhaps understand the process better. The result was unexpected. The night shift had a long break late at night and then rushed to catch up. The 'shrinkers' were these batches, which were less well mixed. The problem was over.
A major project was the removal of asbestos from all Evode products. I began with the easier ones but needed considerable help from colleagues before a suitable formulation for Flashband was achieved.
Mike Denson came up from down stairs to work with me on bitumen products. This began an interesting period when we tried to split bitumen in to its components in order to understand more fully what we were working with and hence exploit its potential more fully. This came to an end when most of the bitumen products with the exception of Flashband were sold to Tarmac in 1987.
Legislation on Health and Safety and product labelling began to become more burdensome with EU Legislation. The big changes came just as Ted Ackerman retired and Geoff Green took over this role. I was asked to help Geoff with this heavy workload and when he retired took over. So began a new phase of safety data sheets, labelling and related problems. These included fielding complaints about exploding foam aerosol cans. On one occasion the local authority inspectors visited a DIY store and found fault with the labelling on a product which was thought to be ours. I successfully explained why it was labelled how it was. Later I discovered that we had lost that contract and the product was that of a competitor.
My association with Evode came to an end on the last day of April exactly thirty years after it all began. It had been hard work. It had been very challenging. It had been a great time. To begin with the laboratory was king. The company was led by technology. Gradually the marketing department played a bigger role and sales to the big DIY outlets gained greater importance. The Evode Group expanded and became number one in several fields. Subsequent financial problems brought Laporte as the new owners. Their aim was to maximise profit margin. When this was not achieved the French came. Now turnover was the key with lower margins being accepted. The remaining feature is the spirit of the employees. They were and are a great group of people and I am pleased to have worked with them.