Looking back over 22 years with Evode Ltd., (1966 to 1988) I am filled with so many memories it is difficult to recount all that happened during this period. Since leaving Evode, I have been employed with ICI, Cabot Plastics Ltd., Cabot Corporation (US company), Metabolix Inc., (biotech company in Cambridge MA., USA) and have worked as an independent consultant for a number of the major global chemical companies. If it had not been for the training and experience gained at Evode, I would not have been able to be successful in any of these subsequent positions. Even now, many of these larger chemical companies still consider that Evode Ltd., during the 1970’s and early 80’s to have been a major innovating company in the field of adhesives and thermoplastic compounds. Unfortunately the marketing skills did not always compliment the technology skills. If we had managed to match these skills during this time period, then I believe that Evode Ltd would be in the top 5 global adhesive companies.

Now let me try and pick some interesting excerpts from a career that started as a laboratory technician to Forward Technology Group Manager.

At 18 I left the Stafford College of Advanced Technology at Beaconside, Stafford with A levels to join Evode as a Laboratory Technician. My ego of being able to start “high” in the organization was rapidly deflated with the comment from Derek Cardwell “you have to start at the bottom to get to the top”. John Birtles, who I believe is still at Evode today, took me “under-wing”! John was an excellent teacher and I soon learned most of the basic techniques for testing adhesives, although the major challenge in those days was how to remove the pressure sensitive adhesives from your hands at break-times. One of the early induction rituals for new technicians was to be provided with “Kerocleanse” abrasive cleaner “doped” with PSM 6315, an aqueous high tack pressure sensitive adhesive containing a resin solution tackifier. Several hours later one realized what “sticky” meant.

During my first week at Evode, I was being shown around the adhesive factory when I met Dr Simon. Apparently in those days he made regular impromptu tours around the site and knew most of the factory workers by name. During these visits he always stopped in the adhesive weigh room area to be weighed – on the same scales they used for Evo-Stik production! The level of respect those people showed for Dr Simon was and is amazing. I have never been in any other factory or company where that level of respect was apparent. This opinion was only enhanced when, after Dr Simon’s death, a memorial service was held at the Borough Hall and virtually every current employee and past retirees attended.

Another early experience was in the manufacture of nitrile-phenolic brake lining adhesives where we had to mix carbon black into nitrile rubber on an open mill. This appeared to be a moderately dusty process, especially when John Birtles use to stand about 10 feet away from the mill, whilst I was struggling to cut and mix the carbon black with the rubber. A quick wash to remove the carbon black from my hands and arms and a clean lab. coat and I thought that everything was fine. That was until I got home and my mother looked at my shirt where the collar was jet black. My shirt was immediately thrown into the rubbish and I then vowed never to handle carbon black again. Some 25 years later as R&D Director in Cabot, a major producer of carbon black, I remembered my early experiences!

During this period of time, I met Cliff Stanley, our safety officer. Cliff use to provide fire-extinguisher training using “gallons” of scrap Evo-Stik 528 spread in a large tray. Trying to put out a 4ft x 4 ft flaming mass of adhesive is an experience that once mastered gives you confidence to tackle any potential problems. The behavioural approach taken by Cliff Stanley would stand the tests of SH&E today. Evode was certainly well in advance of most companies, including ICI and Du Pont. I am still using some of the teaching methods developed by Cliff Stanley today, and they are still considered to be pioneering techniques today!

My first exposure to production trials came when I was asked to produce 2 5 gallons of sprayable adhesive for a foam bonding application. This required the use of a churn in the small churn room in the factory. After making the adhesive I was supposed to add the dye into the 5 gallon drums whilst emptying the mixer. Ignoring suggestions from the operators in this area, I decided to add the dye directly to the churn. After filling the drums and a quick solvent wash to clean the churn, I returned to the laboratory. The next day Mr Peak, the Production Manager stormed into the laboratory, holding an enormous cigar in his hand (even in those days the labs were no-smoking areas, but no-one dared to confront Mr Peak with this observation). For the next 30 minutes Mr Peak gave me a lecture on technical competence and the ethics of working with production staff that I have never forgotten. He continued without stopping, except to recharge energy from his cigar, until I was bright red from embarrassment. I spent the next two weeks, cleaning the churn until it met with the approval of the production staff. The following day Mr Peak called me into his office, where I expected further disciplinary action. To my surprise, he was most pleasant and asked me what I had learned from this incident. Thinking for several moments, I replied that perhaps the technical people did not know all the answers and we should listen to the experience of the production workers. He appeared satisfied with the answer and said that I could use any piece of his equipment in the factory – providing I followed that rule. An invaluable lesson that has proved useful in subsequent positions.

One of my first field trial experiments involved a gentleman called Colonel McKray who had a concept for sticking cats-eyes on roads. At this time the cats-eyes were metal tubes that were embedded into the road surface using molten bitumen. This was costly and extremely time consuming, especially on major highways. Colonel McKray had manufactured some rubber hemispherical mounts that had to be bonded onto the bitumen road surface. We developed a two part polyurethane adhesive that had a short pot life (around 5 minutes) and moderate thin film cure (1-2 hours). So off we (John Gooch and myself) went to Leatherhead to meet Colonel McKray. We met Colonel McKray in the car park of a rather impressive restaurant about half way between Dorking and Leatherhead, Colonel McKray arriving in a chauffer driven Rolls Royce together with the local Head of road Transport. After an excellent lunch (several bottles of wine predominant drunk by Colonel McKray) we drove to the A24 to start the trial. Preparation for the trial included two warning notices placed about 0.5 miles from the trial area and about 6 road cones. We had to mix the adhesive and bond the cats-eyes down between road cones, whilst traffic was passing (at about 50 mph) on both sides. This is a sobering situation (even when not intoxicated ) especially when the drivers started to hit the uncured cats-eyes, sending them in all directions. Before we had completed the section Colonel McKray had disappeared, this was fortunate as John Cooch was loudly questions his parentage. We later met Colonel McKray at Evode, where he tried to get Evode to financially fund this concept. Fortunately this was declined. I later heard that Colonel McKray had been charged with melting down half-crowns to recover the silver! The moral I learnt from this episode was that trials are never as they appear and are never easy!

In 1972 I married Pauline (then Mould) who was a secretary in the Technical Service Department working for Clive Beard and Colin Harvey. On the eve of our wedding, I was asked to make a presentation to the Evode Board of directors regarding the potential threat from Dunlop Thixofix, a retail product with claims of improved ease-of-application compared with Evo-Stik. The presentation involved a practical demonstration of the application techniques and speed of lamination for the two products. About 4 pm the Board members arrived in the laboratory and I started the presentation. Many questions were asked and we rapidly passed 5 pm when everyone normally left. About 5.30pm, still in the middle of some discussions, Pauline was pushed through the door of the laboratory dressed in black plastic bags covered with balloons and stickers (I believe that Dave Ward and John Bennett were the key culprits). Dr Simon asked what was happening and Mr. Vohralik (Technical Director) explained that we were getting married the following day and this was a traditional “good luck” event at Evode. Dr Simon turned to me with a straight face and said “ I assume you will not be demonstrating these products tomorrow!” Extremely embarrassed and nervous in the presence of these senior executives, I could only stumble out with some inane comment; then the whole laboratory broke into laughter. The next day at our wedding we received a lovely telegram from Dr. Simon wishing us luck and prosperity.

Through the support of Derek Caldwell and John Chard (Chief Chemist), I was responsible for launching a number of industrial and retail adhesives. The most successful, in my opinion, was Gun-O-Prene, a panel adhesive for sticking decorative panels to walls. I believe that this panel, although reformulated, is still commercially available. Launching this product was great fun, especially when we came to the press release information when we considered the use of Page 3 models to promote the product. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to participate in these activities that were closely guarded by John Bird, in publicity. I was however successful in getting my picture in the “Adhesive” book written by Barry Jackson. Imagine my surprise and embassment, when two years ago whilst visiting Evode, David Ward came up with a copy of the book asking for an autograph!

Time moved on, I managed to complete my part time studies to gain HNC and subsequently Graduate of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Derek Caldwell left Evode to become a teacher, a position he was eminently suitable to fulfill. At this time I transferred from the Development Laboratory to Corporate Research working for Patrick Counsell and Barry Jackson. I was also allowed to carry on part time studies for a PhD at Wolverhampton Polytech. At this time Robert Bates was also working on his PhD through City University with Professor William (Bill) C Wake as his supervisor. Bill Wake was a consultant for Evode and used to visit Stafford every 2-3 months. I used to treasure is visits and the stimulating discussions that were evoked from some of our industrial problems. Bill was the ultimate gentleman and professional, taking the same level of care and interest in the simplest or most complex of problems. Internally we also had a person with a wealth of knowledge, this was Barry Jackson. Barry’s approach was totally different to that of Bill Wake. Barry was an extrovert and continuously challenged both authority and convention. Through Bill and Barry, I learnt to understand the basic theory and to challenge convention. In hindsight it probably these two gentlemen who help mold my future direction and challenged me to be continually innovative. It was during this period that I was involved with three of the most exciting projects in my career:

  1. Toughening epoxide adhesives using rubber modification. The initial work was based on the liquid nitrile rubbers from B F Goodrich, although we later expanded these to solid elastomers and polyurethane – epoxide systems. Several years after leaving Evode, I met with the inventors of the liquid nitrile polymers at B F Goodrich where they claimed that we were actually more advanced (at that time) than the aerospace organizations. The latex modification of epoxide resins was not considered core to Evode’s direction at that time, and the work terminated. Learning from Barry Jackson, I challenged Evode regarding this technology and was allowed to proceed independently with the technology. After several weeks’ discussions, I sold the technology to Scott Bader, and with these profits purchased my first car.

  2. Thermoplastic toe-puffs and stiffeners for Vik Supplies. This work was stimulated by Barry Jackson and Ernest Webb where we looked to replace the conventional polystyrene impregnated fabric with a polystyrene/styrene butadiene rubber composite. The initial justification was to save the 30% reject material where the various stiffener shapes were punched from the sheet material. Subsequently this work helped to expand the technology at Evode Plastics, now Alpha Gary Corp.

  3. Rok-Rap, an under valued product. Barry Jackson initiated this project as an alternative sealing solution to Flashband in damp environments. Essentially Rok-Rap was the cement version of the Plaster of Paris bandage used to set broken limbs. Whilst the use as a Flashband replacement disappeared, the product started to take a life of its own as an over-wrap for asbestos insulation, fireproof barrier, impact barrier for foam insulation, corrosion protection of steel, concrete protection against sulfate attack and many more. I can remember the tedious task of visiting most of the Real-Ale breweries in the UK to demonstrate the over wrapping of their damaged asbestos insulation with Rok-Rap. In many cases we had to use beer as the activator, high quality water not being available. Of cause I had to sample the results of my endeavors, which converted me from cider to beer. Whilst I greatly appreciated this opportunity, I am not sure Pauline believes that this was one of my better activities. At this time Dr Simon was having repairs to his farm at Abbotts Bromley that required a new drainage system to be installed. I was dispatched to the farm to use Rok-Rap to seal the concrete pipe sections. On arriving at the farm, I found that the pipe had been lowered into a four-foot trench that was half full of water. How was I to apply the Rok-Rap to the pipe joints? No problem said the farm manager and promptly tied a rope belt around my waist and fixed it to the trenching bucket on a JCB. I was raised in the air and lowered into the trench where up to my knees in water I had to wrap the tape around the pipe and ram it into the joint seal. Now that I had demonstrated the process to the farm hands, I assumed that I could now return back to Evode and warmth (work was in November!). But no such luck. The farm manager raised the JCB bucket with me hanging from the end and moved down the line to the next joint, and so on for nearly 4 hours. So from the delights of a warm brewery to the reality of farm construction. But that is the reality of field trials. Unfortunately Rok-Rap was never a real success for Evode. Probably because it was so unique that the current marketing department could not envisage working with oil drilling and petrochemical companies to commercialize the product. Instead they launched a retail product to compete with Flashband! A disaster!

During this period of time Patrick Counsell, Research Manager continued to give me freedom to develop these ideas.

On completing my PhD, I was promoted to Adhesive Development Manager responsible for aqueous and solvent-based adhesives. The team responsible for these activities was Bill Keating (still at Evode), Trevor Roughton, Terry Lake, John Bebbington, Christine Tindall (still at Evode) Kim …Karen …., some of the others I cannot now remember. This was a “fun group”, always challenging and helping each other, whilst getting the job done. Karen, who was about 4 ft 6 inches tall, was always asking for more work (not sure this would happen today!) and telling me off for not keeping my bench clean. This one day, she was really aggressive and would not allow me to finish a report without cleaning my bench. My reaction at this time was to pick her up and place her in one of the cardboard storage drums we used to hold spare tins. These were about 3 feet tall, and so Karen could not get out without help, which I obviously refused to allow. After about an hour of shouting, I had finished my report and we helped Karen out of the drum. This then became a perpetual challenge for subsequent unruly behavior.

During this period, the group was responsible for developing a number of new retail products including ammonia-free 873 (flooring adhesive), Safe 80 (water based Evo-Stik), Watertite (water resistant ceramic tile adhesive) and Water Proof Resin W; plus many more.

From the Adhesive Development Laboratory, I move on and established the Forward Technology Group. The objective of this position was to grow the organization by extending current technologies into new market areas. I was heavily involved in providing support to both Postans and Evode Plastics. This activity was expanded into a Group activity with the arrival of Brian Ludbrook.

My last two years with Evode was providing support to Evode Plastics at Syston. Here I learnt the techniques of continuous rubber compounds (but no carbon black) for footwear and industrial molded goods. The knowledge and experience shared by Eric Holdworth and Peter Kellett continued to broaden my knowledge base. Evode Plastics behaved in a similar manner to Evode limited some 10-12 years previous, the camaraderie and level of commitment were extremely high.

With the death of both my parents, both Pauline and I felt the need for a physiological change. Unfortunately the opportunity to move completely to Evode Plastics was not available and I decide to leave to pursue another position at ICI. It was an extremely emotional day when I finally said farewell to Evode after 22 years. Standing in the canteen seeing people who a driven specially from Postans and Evode Plastics whilst Andrew Simon and Mr Vohralik presented me with some farewell gifts, many other memories came to mind that could the basis of a my “second memoirs”. I was strane to think that I would leave so many friendships that had stood the test of time. Several people spring to mind that are still at Evode: John Birtles, Sue Southall/Whitaker, Bill Keating and Christine Tindall (now ?).

I will always remember my days at Evode with considerable affection. I met my wife Pauline and had exposure to many types of technology. These, together with the mentoring of Bill Wake, Barry Jackson and Mr Vohralik provided me with the experience to meet all subsequent challenges successfully. Those early days help mould my energetic interest in science and technology such that even now after 32 years in industry I still enjoy the challenges of new targets. I use many of the incidents described above as examples to train the next generations of scientists both in industry and academia.

Looking back over the years, I realize that it is extremely difficult to grow within an organization and be accepted into a senior position. Hence I was always considered by some, as the laboratory technician that started in 1968. Even with this recognition, I would never have changed a single day at Evode. I still consider that Evode in the 70’s and 80’s was one of the adhesive pioneering centers in the world.

Robert Whitehouse

1 September 2000