Centenary Bulletin 3 – Mr. Carbon Black

July 5, 2018

Late in 1952, John Clark had a call from an American, Owen J. Brown Jr., who said he was visiting Australia as his company was seeking a local representative to market their products. He had approached a friend of John’s, Ken Christian, who was unable to consider the job, but had suggested contact with Norman G Clark. Brown subsequently met with John and Norman G Clark agreed to market the Godfrey L. Cabot Inc. Carbon Black range to rubber companies in Australia.

Tik was out of town, but was nominated as the chemical expert. When he returned to Melbourne he discovered that he was now “Mr Carbon Black” and due to depart for the USA and UK almost immediately to finalise arrangements for the new agency.

Suffice to say, Norman G Clark’s association with Cabot was a wonderful success. Tik did a great job of promotion and there was an enormous increase in Cabot’s market share, which was also highly profitable. Cabot was one of the largest private companies in the USA, and had made some major developments in plastics and paint. These products also came under the Norman G Clark banner for both import and export.

Cabot eventually decided to build an Australian Carbon Black plant. Norman G Clark were retained to carry out the local equipment procurement and subcontracting for the project with a very large sum of money to spend and one year to complete the project. John’s Father-In-Law, Charles Thom, formerly a Shell engineer, was employed to manage the project.

Charles Thom Manager of the Altona Carbon Black Development

Charles Thom Manager of the Altona Carbon Black Development

Land was purchased in Millers Road, Altona, engineering and design work contracted and all materials purchased through Norman G Clark.

In 1959 the plant opened the gate right on time, which in those days was a major achievement in itself, however it effectively meant the end of the Norman G Clark sales of tyre type Carbon Blacks.

Raw material for the carbon blacks were the residue from the petrochemical industries also based in the Altona area. However supply difficulties caused the plant to be closed in 2004.

Norman G Clark still represented Cabot for its exotic carbon black products, black and white masterbatches and fumed silicas and this arrangement continued through to the 1990’s on both a stocking and a direct indent basis.

Carbon Black was a very dirty product to handle. Any broken bag resulted in fine carbon dust polluting everything in reach. Consequently Carbon Black was stored in remote locations away from the office.

Masterbatches on the other hand had the black already mixed into the required plastic and then pelletised. Consequently they were much cleaner and easier to handle. Cabot also produced and sold white masterbatch material. The raw material for the white came from Australian sourced titanium which was refined from the heavy beach sand mining of rutile and ilmenite.

As Cabot’s Australian agent the company supervised many export shipments of these minerals from both east and west coasts of Australia destined for the Cabot titanium plant near Erie Pennsylvania.

This plant was subsequently sold to New Jersey Zinc but the representation and supervision of shipments continued for a number of years.

One of the shipments from Bunbury W.A. of Up Graded Ilmenite (UGI) was significant due to a major issue with the vessel contracted to carry a full load being presented in an unsuitable state for transporting UGI. The MV Garden Mars had four holds lined in a heavy rust scale. Since Ilmenite is a Ferro-Titanium mineral and iron is an unwanted element for the Erie plant the supplier in Australia conducts an upgrade by removing iron from the Ilmenite hence UGI. To put this product into a ship’s hold with heavy rust simply reverses the upgrade process. Rob Clark representing NJZ refused to allow loading to start until the ship was cleaned.

Norman G Clark - Garden Mars Loading at Bunbury with rust filled hold.

Norman G Clark – Garden Mars Loading at Bunbury with rust filled hold.

Norman G Clark - Garden Mars Loading at Bunbury with rust filled hold.

Norman G Clark – Garden Mars Loading at Bunbury with rust filled hold.

Norman G Clark - Garden Mars Loading at Bunbury with rust filled hold.

Norman G Clark – Garden Mars Loading at Bunbury with rust filled hold.

The standoff which resulted involved some tense negotiations between a number of parties including Bunbury Port officials, ships owner and agents, the UGI supplier, New Jersey Zinc, insurance companies, ship’s crew, stevedore union officials and a host of other semi interested parties. Several hundred thousand dollars and two weeks later the ship was cleaned by local contractors and approved for loading with, no doubt, a number of the Bunbury locals very much richer for the experience.

The final Cabot product which Norman G Clark imported was a fumed silica, Cab-O-Sil. Essentially Silicon Dioxide of different particle sizes

Cab-O-Sil was a major component for adhesives, sealants and paints.

Storage was no easier than for the blacks. Cab-O-sil  was a white powder, abrasive and fluffy. With any broken bag the silica would disappear in a high wind in a very short time. Somehow we managed to store Cab-O-Sil and Carbon Black side by side without any major incidents but container loads shipped directly to the customer was always preferred.

Tik Clark “Mr Carbon Black”

Tik Clark “Mr Carbon Black”

As a consequence of Cabot sales activity, an offer was made to represent the Polymer Corporation in Australia.  Polymer was a Canadian Government Corporation located in Sarnia, Ontario producing a range of synthetic rubber products from the by-product of local petrochemical refineries.

Tik was also made responsible for this activity and obtained a very big percentage of the market selling Polysar Synthetic Rubber and Cabot Carbon Black to the Australian tyre manufacturing industry.  The Norman G Clark/Polymer Corporation agreement continued to December 1973, when the Polysar set up its own office in Australia.

Other speciality rubber related chemicals were also represented.

  • Ware Chemical Company (Connecticut USA)
  • D.O.G. Factice (Holland)
  • Schenectady Resins (New York)
  • DSM Thermo Set Elastomers (Holland)

These all contributed the success of the Rubber and Plastics Division for many years through the 60’s to the 1980’s. Inevitably suppliers established their own offices in Australia and the need for local representation declined, however the contribution to establishing a long term solid business was in a large part due to the Cabot, Polysar and prior Scholten relationships.

Cabot Engineering