This year Caroma is celebrating 60 years of manufacturing in Australia. While we may associate the name with toilets and bathroom fittings, the company has been a leader in plastics production since the 1950s. It all began with a plastic syringe…
In 1949 penicillin injections were being used to treat most bacterial infections, but penicillin tended to clog up glass syringes and make them hard to clean. To solve the problem, Austrian immigrant, Charles Rothauser, created the world’s first plastic, disposable hypodermic syringe at his Adelaide factory.
He made the first syringes in polyethylene. However, because polyethylene softens with heat, the syringes had to be chemically sterilised prior to packaging, which made them expensive. In 1951 Rothauser produced the first injection- moulded syringes made of polypropylene, a plastic that can be heat-sterilised. Millions were made for Australian and export markets.
In 1956 Rothauser, renamed his plastics company “Caroma” and began manufacturing bathroom products, including the world’s first one-piece plastic toilet cistern. In the 1970s Caroma made plastic bathroom fittings fashionable with the Bathmates range, available in five colours – red, white, blue, yellow and brown.
Caroma is perhaps best known for developing the dual flush toilet. In 1980, with $130 000 government assistance, Bruce Thompson of Caroma developed a cistern with two buttons and flush volumes (11.0 litres and 5.5 litres). This wasn’t easy because the toilet bowl had to be redesigned to make sure less water could still remove the waste.
Thompson’s Duoset cistern saved 32 000 litres of water a year per household when it was trialled in a small South Australian town. Caroma’s success led to legislation in every state to make dual volume toilets compulsory in new buildings.
In 1994 the company completely redesigned the toilet in stylish porcelain in a modern ‘organic shape’. Its 6 and 3 litre dual flush cistern and matching bowl halved the amount of water normally flushed away.
The Smartflush range designed in 2004, further reduced the flushing volumes to 4.5L and 3.0L and were the first toilets to achieve the Water Services Association Australia (WSAA) AAAA water rating for water efficiency. Five years of research, development and testing of the cistern and pan design were required to achieve effective flushing with minimal water use.
Caroma’s combination of style and environmental awareness has attracted attention in the tough European sanitaryware market and their products are now shipped to more than 30 countries worldwide.
After 60 years, Caroma is still manufacturing some of its products in Australia, with plants in Norwood, South Australia, and Wetherill Park, New South Wales. One Caroma factory makes vitreous china toilet pans and cisterns, the main raw material being clay. The moulds are complex, and the process takes several days, as the wet clay dries slowly and is then glazed and fired in a large kiln. Another factory makes plastic cistern parts, plastic toilet seats, and some plastic cisterns. The processes used for making the plastic parts are injection moulding and compression moulding. For a detailed case study on how Caroma toilets are made and the importance of product quality see the Australia innovates website.
Here’s a sneak peek inside the Sydney factory.