Celebrating 65 Years of Sorbent

12 Feb 2018


 Sorbent toilet tissue, an Australian-made icon, has marked its 65th year of manufacturing and employees at its Box Hill, Victoria plant think its cause for celebration.

Proudly Australian made

Launched in 1952, Sorbent was the first crepe toilet paper sold in rolls of 1-ply white tissue. Rolls were sent to retailers pre-wrapped in paper, an innovation that allowed the product to display the Sorbent brand name and message.

Its name was inspired by the most important product feature: absorbency. Before 1952, people made do with a non-absorbent, coarse paper that was sold from under the counter.

A household staple in Australia ever since, Sorbent has proven to be equally important for Australian workers.

While manufacturing jobs of late have headed offshore at a steady clip, personal hygiene company Asaleo Care’s Sorbent plant continues to operate, which is good news for the facility’s more than 300 workers.

“The people of Box Hill have worked hard to keep manufacturing here in Australia,” said David Brown, Executive General Manager of Strategy, Planning and Finance. “It means continually working to increase production efficiencies with improved automation, and investment in state-of-the-art machinery.”

The Company completed a three-year $65 million upgrade to the Box Hill Tissue site in 2015 to reconfigure the manufacturing footprint. Annually, the Box Hill site produces more than $200 million worth of product. 

‘Tissue making is a passion: it gets in your blood’

Ross Stride, a production manager for Box Hill’s mill and paper machines puts it best: “For our employees, tissue-making is a passion. It gets in your blood. New technology brings learning challenges and business growth opportunities. We adapt to remain competitive. We have to.”

After 32 years at the Box Hill factory, Mr Stride would know. He has witnessed the constant technological improvements and innovations that has made the Box Hill facility the cornerstone of Sorbent’s success.

“People have a real pride in what they do here,” said Paul Honey, Executive General Manager of Production and Supply.

“Experienced workers like Ross Stride are the other essential component to Sorbent’s success.  Average tenure is 20-years’ service,” he said. “Some here have more than 40 years behind them. We have seen families and generations of families working alongside each other.”

Mr Stride is full of anecdotes that paint a rich picture of an intimate factory-floor culture and talks about the increasing automation of the factory with impressive recall.

He remembers the Yankee drier introduced in the 80s that could achieve an unprecedented 90 per cent dryness in toilet tissue. In 1989, a new paper machine PM4 and converting line CW114 worth $180 million were installed. By the late 1990s, Box Hill laid claim to using the largest robots in the southern hemisphere.

Sue Hay, a Box Hill veteran of more than 35 years, said one of the most important changes she experienced was the acceptance of women working on heavy machinery.

“Previously, only men could work on the machines,” she recalls. “Now everyone can get dirty.”

She approaches her work with dedication and pride. “You come to love your machine. You clean it, you respect it, you want it to perform – like your first car."

It’s an attitude that binds the employees together at Box Hill. “The dedication, expertise, and long tenure of Sorbent’s employees is just as important as the new technologies changing the nature of the industry,” said Paul Honey, Executive General Manager Manufacturing and Supply.

“It’s the reason Sorbent is still manufacturing here in Australia after 65 years.”