cartoon paper100yearsZotefoams Logo gold

Zotefoams plc is recognised as the world leader in advanced technical foams. The company is the direct descendant of Onazote Limited, the company that was founded in 1921 and commercialised the world’s first hard and soft expanded rubber.

Just because something doesn’t
do what you mean it to do

doesn’t mean it’s useless

Thomas Edison
American inventor and mentor of Charles Marshall

Founder of Onazote Limited, Charles Marshall, born in Birmingham in 1860

Inspired by the work of three Austrian brothers, Hans, Fritz, and Herman Pfleumer, who had conceived the original concept of filling tyres with some form of expanded lightweight material, rather than air, Charles Marshall, patented a process to manufacture expanded rubbers of all kinds – hard and soft. In 1921 he founded Onazote Limited the forerunner of Zotefoams plc…

Fritz Pfleumer holding a section of expanded rubber material used for tyre filling in 1910

Hans Pfleumer

Herman Pfleumer

500mm autoclave with improved lid, Breslau 1917

120mm autoclave at St. Denis, Paris,1912

The search for optimal materials

1920s

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Although the concept of the puncture-proof automotive tyre was ultimately unsuccessful, experimentation highlighted the potential of this novel material for a multitude of applications …

Marshall registered the trademark Onazote in Great Britain and the USA; the name is believed to derive from the words ebonite –hardened rubber – and azote, the French word for nitrogen.

1925 The name of the company was changed to the Expanded Rubber Company Limited, with Onazote remaining in use as a product name for decades to follow.

This year also saw the first recorded use of Onazote for refrigeration; the letter is from Charles Marshall to T Wall and Sons, who were developing their ice cream business Today, Zotefoams’ T-FIT technical insulation is used extensively in ice cream manufacturing businesses globally to reduce condensation.

1927 The company moves from its original north London home to the 50,000sq.ft Palace of Arts at Wembley, originally constructed for the 1924-25 British Empire Exhibition.

Palace of Arts

The Palace of Arts

1929. British Industries Fair catalogue.

1925 – Onazote was introduced to the refrigeration industry, the letter is from C L Marshall to T Wall and Sons Limited, who still use this thermal insulation material.

1930s

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Success beckons

Moving in the right direction

Early picture of Mitcham Road, Croydon

In 1935 the company moved to a former cable works in Mitcham Road, Croydon. Zotefoams headquarters and main manufacturing site are still located.

With commercial success still proving elusive, ownership of the company passed to the St Helens Cable and Rubber Company in 1938. This marked a turning point, with a new Managing Director, Henry Shelmerdine, entrusted with reorganising and equipping the business.

Within a year, production was steady at half a ton (over 500kg) per week of Onazote and Rubazote – hard and soft expanded rubber. Insulation in food industry applications and seals and gaskets were key markets.

Prosperity followed, and the new management team was able to convince government departments that the company and its materials were to be relied upon.

Henry Neal Shelmerdine was put in charge of the company re-organisation in 1938

Innovation and
expansion in support of the nation

1940s

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Innovation and expansion in support of the nation

Wartime saw a rapid increase in demand for Onazote and Rubazote, primarily in marine buoyancy and aviation applications.

Shelmerdine’s drive and initiative was fully tested in the service of the nation. New processes were developed for making a special soft rubber – Aerozote – used for self-sealing aircraft fuel tanks.

New factories were opened in Slough and Dundee, to manufacture defence products such as booms and trailing cables, insulation for military containers and, most intriguingly, superstructures for midget submarines.

With global supply chains impacted by the conflict, the company’s most vital raw material, natural rubber, was in desperately short supply.

WW2 Plane

During the 1940s, the Expanded Rubber Company produced 1.5 million m2 of Aerozote, used to line self-sealing fuel tanks.

Opening of Expanded Rubber Company Dundee factory, by the late Sir Stafford Cripps 1945.

That challenge was a driver for innovation and, in hindsight, an early indicator of the search for optimal materials that is the hallmark of modern-day Zotefoams.

Developments included Formvar, an expanded vinyl with great impact strength and FUF, expanded urea-formaldehyde resin. This looked like snow and was used to create the blizzard effects in the famous 1948 adventure film Scott of the Antarctic – perhaps the starting point for Zotefoams’ long association with the creative industries.

Granules of FUF driven by studio wind machines provided the realistic blizzard effects

This early work in exploring the potential of expanded plastics attracted the interest of BX Plastics Limited, which acquired the Expanded Rubber Company in 1943, subsequently transferring ownership in 1948 to parent company the British Xylonite Company Limited.

1950s

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A world of applications

In the early 1950s the Expanded Rubber Company was the largest company in the world completely engaged in the manufacture of expanded materials.

Zotefoams in 1950

The Sales Department was expanded, new equipment and a new laboratory installed and agents appointed in all major industrial nations.

With a secure supply of rubber once again available, Onazote and Rubazote were once again the main products but growth was also supported by innovation, with a product range buoyed by new materials. A sponge rubber – Zote – was promoted alongside a  microcellular shoe soling material, while Rubacurl, a complementary product to Rubazote, bonded lightweight latex with hair to give extra strength in product protection applications.

Vickers Valiant with nose radome made from Onazote

Onazote lifejacket approved by the Ministry of Transport

Rubacurl (lightweight latex-bonded curled hair) used to pack a self priming pump.

The Great White Whale used in the 1956 film ‘Moby Dick’ was made from an ultralight -density sheet of Rubazote over a wooden frame.

Lifeboat fitted with Onazote solid buoyancy unit

Introducing Plastazote® and Evazote®

1960s

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and 1970s

In 1962Plastazote® was launched. This now-iconic brand, the foundation of the AZOTE® polyolefin foams, is produced from polyethylene and used in a vast range of applications in sectors including automotive, aviation, building and construction, industrial, marine, medical, military, product protection and sports and leisure.

In its infancy, Plastazote was in great demand for medical and healthcare applications, such as neck and body splints, orthotics and limb supports. This was thanks to the purity of the materials, derived from the unique three stage manufacturing process, which makes them ideal for skin contact applications. Plastazote remains the most cited thermoplastic foam in medical literature.

An aerial view of the Croydon premises

1968 saw the introduction of Evazote® EVA copolymer foam, a further world-class product, boasting additional toughness and resilience.

 Plastazote was specified by famous brands such as the Jensen Company, which used the material for impact and energy absorption in its revered Interceptor. The model shown here is the Mk II, manufactured between 1969 and 1971.

Jensen specified Plastazote for its impact/energy absorption

Rubazote
was finally discontinued after nearly 40 years of production

New ownership and a final farewell to rubber products

The success of Plastazote and Evazote, together with difficult trading conditions for rubber, led to the decision in 1974 to cease production of rubber materials. The expanded polystyrene business was also sold, enabling BXL to focus fully on the evident potential of Plastazote and Evazote.

By the end of the 1970s, demand for these materials across automotive, civil engineering, marine, aviation, commercial packaging and insulation as well as healthcare applications resulted in four-shift working. The company was acquired by British Petroleum (BP) in 1978 and remained part of the Chemicals division for the next 15 years. This was a period of significant investment in modern production machinery to meet increasing demand and broaden the product range. Plastazote LD24, at the time the lightest foam of its type in the world, was launched in 1984, opening up many new applications.

When Rubazote was finally discontinued, it had been in production for nearly 40 years.

1980s

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and 1990s

Royal recognition and global growth

In 1981, Plastazote achieved royal recognition when it received the Prince Philip Award for polymers in the service of mankind. The Award was presented by its namesake, a champion of British technology and industry.

The next decade saw continuing growth and success on the global stage, firmly establishing Plastazote and Evazote as the world’s leading technical foam brands.

Duke of Edinburgh Plastazote 1981
In 1981 Platazote was singled out for special recognition when the Duke of Edinburgh presented the company with a gold medal in recognition of the contribution made by Plastazote foam in the service of mankind.

In 1981 Plastazote was singled out for special recognition when the Duke of Edinburgh presented the company with a gold medal in recognition of the contribution made by Plastazote foam in the service of mankind.

A new era and the birth of Zotefoams plc

In 1993 a management buyout established Zotefoams Limited; this was followed by a flotation on the London Stock Exchange (ZTF:LON) in 1995, which gave birth to Zotefoams plc.

International growth continued following the flotation, with the establishment of a North American sales subsidiary, Zotefoams Inc, to meet rapidly growing demand with local service.

The High-Performance decade

2000s

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As the new millennium dawned, opportunities and optimism were abundant – but on the night of October 22, 2000, a fire at the Mitcham Road site caused damage running into millions of pounds and destroyed a third of the factory.

No cause was ever identified but more importantly, as the company rebuilt, safety was, and remains to this day, the primary consideration.

In the aftermath of the fire, the management team, led then as now by Group CEO David Stirling, reassessed the prospects for the business. The development of the ZOTEK® High-Performance Products (HPP) portfolio traces its origins back to that time, with the decision to leverage the capabilities of the three stage process for new, advanced materials. These unique materials would meet demanding regulatory and application requirements, using Zotefoams’ technology and know-how.

In 2001, Zotefoams Inc moved into a purpose-built facility in Kentucky, strategically located for ease of access to major manufacturing hubs in the USA.

Rebuilding in the UK too, the company completed new headquarters, manufacturing and R&D buildings.

ZOTEK F 30, produced from PVDF polymer and the first commercial grade in the HPP family, was launched in 2004, followed in 2008 by the first ZOTEK N nylon foam.

 

Also in that year came  the development of the T-TUBES ­– now T-FIT® – technical insulation range, which harnesses the properties of ZOTEK materials for demanding applications in cleanrooms, aseptic and general industrial areas.
T-FIT
T-FIT Range
As well as developing and manufacturing outstanding new products, the company continued to expand its global reach. In 2007 Zotefoams appointed its first distributor in Asia, and in 2013 entered a 50/50 joint venture with the Japanese INOAC Corporation to manufacture and sell AZOTE® polyolefin products in Asia and Australasia.

2008 MuCell® microcellular technology

Mucell
plastic containers

In 2008 Zotefoams established a stake in Massachusetts-based MuCell Extrusion Technology LLC, a joint venture formed to exploit and license a proprietary microcellular foaming technology for extrusion processes. Four years later and as MuCell Extrusion LLC (MEL), the company became a wholly owned Zotefoams subsidiary. Today, MEL is the powerhouse behind Zotefoams’ groundbreaking ReZorce® mono-material barrier packaging range.

2010

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- today

A world leader in optimal material solutions

The past decade has been one of accelerating change and growth for Zotefoams.

XR Scientist

The HPP range has continued to develop, to great acclaim. ZOTEK F is the lightweight material of choice for aircraft interiors, its versatility lending itself to many applications, in the cabin and behind the panels. The range includes NASA-approved grades, used across all current space programmes.

The ZOTEK N family now incorporates a lighter grade and in 2012, ZOTEK PEBA, a foamed Polyether block amide designed for the footwear industry, was introduced. The product is now famously the basis of Zotefoams’ exclusive and record-breaking partnership with Nike.

2015 T-FIT® unique insulation technology

Alongside the development of outstanding new products, Zotefoams has increased its global presence through new subsidiaries and joint venture partnerships. A 2015 joint venture in China to manufacture and sell the T-FIT insulation range is now wholly owned and, as Zotefoams T-FIT Material Technology (Kunshan) Co Ltd, enjoying considerable success.

In Asia and Australasia, AZOTE polyolefin foams are promoted through a joint venture company based in Hong Kong, bringing the benefits of these exceptional materials to manufacturers in the region and notably the automotive industry.

In 2018, Zotefoams Inc extended its facility and added extrusion and a high-pressure (HP) autoclave to complement the existing HTLP capabilities at its site, making the USA manufacture and supply of many AZOTE grades a reality.

A second HP autoclave came onstream in 2020.

AZOTE manufacture
AZOTE Polymer containers
AZOTE

In 2019, the UK manufacturing site increased capacity for expansion of materials with a new factory housing two large high-temperature low-pressure (HTLP) autoclaves for the expansion of nitrogen-saturated slabs and in the same year, Zotefoams established a T-FIT sales and service centre in Ahmedabad, India to support the growing food and pharmaceutical sectors in the region.

In February 2021 the company began operations at a third foam manufacturing site. Located in Brzeg, south west Poland, the site produces the most popular AZOTE grades for customers in Continental Europe.


World-class lightweight crosslinked polyolefin foams

With the capacity investments in the UK, the USA and Poland, Zotefoams has increased its global block foam manufacturing capacity by 60% compared to the position at the end of 2017.

Zotefoams is also investing in ReZorce ahead of its commercial launch, anticipated by early 2023. A new pilot facility in Massachusetts housing an extrusion line and downstream filling, packing and validation facilities will welcome its first customers soon

Today Zotefoams continues to develop and produce world-class foam products, while expanding its reach as an international organisation.

Lightest
Cleanest
Strongest
Purest