BIP (Oldbury) Limited
Tat Bank Road
Oldbury
West Midlands
B69 4NH
United Kingdom

Registered No. 5262589

VAT No. GB851675310

T: +44 0121 544 2333
F: +44 0121 552 6148
W: www.bip.co.uk

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Overview

BIP – Pioneer in Plastics and Resins

BIP holds a unique place in the history of plastics, worldwide. Founded in 1894, it is the oldest polymer material manufacturer in the UK, by far, and amongst the oldest in the world. Its place in the history of plastics was assured when its chemists patented the world’s first ‘water-white’ thermoset resin in 1924.

In order to encourage wider use of this revolutionary material - with the unusual tradename of Beetle® - the company found it necessary to purchase its own moulding plant, The Streetly Manufacturing Company Limited in 1929. This thinking, and confidence, that “if industry can’t supply what we want, then we’ll make it ourselves” led, significantly, to the setting up of its own tool making company, BIP Tools Limited, in 1936 and, 13 years later, its own moulding press manufacturing company BIP Engineering Limited.

By the mid-1950s, the extent and depth of BIP’s involvement in the plastics moulding industry was considerable and, without doubt, unique. Furthermore, its speciality resins took the company into aircraft manufacture, boat building, construction, iron foundries, the production of furniture and wood laminates, paint manufacture, paper treatment, textile finishing and building insulation. All this from a ”small, smelly pot shed” beside a canal in the English West Midlands.

BIP never enjoyed the benefits of large financial resources, except for a period during its time as a T&N subsidiary; the company’s troubles and set-backs, particularly in the early years, were overcome through a remarkable mix of enterprise, foresight, inventive skill and, specifically on the part of its work force, understanding. Its ability to survive and its subsequent development, expansion and success can be confidently put down to the skills, persistence and devotion of its chemists, accountants, engineers and leaders. Not the least of these was Kenneth Chance.

BIP owes its origin to activities far removed from the production of synthetic resins and thermoset moulding powders. In 1894 British Cyanides Limited was set up to convert sulpho-cyanide directly into cyanide for use, primarily, in the South African goldfields. This market vanished with the outbreak of war in 1900. The search for alternative outlets and research into new materials and markets, headed by Kenneth Chance, Charles Glassey and Cyril Dingley, led to the idea of converting sulpho-cyanide into thiourea for use in vulcanizing rubber and giving ‘rustle’ to silk. From this, Edmund Rossiter conceived the idea of condensing thiourea with formaldehyde to produce a water-white resin.

By this same time, however, the company was facing bankruptcy caused by many factors, primarily the fashion swing from taffeta and the failure of the Government to honour promises over the manufacture of potash.

The all important ‘water-white’ resin

The opportunity to display samples of the new water-white resin at the Wembley Exhibition in 1925 was too good to miss; it proved popular, with enquiries ranging from the manufacture of wall plugs to french polishing. A quick and profitable return was essential, however, and this was to come from the decision to concentrate on the production of moulding powders; in 1926 the world’s first white commercial moulding powder was produced by BIP (then still British Cyanides) at Oldbury in the English West Midlands.

This opened up new opportunities for designers and new applications, notably for electrical accessories and tableware - more picnicware in those days. Unlike the established thermoset moulding powders based on the straw-coloured phenolic resins, Beetle® urea resins did not taste.

With the moulding properties of the new Beetle® powder improving, an important step towards promoting the material’s potential came with the display of mouldings at London’s Harrods store in 1926. In his The Story Of BIP published in 1962, Cyril Dingley described this as “the turning point” for the company. He had, himself, been instrumental in persuading Harrods to display “the new and colourful” cups and saucers manufactured by three different moulders. It was an immediate success.

Expansion begins

One of the three moulders whose products were on show at Harrods was The Streetly Manufacturing Company (SMC). The firm was purchased by the company in 1929 and, whilst SMC continued to operate as a trade moulder, its facilities and the skills of its staff would be essential to the development of amino mouldings materials and BIP itself.

“So well launched into the plastics industry” the company changed its name to British Industrial Plastics Limited in 1936; Amongst its Board of Directors were Kenneth Chance (Chairman and Managing Director), Charles Glassey and Sam White.

 

 

 

Also in 1936, SMC’s toolroom and its Works Manager Fred Mills Senior were moved to a purpose-built factory on what would now be known as a ‘green-field’ site close to Birmingham. Refined mould design techniques produced better mouldings and BIP Tools Limited was created to employ those techniques in designing and producing the moulds.

In parallel with its development of moulding powders, BIP was successfully developing its Beetle® amino resins for the treatment of textiles and paper; these were followed by uses in manufacturing paint, as wood glues and for core binding in the foundry industry.

The late 1940s saw the manufacture of melamine formaldehyde resins and moulding powder commence at Oldbury, resulting from the long-standing technical liaison between BIP and its original amino resin licencees in the USA.

In 1949, John Beard (Managing Director of SMC) saw the need and wisdom of BIP once again ‘going it alone’. BIP Engineering Limited was created to build the Bipel® press - a new design which existing press manufacturers had turned down - in its own building at Streetly Works.

Overseas operations

In addition to its, by now, increasing number of overseas agents and distributors, BIP had, from the early years of moulding powder manufacture, created sales and manufacturing subsidiaries and associate companies in other countries. At one time or another the list included Beetle-Elliott in Australia, Bipel Maschinen in Germany, Materiales Moldeables in Mexico, British Industrial Plastics (S.A.) (Pty) in South Africa and BIPEL International Inc in the USA.

Dominant… and then

By 1961 BIP was significant, if not dominant, as a manufacturer in all of its various products, it had a flourishing export market and owned a number of overseas subsidiaries; it was, inevitably, ripe for take-over. This occurred in 1961 when the building industry giant Turner & Newall (T&N) purchased the entire company.

With its acquisition of BIP, T&N stated that it had “manifested its faith in the future of plastics”; in the same statement it was recognising “a number of reciprocal advantages” in the move. For some years BIP certainly benefited from investment and subsequently, through the attachment of four one-time factories of BXL following a T&N purchase in 1973, found its payroll doubled to 5,500.

By 1995, however, much of the BIP manufacturing ‘empire’ had been closed down or sold. What remained were just the Oldbury factories, all in dire need of investment and a senior management with a positive view for the long-term future.

Finance from the Advent Group and ‘the new broom’ attitude of a completely new management team brought hope; it also introduced a degree of lateral thinking, which identified new, if highly specialised, markets. Outside factors, in particular the strength of the pound sterling and the short-term expectations of investors, proved too much with the result that further disposals – the manufacture of both polyester resins and coating resins – took place together with a recently purchased specialised manufacturing plant in Cheshire. The one beneficiary was the Engineering Thermoplastics operation, now on a separate site at Oldbury, where some modest investment had been made.

Much of the information and all of the direct quotations appearing in this History of BIP, compiled by Mike Butler, have been taken from a series of publications produced by BIP. They include Beetle Magazine, published between 1935 and 1953, Growth of a Group written by Charley Glassey and published in the late 1940s, The Story of BIP written by Cyril Dingley and published in 1962 and Beetle Bulletin published for over 30 years commencing in 1951. We are also indebted to The First Fifty Years, published by Turner & Newall, and Plastiquarian, published by The Plastics Historical Society.

Our historian, Mike Butler (b.1933) was apprentice at The Streetly Manufacturing Company and worked within different subsidiaries and departments of BIP for 28 years.