Back in 1995, when Bernard Walsh answered a phone call from his father telling him to check out a job that had been advertised in the local paper, he couldn’t have foreseen that it would be the start of a 25-year career. Now a Research & Development Chemist at Sika’s R&D Centre of Excellence in Preston, Bernard has never looked back; he’s still enjoying working with a talented team and looking forward to fresh opportunities with Sika.
When he was appointed as a lab technician at Liquid Plastics, which became Sika Liquid Plastics in 2009, Bernard was still unsure where his career path should take him.
“I’d graduated with a degree in microbiology and biochemistry and had been working as a lab technician in a school,” explains Bernard. “I wanted to work in some kind of research role and had been applying for diverse range of jobs across the country. When the Liquid Plastics job came up in a research lab a stone’s throw from home, it seemed like an obvious choice. I had no idea then that I’d end up as part of a global research and development team working in a state-of-the art lab facility.”
Bernard was promoted from lab technician to research chemist within 18 months of joining the company, with responsibility for working on liquid applied membranes for the UK market and markets across the Benelux region. His role remains rooted in developing new liquid applied membrane formulations to this day.
He continues: “In the Liquid Plastics days I was part of a team of six and, although our lab was modernised before the company was acquired by Sika, our capabilities were still restricted to our own team and resources. Once we became part of Sika’s global network, we were able to leverage the work being done by Sika’s R&D teams around the world and collaboration with other teams has become embedded in my role.
“My job also involves working closely with colleagues from other departments, such as technical, applications and marketing, to ensure R&D is always market-focused and joined up with field-testing, training and compliance. Each element of the journey from lab to site is supported by an interdisciplinary team and it’s great to be part of that bigger picture.”
Sika Liquid Plastics’ R&D centre in Preston was completed in 2014 and Bernard has worked in the building ever since. His role encompasses both researching new concepts, some of which are developed through to market-ready formulations, and continuous improvement of existing products.
“The new product development process is joined up across the business,” he explains. “Sometimes we identify new applications for technologies developed in other markets, sometimes we spot a potential gap in the market and an opportunity for a pioneering new product, and sometimes we respond to market feedback. Alongside the drive to bring new products to market, we also have to respond to factors such as legislative change, the availability of raw materials and market trends to refine and develop the existing products in our range.”
One of the product developments that Bernard’s team has been involved with was the use of i-cure technology in developing the low-odour formulation for Decothane Ultra.
“The development of Decothane Ultra is the perfect example of how Sika drives innovation in the roofing market,” Bernard continues. “We were able to combine the market-leading Decothane product with new and novel in-house components to answer the need for a high performance, low-odour liquid-applied membrane. It’s just one product that highlights the advantages of our global R&D capabilities working hand-in-glove with in-depth market and sector knowledge.”
Although Bernard has many career highlights, from products he’s been involved in developing to collaborative projects that have taken him to Sika sites around the world, it’s not just his personal achievements as an R&D chemist that keep him motivated at work.
“I love my job,” he adds, “and the fascination with trying out new formulations and seeing what works has never left me. It’s the team that has kept me here at Sika, however, because it’s such a supportive environment and a pleasure to work with talented colleagues who are all committed to driving innovation.”