Recticel, The passion for Comfort

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HISTORY

Image of Jan-Frans Cooppal

 

The "Koninklijke Buskruitfabriek Cooppal", as it was called, was ideally situated in Wetteren on the edge of the Scheldt, because there was virtually no habitation and the (gun)powder mills wouldn't be a risk for the environment.  ===>

 

Wetteren, at the Scheldt

    The factory was founded In  1778 by Jan-Frans Cooppal

 

In September 1779 Cooppal already exported gunpowder to Dunkirk through the port of Ostend and later to America. The company consisted of four gunpowder mills with low activity. The gunpowder factory changed since its inception in 1778 years of prosperity with years of severe problems.

A gunpowder mill

 

In 1785, however there was a major expansion due to the orders of the Austrian Government. Between 1787 and 1791 earnings increase fivefold from 4 845 dutch guilders to 22 888 dutch guilders. This was mainly due to the Brabant revolution and the preparation of the imminent war with France.

     
Wetteren (Belgium), Royal gunpowder factory

In 1792 the French declared war on Austria. After a two year fight, the dispute has been settled in favor of the French. The Austrian oppression gives way to the French. The repeated raids of the French armies have destroyed part of the factory until it was closed on July 31, 1796.

The founder, Jean-Frans Cooppal, died in 1806 at the age of 80 and was succeedFactory in the earlier daysed by his son Pieter-Frans Cooppal who was president of the Chamber of Commerce in Antwerp.  After the Battle of Waterloo, on November 16, 1815 Pieter-Frans and his associate Philippus-Jozephus Vermoeien were given permission by the Kingdom of The Netherlands to reopen the factory. The Netherlands became good clients. 

In 1838, at 76 years of age, Pieter-Frans Cooppal bought the part that belonged to P.J. Vermoeien and leaves the factory to his daughter, Mimi Cooppal and her husband, Tehodoor Teichman. The company began to gain international fame, driven by Constant Van Cromphaut, who joined Cooppal in 1828. In 1842 he was appointed as a manager of the  factory by Mimi Cooppal, after her father died. When Constant Van Cromphout died in 1879, his son-in-law, Charles Libbrecht, took the helm. During his period of office, the reputation of the company increased even more, partly because of the unsurpassed level of production of the "black powder". Large orders came from England and France. At a certain point in time, volumes were that big that the factory had to be operational day and night during 12 years.

 Gunpowder
Some of the workers around 1857

In 1857 about 250 workers were active in the factory.

 In 1880, there was a enormous explosion. 35 tons of gunpowder exploded. There were 10 casualties and 13 workplaces were destroyed. It was decided to transfer part of the production to a new plant in Kaulille (Belgium). There, the more modern explosives were housed. Also around 1880, a workhouse was established for the production of sporting-powder. This "cartoucherie" existed until 1986.

This ammunition caused a real revolution in the industry of explosives and would gradually replace gunpowder. Thanks to  the succes of this ammunition, Cooppal decided in 1898 to establish a new department for the production of ether, a solvent used in the new generation of explosives.

In 1914 war broke out. Despite all difficulties, the Board of Directors of Cooppal decided to admin 50% of the salary to the families of employees that were called up for duty. Cooppal was a forerunner of social services. The attention and compassion for employees was huge. The rebuilding of the factory after World War I costed about 21 million Belgian francs. In 1919 the Poudrerie Réunies de Casteau changed their name in Poudrerie Réunies de Belgique (PRB). Between the two world wars, a new department is started for the production of synthetic and natural resins, used as raw materials for the paint and varnish industries.

 View on the Royal gunpowder factory

 The first steps in polyurethane were taken in the early fifties, under the watchful eye of André Belpaire, former manager and descendant of the founder. Recticel wouldn't be where it is now if he didn't take the step towards diversification. He tried out several new products, that had to replace the unstable base of gunpowder and ether. Polyurethane was one of the only products that survived, at least in Wetteren. In 1952, the Royal gunpowder factories of Wetteren bought the license from Bayer for the production and marketing of polyurethane foam (PU) in order to replace the slackening activities. It was a remarkable period of time. When production started, they had to work until all raw materials were turned into foam, even if that meant they had to work over midnight. If the foam would rise even a few centimeters, the management opened a bottle of champaign to celebrate it. PU was spectacular, everybody wanted to see and feel it and we thought of thousands of applications for our foam.

The new foam was called "Cooppalpren". From a financial point of view, it was not obvious to keep up with the fast evolution of the PU-technology. They used large containers to produce foam at that time and not conveyor belts. In the late fifties, imitation sponges were the top product! Around 1957 we see other raw material suppliers break through the monopoly of Bayer. Until then, the composition of the products was fairly unknown. The American market entered open formulations on the market. That allowed production leader and chemist to improve control over production. A new kind of foam was born; the so-called polyetherfoam, that was used with increasing success in the furniture industry.

As from 1962 foam rolls became increasingly popular, because of its use in the textile industry. Full ships left for England.

In 1964 the development of rigid foam started, first in blocks and around 1965 on a laminator.

In 1966, the PU-department of Cooppal was transformed to Eurofoam, after a 50/50 joint venture with PRB. PRB already had eyes for Cooppal, but the Belpaire family always refused to sell the company because they wanted to stay independent. Due to the fact that PU was very successful, a lot of investments were necessary and a strong financial partner was more than welcome. In 1967, PRB and Cooppal completely melted to PRB. PRB acquired other interests in the chemical industry. In the meantime, Eurofoam tried to diversify its activities and introduces other technologies, products and applications. Recticel, a small Dutch company in the PU business and part of the PRB group, gives its name to all the PU activities of PRB in the seventies. The name Eurofoam remains in the vernacular, but changes in the seventies officially to RECTICEL.

In 1968 the produced volumes were that high, that the production space was too small. There were continuous construction works of new production space, but in the end the plant's connection was lost.

1970 is the start of the construction of a whole new plant on the other side of the street (Damstraat, where the Wetteren production plant still is situated).  It is also the year in which the International Development Center of the Group was established.

In 1973, Luc Vansteenkiste joined Recticel as a spray engineer. 

In 1985,  the Société Générale de Belgique, the majority shareholder of PRB, groups its activities in the chemical sector in a new company, Gechem. Recticel is one of them.


In 1992, after a number of divestments and concentration of the more lucrative PU business, Recticel remains the only activity of the Gechem group. The name Gechem disappears.

In 1998, Luc Vansteenkiste, CEO of the Recticel group, creates –together with Cie du Bois Sauvage- the Rec-Hold holding and acquires the majority stake held by the Société Générale de Belgique in Recticel.

In 2010, Olivier Chapelle becomes the new CEO of Recticel.

In 2015 Recticel successfully increases its share capital by € 75.9 million through a rights' issue.

 

 

Recticel is now ready for the future, with a new vision on the sound foundations

of its valuable technology and its market leadership

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