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History of Viscose

2000’s

In 2011, the company was sold with the support of Finance Wales and private investors. Today Viscose is regarded as one of the leading UK players in the caps, closures, seals and sleeving markets. With over 100 years’ experience, Viscose is known for their manufacturing expertise and exceptional customer service.

1990's

In 1990, the company opened a brand new factory, which housed the manufacturing at its current site in Swansea, South Wales. This led to the introduction of a number of new products, including the company’s heat shrinkable PVC sleeves. Cellulose and Shrink sleeving production remain onsite today.

In 1998, a second management buyout took place headed by Bill Cartwright and supported by Barclays Ventures. Viscose began to diversify its product range through the introduction of wine capsules for wine bottles. Over the next decade the range of bottle closures was extended to include crown cork tops, flat plastic caps and sports caps.

1980's

In 1985 (the first buyout) management bought the process from Spontex. Between 1985 – 1990 Spontex manufactured the cellulose product on behalf of Viscose closures. In the 1980’s Viscose started supplying aluminium crowns. In 1987 PVC shrink sleeves started in Viscose head office in Crawley.

80s2

1970's

In 1973, the Viscose Development Company Limited became the holding company and Sponcel Limited became Viscose Group Limited.  The production of Viskrings continues from cellulose tubing.  Machinery for the automatic applications of Viskrings has been devised and has enabled this product to remain competitive.  Sales for many years have been relatively static in face of severe competition from plastic and metal.

Production of Viskap bottle closures has now ceased at Swansea.

Sales of Sponge have increased steadily over the years.  In addition to selling under the brand name of ‘Spontex’, and under the ‘own label’ names of the Supermarket chains – Sainsbury, Tesco etc, it is also the sponge used for all floor mops manufactured in the U.K.;  most well-known being those produced by Addis, Prestige and Plysu.  One of the most buoyant markets in the world is Australia where approximately 20% of Swansea production is sold in fierce competition with Dutch and Japanese sponge.  Large quantities of sponge are also compressed and printed for the advertising trade.

In 1973, Viscose Development Company became the holding company and Sponcel Ltd became Viscose Group Ltd. The production of viskrings from Cellulose continues.

1960's

In the early 60’s, Visplas division was set up producing Visplas capsules.  These are polythene stretch capsules aimed at the table wine market which has traditionally been served by lead and tin foil capsules.  Polythene chips are first pigmented and then fed into injection moulding machines whereby heat and pressure liquid coloured polythene is forced into a mould.  The mould is then cooled and the capsules ejected.  At this stage a line of weakness is moulded into the capsules for ease of removal once it is on the bottle.  The capsules can than be printed and finally air holes and an easy removal tab are cut into the capsule.  Changes in manufacturing policies have meant that these capsules are now manufactured for us on a contract basis by two firms and distributed through our normal closure sales organisation to a wide variety of wine bottles.

In 1964, a new division of Sponcel Limited was formed known as “Viskraft”.  The purpose was to manufacture and market a range of Fibreglass signs.  It had been hoped that one of the main outlets would be for road signs.  However, failure to meet the required specifications was one of the principle factors leading to its closure in late 1969.

In 1969 another division was established – Viskproof – producing Viskproof capsules.  Both our traditional cellulose closure and the polythene Visplas capsule are a secondary closure, which means that a primary closure (cork or stopper cork) needs to be used as well.  The demand has therefore been for a long time for a closure to perform both functions and also give security against pilfering.  The aluminium pilfer-proof capsules were developed many years ago to satisfy this demand and it became evident that more recently the growth in demand was adversely affecting our traditional products.  The capsules are manufactured from pre-printed aluminium sheet which is first pressed out into a straight sided shell.  This shell is then rolled into the final form on high speed machinery and the sides of the capsule pressed into the threads on the bottle neck at the same time as the bottom of the capsule is tucked under a special collar on the bottle neck.  This ensures that a line of weakness must be broken to open the capsule and therefore, provides the pilfer-proof characteristic.

This capsule is again manufactured for us by a contract firm as the size of our operation made it impossible for us to contain the rising price of aluminium in a low profit operation and sold in many millions throughout the bottling industry.  A very large market is in the spirit trade where security is important but also the caps are widely used in the pharmaceutical and other industries.

In an attempt to diversify our product range in the Closures Division two non-cellulose products have been added to the range.

1950's

In 1951, experimental work was carried out on the production of dried tubular casing for use in sausage manufacture.  There was an existing supplier to the big Irish market, but the casing was virtually unknown in this country.  It was eventually decided to form the company Viskase Limited as a joint venture of Sponcel and the American Company, the Viskring Corporation of Chicago.  Viskase has developed a successful business over the last decade importing cellulose casing from France, Canada and America, printing it and packing it and despatching to the ever growing British Meat Industry.

In 1951, Viscose joint venture formed with American Company the Viskring Corporation of Chicago – this is not running anymore and we sell our viskring product via two distributors Kaufman Containers and Walter Jelly.

In the mid 1950’s sponge in cloth form was produced at Swansea.  However, improved machinery was installed in the French factory at Beauvais and supplies are now obtained from this source.

The sponge business and particularly the bottling business, are very competitive and it is only by keeping our quality at the highest possible level that we will maintain our position in the future.

1930's

In the early 30’s the Company was engaged in the manufacture of moulded plastics which began at Bromley and this section of the Company continued until 1954.  It was at the Woldham Road factory that the first circular car machines were built.  It was here too that the early experiments in the manufacture of cellulose tubing were started, and much later the printing process was developed.  Experiments too, were carried out into the manufacture of cellulose sponges by various methods, and a little later a new company, Sponcel Limited was formed in conjunction with the French company Novacel.  This new organisation immediately started to import from France blocks of sponge which were cut and wrapped for sale in this country.

With the outbreak of the 1939-45 War and the fall of France, the manufacture of sponge was started in a small way at Bromley and this continued throughout the war years, together with the production of cable markers for the aircraft industry.  Work was begun on the Swansea factory in 1948/9 and during this time training of operators began at temporary premises in Llansamlet.  Production started in the new factory in 1949/50.

1890's

The Viscose process was first discovered by Charles Frederick Cross who patented his discovery in 1892 with a view to developing the Viscose process for textiles.  The Viscose Spinning Syndicate was formed in 1894 under the Chairmanship of Mr A. Pears (of soap fame).  This Company ran until 1902, when the spinning rights of viscose were acquired by the late Samuel Courtauld, who was then the Chairman of a fairly small Company manufacturing natural silk.  This business has since become the vast Courtauld Empire with which we are so familiar.  In 1902 the Viscose Development Company Limited was formed to operate all other uses of the Viscose process other than those relating to textiles, and this Company absorbed the original Viscose Spinning Syndicate.

The Viscose Development Company began on a small scale at Erith with the manufacture of a material called Viscoid (undoubtedly the first moulded plastic).  As business expanded the Company was moved to Pembroke Road, Bromley, Kent, and it was here that the production of caps for use as bottle closures was started.  In addition a new process for the viscose impregnation of machine-gun belting was developed and during the 1914-18 war this became the main output.

In 1916 the Company started the construction of a factory at Woldham Road, Bromley but completion of this was delayed by the First World War, and it was not occupied until 1920.

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