The eternal youth of a company established almost 100 years ago

Re-inventing itself, understanding changes, making the most of the experience of the past and believing totally in the company’s mission. And the same time without denying its origins and without letting itself be intimidated by cumbersome legacies or unexpected problems. These are probably the secret of VINAVIL. The secrets of an historical industry in the Italian chemical sector which. strengthening over time, is now a young and strong Company. A youth which stands out even more if we go back briefly to look at its history and also to reflect on a sector, such as the chemical sector, which over the last century has undergone rapid and not always painless changes.



A vocation for
la industrial chemistry

Between 1918 and 1919, SET (Toce Electrochemicals Company) decided to create a facility at Villadossola together with SIPS (Italian Synthetic Products Company) to produce calcium carbide. Extension of production in Villadossola was made possible by the brilliant entrepreneurial spirit of Montecatini, which realised the development potential of artificial fibres, in particular of Rayon acetate, establishing itself alongside viscose Rayon in textiles production. In 1928, Montecatini, having realised that the production of calcium carbide provided a good basis for raw material supply (acetic anhydride) for the production of cellulose acetate, studied the practical possibility of launching an organic production programme. During this period, the Villadossola factory also equipped itself with infrastructures, steam production and energy distribution
stations, offices and control and research laboratories.


Wartime and
the birth of “white glue”

In 1940, with Italy’s entry into the war alongside Germany, the French share in Rhodiaceta was confiscated and the company became the exclusive property of Montecatini. The manufacturing plant became of interest from a war perspective. In spite of the dramatic nature of the events, this period was characterised by a series of initiatives driven by the requirements of the time and fuelled by the positive stimulus for the research and development structure. Thus started the experimental production of polyvinyl-acetate dispersion, obtained through polymerisation of vinyl-acetate in a bath of water and polyvinyl alcohol. This was 1942, an historic date: it was the beginning of the "white glue" which ten years later was to take the name VINAVIL. It was a time of re-launch, growth and development.



The post-war period
and economic boom

Gradually, existing plants were renewed and new ones were built. In 1952 a plant was set up for the production of polyvinyl-acetate beads, obtained by polymerising vinyl-acetate in a water bath under agitation. In the same year, the polyvinyl-acetate dispersion reactors were installed and with these came the name VINAVIL, from Vinyl-Acetate in Villadossola. This white latex, sold in the characteristic white and red containers, was to take over the market and soon became synonymous with glue, defined in the Italian Dictionary Encyclopedia as “the commercial name for polyvinyl-acetate and in particular a type of low temperature glue obtained from that plastic resin”.


The factory crisis

In 1966 Montecatini merged with Edison, establishing Montecatini Edison S.p.A. which then became Montedison in 1974. In the mid 1970s, the oil crisis caused a sudden rise in the price of oil derivatives and the production of vinyl-acetate from carbide once again had its moment of glory. In 1974, because of this economic situation, it was decided to extend the range of products for the more specialised applications, by building an EVA plant in Villadossola for the production of copolymer acetate dispersions. At the end of the 1970s Montedison, as part of a rationalisation plan for its activities, separated the Battiggio plant from the Villadossola factory, including it in its Energy Division (SELM). At that point Villadossola found itself having to purchase energy at almost market prices. From 1981 on, there was a progressive reduction in production which culminated, in August 1983, with final closure of the plant.



From Montedison to EniChem

The polyvinyl-acetate production business was still operating, albeit somewhat unstably, a company called VINAVIL S.p.A., a subsidiary of Montedison, was entrusted with its management. In 1987, VINAVIL S.p.A. became part of Montedipe, which Montedison assigned to Enimont in 1989. When all chemical activities were transferred to EniChem in the following year, the factory was organised under EniChem Synthesis, alongside the Ravenna-based former ANIC facilities, which had the same production range. The two acetic series production facilities, Villadossola and Ravenna, which up until the previous year had operated as competitors in the marketplace, were unified at last. But the equipment was modest in size and not competitive in terms of production efficiency and product range. In addition, the Villadossola plant was in extremely precarious conditions from a maintenance point of view. In 1991 Enichem presented its Business Plan in which it anticipated the closure of the Villadossola factory. Only after intense political and union pressure was it decided to put it up for sale.


VINAVIL joins Mapei Group

In July 1994 Mapei acquired EniChem Synthesis’ vinyl-acetate resin business with the Villadossola and Ravenna units. The transaction provide the opportunity to strengthen the chemical productions in the two plants, thus enhancing the Company’s competitiveness and giving it a very strong growth potential. The new Company was named VINAVIL S.p.A. In the early stages, the management focused on renovation of the buildings and plants, on improving manufacturing efficiency and product quality, and on strengthening Research, Technical Service, and Engineering resources. Once the Company was reorganized, the focus turned to achieving product diversification and specialization, integrating with Mapei group, and minimizing environmental impact in a perspective of a fully eco-compatible chemistry.



VINAVIL goes global

As far back as 1997, a few VINAVIL manufacturing lines were installed in Canada (in Laval) and the United States (in West Chicago). VINAVIL Egypt’s facility, started up in August 2002, represented Mapei Group’s first expansion into the Middle East and Africa. Established through a partnership with local businesses in Attaqa, on the Suez Canal, the factory was in a favourable position to supply customers in the southern Mediterranean region and along the East African coast, besides of course the Middle East. In 2006, the plant’s capacity was expanded by over 50% through the construction and startup, in November, of a third reaction line and a service improvement programme.


Preparing for a bright future

On January 20, 2008, the huge complex made up of eight calcium carbide storage silos, for almost 50 years a landmark in the Val d’Ossola scenery, was mined with explosive microcharges and torn down in a cloud of dust and clanging metal scraps.
The massive Montedison sign, that rose high on the north side of the building at a height of 56 meters, shattered in the whirling dust and fragments: with it went years of exciting growth and development, but also of uncertainty, crisis and redundancy. The destruction of the silos symbolically heralded the end of the “Big” Chemistry run by adventurers, politicians and power groups, the chemistry of takeovers and briberies. The new chemical industry which is taking its place pursues welldefined business objectives, using its own resources and aligning its entrepreneurial mission with the expectations of the market, the employees, the communities and the environment.

On the area previously occupied by the old silos modern industrial facilities will be built to support the future growth of both Mapei Group and the market, and to make VINAVIL independent with respect to availability of certain strategic raw materials. It is the beginning for VINAVIL of a new development and relaunch phase, in the very same place where it all originally started. Surrounded by a landscape that scientific progress and research can and must help to preserve, through the care and protection of the environment. VINAVIL continues to commit to this objective, in line with the ethical and cultural values which are the foundation of Mapei Group’s philosophy.