Continuation of Yarsley-Fulmer Merger Memories – The Escape to Redhill
by Dave Mugridge
The YTEC site at Redhill was previously part of a company’s works involved in sand quarrying and processing. Actual sand quarrying on this site had been discontinued some time previously, but sand was still transported by rail and road tankers to their sand processing and treatment plant, which remained operational in adjacent areas.
Several members of staff from the sand company transferred to join YTEC instead of having to be made redundant.
The Fulmer Group’s acquisition of the Redhill site was a very good move in the circumstances prevailing at the time. It ultimately provided the opportunity for the re-integration of the previously dispersed Yarsley personnel, and the consolidation with new colleagues from what was formerly IPEC Newhaven. Additionally, the site was large enough to provide room for development and expansion of existing activities, as well as having space for a new company which later became part of the Fulmer group, namely Yarsley Quality Assured Firms Ltd. Whilst still very much a part of the Fulmer Group, Redhill had its own senior management all on site, and closely in touch with day to day activities. There was support from an in-house marketing function and an accounts section, but sadly there was no staff canteen. Staff canteens are often places where all grades of staff can meet, improve social cohesion, and share ideas. Instead, we managed well with tea and coffee machines dotted around the site. However, there was a canteen attached to the adjacent sand works. On special occasions (like the Yarsley staff Christmas pantomimes), the sand works allowed us to use their canteen for the performances until we had our own space for such activities.
The complete transfer to the Redhill site did not all happen at once. It was phased over several years and obviously had to be co-ordinated with the moving-out of the previous occupants from the various locations to be taken over by YTEC. The moves of personnel and equipment involved colleagues from the Yarsley Testing site at Ashtead, with all their physical, mechanical, thermal, analytical chemistry and fire testing facilities. Also the engineering section from Ashtead, and the plastics processing section from Stoke Poges, all moved into Redhill. Colleagues from YPEC Newhaven brought all their injection moulding plant and other manufacturing operations, (hot runner temperature controllers etc.), to Redhill as soon as the required space was ready to receive it.
Despite the acquisition of the Redhill site, the Yarsley premises at Ashtead remained part of the Fulmer Group for 10 years before Ashtead finally closed when the lease expired in 1987. Remaining on the Ashtead site was a Yarsley Research section, which specialised in thin film technology and adhesives. There was also the analytical chemistry section. (Both of these sections had moved to Ashtead when the Yarsley Chessington site closed after the merger). Eventually both these operations transferred to Redhill when suitable space became available.
The space at Ashtead vacated by the Yarsley Testing colleagues moving out of Ashtead to Redhill, became the base for operations of the Yarsley Research chemists from Stoke Poges. One expanding section was specialising in the development and production of bespoke fluorochemical compounds. In 1979, their facilities were further consolidated at Ashtead by the installation of a 200-litre reaction vessel, which alongside their existing 100-litre vessel paved the way for production of larger quantities of the specialised chemical products. (This operation later developed in 1988 into a joint venture company with Shell Chemicals U.K., known as Yarsley Fluorochemicals Ltd). A second Yarsley chemist’s section, which moved from Stoke Poges to the space made available at Ashtead, was the one dealing with surface coatings, paints, varnishes and lacquers.
There are some dates that stick in the memory. For the writer of these notes, the 4th July 1977 is one such memorable occasion, namely the move of the plastics processing section from Fulmer to Redhill. It was “independence day” from the arduous daily travelling circus to Stoke Poges, and independence from the uncomfortable feeling of being the poor relations at that establishment. It was also to become independence from the years of separation between Yarsley testing colleagues and ourselves, as we always needed to work closely together, and this had been much less satisfactory whilst miles apart.
However, on moving from Stoke Poges to Redhill in July 1977 with all the plastics processing equipment, on arrival it was found that the area we had been promised would be ready to accommodate everything, had not been vacated by the previous occupants. The plant all had to be unloaded into an adjacent area as a temporary arrangement. Once the intended area was freed from sand processing equipment, a huge clean up was necessary to remove copious quantities of fine white sand, which covered the floor and ledges everywhere. We did not want sand to get into the moulds and machinery, as this would have been very damaging. Following the extensive cleaning operation, the entire floor of the polymer processing plant area was sealed with an epoxy floor coating to provide a smart and easy to keep clean surface.
When YTEC acquired the Redhill premises there were four separate buildings available as follows.
The main building consisted of some single storey laboratories and offices at the front, and these were joined to the remaining structure, which was a tall concrete and brick construction divided into three main sectors. There was a roadway running alongside the building from one end to the other. There were large sliding doors giving access to each of the three sectors from the adjacent roadway.
Running parallel to the main building and about two-thirds the length of the main building, (on the opposite side of the access road mentioned above), was a single storey fairly modern wooden construction known as the Hallam Building. This building had a smart front reception area, which led to a central corridor running the length of the building. On one side of the corridor was a series of good size offices and a conference room; whilst on the opposite side of the corridor the entire building length was divided to provide four largish laboratories.
Outside the far end of the Hallam building there was a patch of land on which stood an elderly single storey wooden hut. This hut served the previous occupants as a drawing office at one end with office space, and at the other end an office, which doubled up as first aid room for the site.
Beyond the wooden hut was a very tall open-bay brick structure with a series of attached rooms, some of which are perhaps best described as covered outdoor working areas. There were offices too, and this block was subsequently to become the fire testing section’s area of operations.
Over the next few years there were a lot of changes and developments on the YTEC site as everyone moved in, work expanded, and extra facilities or modifications were required. The following can be recalled as some of the major changes undertaken.
At the farthest end of the main building, was the sector in which the engineering workshop was located. To increase their space and facilities, a lean-to extension was constructed at the back of the building for sample preparation work. Sample machining operations, (which were often dusty and messy), were carried out in this area where suitable dust extraction was provided. Inside the main engineering workshop a mezzanine floor was also constructed to provide the engineers with their own drawing office space upstairs and extra storage as well.
In the next sector of the main building adjacent to the engineering workshop, was the polymer processing area. All the polymer equipment moved from Stoke Poges was installed in this sector. This included the gas powered steam boiler, presses, extrusion line, injection moulding machines, and all ancillary equipment needed to run these facilities. Three larger injection moulding machines from Newhaven came in shortly afterwards, and a water cooling tower had to be installed outdoors at the back of the building, this tower being required to cool the process water from the installed equipment. The polymer-processing sector was an extensive area with adequate height for manipulation of a large straddling “A frame” and hoist, (of 2 tonne capacity), necessary for lifting very heavy mould tools into and out of the injection moulding machines. There was a single storey internal office room included inside the polymer sector.
Adjacent to the polymer processing sector was the third main area in which building products testing and evaluation work took place. Additional office spaces were provided for this sector on a mezzanine floor that was specially installed for the purpose.
There was a 50-tonne “Denison” tension and compression testing machine in the centre of this working area. A lot of space in this sector was taken up by large temperature controlled water tanks in which plastic piping intended for gas and water mains was tested for its long-term suitability for a lifetime of service under pressure.
The laboratories at the front of this building housed analytical chemistry, instrumental analysis, and long term repeated mechanical cycling tests on building components. The site accounts office was originally located in this sector, but later transferred to the Hallam building.
One of the earliest major changes to the inherited buildings was the demolition of the single storey wooden hut at the end of the Hallam building. A two-storey brick built structure replaced it. This new building provided offices for senior personnel and some secretarial staff on the first floor, whilst on the ground floor there was a conference room and several further offices. Since the old hut had contained a first-aid room, a small “Portakabin” was obtained and sited between the buildings next to the roadway to provide a new first-aid room facility.
The block of buildings and associated rooms where the fire testing section was located also had major revisions take place. In particular, in what was originally the very tall open bay brick structure, a full sized BS 476 gas furnace was installed. This was basically an enormous three-metre square gas fire in front of which samples were tested for their fire resistance performance against that British Standard. The other rooms in that suite of buildings were suitably adapted to provide accommodation for several smaller test furnaces and other related fire test equipment.
The biggest and most ambitious major building work on the YTEC site was the construction of a large two-storey block of laboratories and offices on available land parallel to the Hallam Building. The new building was about the same overall length as the Hallam Building but it was a much wider and generally bigger structure. At one end there was a full height roller-shutter access door leading into a pilot plant area. There was originally a library room at the ground floor front end, with laboratories and offices both upstairs and down. This building became known as the Trafford Building, named in memory of Mr D J Trafford who died in service, a much respected and long serving member of Yarsley Testing Laboratories’ staff.
The YTEC site was certainly a hive of activity with a wide range of services available to clients. It was of much benefit eventually to have all the different facilities on the one site where colleagues could work together effectively and share ideas with one another to achieve good outcomes by collaboration. Clients could call upon the services of several different sections at a time with varying expertise on any given project or investigation if required.
Here, space and time permits only a very brief selection of examples to illustrate the types of work and projects undertaken across the site.
The engineering section was fundamentally important to support the operation of all the various activities on the site. The skilled engineers were also responsible for the construction of much special equipment, which was made in close collaboration with other staff who were more research-based personnel. For example an Instrumented Falling Weight Impact Machine, (IFWIM), was designed and constructed in several different model versions.
Polymer processing section offered expertise in the design and production of plastics moulds and mouldings. The testing of large injection moulds for local mould-making firms was another aspect of work following the previous IPEC Newhaven activities. This section also undertook what were called “Turnkey” projects. Moulds and machines were tested and approved ready for the customer. The trials and development work was carried out to attain the standard of moulded products required. When the equipment was handed over to the customer, they could get straight into production. One such project is recalled for a client in Saudi Arabia. A series of moulds for domestic products were obtained, re-engineered and test moulded all on the same machine to be sent with the moulds to the client company. A member of staff also went for a period of time to get the client’s production established.
However, over a period of time the colleagues who came from Newhaven were posted elsewhere or took positions with other companies. (Perhaps the long daily commute from Newhaven to Redhill became too onerous). Once those colleagues were no longer available, the testing of large injection moulding tools was discontinued, and the biggest injection machines were removed. One smaller injection-moulding machine was left to allow the production of test specimens required to support the testing section’s activities.
The plastics section also had a strong experienced team capable of taking on complex litigation investigations in cases involving disputes about plastics materials, processing methods, and product failures. In these types of investigation, collaboration with other colleagues in analytical, physical and mechanical testing was invaluable to the outcomes.
Continuing what had gone on previously at Chessington and then Stoke Poges, specialised moulded and extruded products were also produced on a regular basis to supply clients with their unique requirements.
Building services section evaluated a whole range of products required by the building and construction industries. This included regular compression tests on sample concrete block castings taken from construction sites, flexural tests on load-bearing beams, tests for security of building cladding panels, including wind and simulated snow-loading tests. Platform floors were evaluated to determine whether their performance complied with relevant standards. Mention is made above of the long-term pressure tests carried out in large heated water tanks on plastics water and gas mains piping to assess the life expectancy of the products.
Investigations into Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) products, such as boats, pleasure craft, flumes for water parks and aquatic centres, and the tops of prison walls, all came within the scope of expertise available in this section.
Thermal and electrical conductivity section carried out studies on insulating materials for fridges, freezers, industrial buildings and domestic applications, “Tog” value determinations on duvets, thermal transfer properties of double-glazed windows and doors to check manufacturers’ claims, general electrical insulation and high voltage electrical breakdown tests. They also tested specially made standard test samples, (moulded by the polymer section), to check the electrical property data sheet values of the plastics concerned.
Fire testing covered evaluation of flammability and heat resistance properties on small scale or large scale as appropriate, testing against a whole range of national and international standards. Examples of small-scale tests included toys, consumer products, building products, and even car engines deliberately run to destruction without oil in the sump. Examples of large-scale products were fire doors, windows, partition walling and lift-shaft doors, all of which had to be built into brick and concrete framework structures for testing in front of the 3-metre square furnace face. The test samples had to be built into the holding frame, as they would have been in actual service. Both sides of say fire doors under test would have to be tested by mounting two samples side by side in the holding frame, one testing the inside surface and the adjacent one testing the outside surface in contact with the fire source.
Surrey Fire and Rescue Service Headquarters was located close to Redhill, and often when these large-scale tests were to take place, personnel from the fire services came to view the types of test carried out as part of their service training and education.
Physical and mechanical testing section covered another wide spectrum of samples for evaluation against specific standards. The safety of toys required tests to determine the pullout strength on small parts such as eyes, buttons, and other items, which potentially could present a choking hazard to a child. Mechanical toys with apertures where small fingers might be trapped were examined with standard size “test fingers”. Skateboards were subjected to prolonged flexural testing to assess the risks of deck and wheel failures. Chipboard flooring panels were tested to destruction and other load bearing tests. Accelerated artificial weathering tests were used to evaluate the potential lifetime of articles, which would be exposed outdoors in their service life. There was a climatic test chamber in which temperature and humidity cycling could be carried out. This was to assess the risk of failure, and many tests were conducted in this equipment on the electronic printed circuit boards used in Formula1 racing cars and other similar applications.
Analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis sections offered their services direct to clients as well as being a back-up and support for other projects requiring their expertise. When the hazards of asbestos was a popular subject for investigations, staff members had to travel to sites to remove suspect samples for subsequent laboratory study and identification by various techniques including microscopy. Investigations into where high alumina-cement might have been used in building construction featured heavily at one time.
Investigations of plastics product failures frequently required analysis of chemical composition of the component. This was to make sure the intended material had been used in the manufacture, and to determine what possible effects might any contaminants have had on the failure.
Quality Assurance certification was the principal business activity offered by Yarsley Quality Assured Firms Ltd. Suitably trained and qualified consultants would inspect the premises, operations, documentation, and operational manuals of companies to determine whether or not they complied with methods and procedures specified in certain national and international quality standards. This work became a significant part of the whole scene at Redhill.
On 2nd November 1990, a massive change took place concerning the whole Redhill operation, namely Fulmer Yarsley Ltd and Yarsley Quality Assured Firms Ltd were acquired by SGS Inspection Services Ltd, which was the UK operating company of the Geneva-based SGS Group. The YQAF operation, (which included several regional offices around the country), was still to be under the control of the same personnel as previously, and continued to operate as an independent company using their original name. However, the Fulmer Yarsley Ltd part of the organisation immediately became SGS Yarsley Ltd.
This Swiss owned company SGS was said to operate in over 140 countries and boasted of having thousands of employees worldwide. Big is not always the best, and this certainly proved to be the case for those now in SGS Yarsley Ltd. The personal touch of the former smaller company was soon lost, and replaced by instructions, commands and memos flying about from people one had never heard of in all sorts of different places. It seemed there were now hoards of bosses and administrators compared with what we had been used to.
SGS naturally wanted to do things their way, and that meant shuffling around and reorganising the structures we had been familiar with. Eventually, all the SGS Yarsley Ltd operations at Redhill came under the control of a General Manager, Consumer Products Division, who was based at Alperton, (near Wembley), where SGS had another testing establishment. (As stated above YQAF remained a completely separate entity).
The former Fulmer Yarsley / YTEC operations all ended up within the following general structure as SGS Yarsley Ltd. There were five main groups and their constituent parts as follows:
- Consumer Product Division had three subdivisions, namely Analytical/Physical Testing, Product Evaluation, and Business Development and Consultancy.
- Fire Technology Group.
- Building Products Group.
Initially most of the personnel at Redhill basically carried on doing the same type of work as previously. However, since SGS had many other sites, like Alperton, and Tividale, some types of testing were duplicated with what was done at Redhill. For example, toy testing was a strong activity at both Redhill and Alperton and neither site wanted to lose their business contacts to the other.
Notes still available record that within 6 months of the change of ownership, several members of staff were made redundant, and others left of their own accord. The ownership of the sand company later changed hands, and in early 1993 rumours were spreading concerning news of potential redevelopment of the whole very large site, which was thought to include the area occupied by SGS. In March 1993, senior management sent all staff a memo to confirm that SGS had a firm lease until December 1995. Another memo dated August 1993 confirmed that final approval had been given for development of the site. Some members of staff who were fearful of what the future would hold, decided to seek employment elsewhere.
Early in 1995 it was announced that SGS was to relocate some of the Redhill operations to Alperton, which was something many had feared but expected. By June discussions began with staff members individually about their sections, personal positions and future prospects in relation to the move. So from mid 1995 a general “run-down” began knowing that SGS would be leaving the site at the end of the year. Alperton made it known they did not intend to continue with plastics processing and moulding work, so instructions were given to arrange for the disposal of all non-required moulds and equipment. Customers, who regularly required certain moulded products, were informed that they would need to obtain their future supplies from elsewhere after the end of 1995. This led to a rush of orders to allow stocking up on certain critical products before the plug was finally pulled on production at Redhill.
In collaboration with one concerned client, an engineering company was found who were prepared to take the 75-tonne compression moulding press, together with the moulds and ancillary equipment, used in the production of their unique amber billets. Detailed instructions were provided for the successful operation of the intricate process used to mould these billets. The same engineering company also acquired the moulds and equipment necessary for the production of TPX film and sheet products, since these items were produced using the same 75-tonne moulding press. All other moulding tools, which had been held at Redhill for specific clients’ work, were returned to the rightful owners, or disposed of if no longer required.
Two or three injection moulding tools, which were used to produce standard test specimens from thermoplastic polymers, together with several compression moulds for standard test specimens in thermosetting polymer, were all sent to a University department who would be capable of supplying test specimens to Alperton if required for physical and mechanical tests.
The writer cannot with certainty say what happened to all the different operations from Redhill at this time, but it is thought that the fire testing section as a whole was sold to another, (previously competitive), organisation doing similar work.
It is known that staff from the Building Products Group negotiated special arrangements. This allowed them to set up their own company and remain in the same premises at Redhill, (the main building), where they already were situated. They occupied large areas testing platform floors as well as other products.
In the end, it was only a small handful of staff that elected to transfer full time to Alperton when Redhill closed at the end of 1995. Some went from the Physical Testing Section and Business Development and Consultancy, and one from Engineering. Other arrangements were made by a few to work at Alperton or with SGS at Camberley on a part-time and consultancy basis. The writer however considered enough was enough and by choice, at the end of December 1995, left the company for pastures new.
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