Agfa is not dead. Is Agfa dead?
Lieven Gevaert’s statue is meters high: a sincere man, holding his right hand in a strange manner giving money to a person huddling to his side. The column they make part of is inscribed `Greatness´ . Two other columns with allegoric figures are inscribed `People´ and `Culture´. They are to be found in a nice residential street in Mortsel, Flanders. The flowerbeds at their feet have seen better days. The Agfa plant is just out of sight.
No, Agfa is not dead. Strolling through another Mortsel street, art nouveau houses at your sides, the street makes a turn, unexpectedly making you find yourself within a chemical plant. An Agfa refrigerator truck passing you, the companies fire service going the other direction. Live is going on. In contrast to the late Agfa plant in Wolfen which was erected on the country side, and the Leverkusen plant which was settled within a chemical estate, this huge plant is found within the city, the Lieven Gevaert School facing the wall hedging the plant.
Agfa is a company with still 14,000 people. But people are made to leave, 2000-4000. 1000 of them are part of those 4000 in Flanders. With emphasis on the coating facilities. Whereas industrial action could be avoided last year, part of those who are remaining got into (silent) action at the begin of this month on their salary and flexibility issues.
A company in transition, Agfa has sold their so called consumer related branch. (Interestingly they stated that consumer films only made the lesser share of all of their film production.) This branch which was situated in Germany, with its major plant in Leverkusen. The outcome was, that this branch, bought by investors and some managers and given the name AgfaPhoto, after seven months became insolvent literally over night.
This whole issue is still mysterious but after a lot of speculation now it’s gone to oblivion. Well, there was speculation about the price of the buy and the capital the new company had got. But it is beyound question that still to the day before the insolvency the company looked financially sound to everybody concerned. Which of course evoked a lot of questions. The public prosecutor did not see indicators for an investigation but speculation got on. Culminating not only in the statement that Agfa had profited by that insolvency, but that the management in Mortsel even planned the whole thing. A sickening thought… But as one could find arguments in favour of this theory there are as much against. The main one to my mind is that both the Mortsel plant and the German plants were logistically interwoven and a simple separation in consumer and non-consumer production is not feasible; a breakdown of the German branch would get Mortsel into trouble, as it did. (As a marginal note: The Cologne University made an exam where the economics students’ task was to comment the feasibility and profitability of a “strategic bankrupt” in case that was what Agfaphoto’s main investor tried to do. No moral critique involved…)
The outcome of that insolvency is known to most members: the productive company, AgfaPhoto GmbH is dissolving, the mother, AgfaPhoto Holding, still lives on its very name.
Part of the people who lost their jobs went to court. For some their whole company pension, arranged with Agfa prior to the splitting is at stake. A German court gave them right in first instance as they were forced in a way to changeover from Agfa to AgfaPhoto. The were installed as Agfa employees again. However Agfa is going into appeal against that decision.
What is left of the German Agfa? Only the chemical plant, some minilab manufacture and the PET-film manufacture could be sold. The coating plants are going as scrap metal.
Three employees left before the troubles and started an engineering company (Inoviscoat) specialising in special coating on non-photographic fields, using an emulsion making/coating set of Agfa’s R&D. As now publicized this small company advises Fotoimpex on their venture in small scale coating (on another such set from AgfaPhoto?).
Agfaphoto’s last order, already in insolvency, was a huge one by Agfa to make aero films for them.
Further all their stocks were sold out. APX masterrolls (and APX emulsions ??) were bought by Maco to be cut and branded Rollei Retro.
And the Future? What has Agfa to give the traditionalists?
Agfa is going to move from a chemical company to a company with a strong hold in the electronic sector, namely prepress and health care systems (“Imaging and IT-specialist”). To achieve this Agfa has just split into three sectors: Health Care, Graphics and Materials (1.9/1.7/0.7 Billion € sales including double counting).
Materials is responsible for the production of different materials amongst them traditional photographic materials. The latter obviously for a part go further to Health Care (X-ray films) and Graphics (graphic films).
The department most interesting to us is Aerial Photography as they are offering pictorial camera films. Obviously three of their films are sold by Maco cut to consumer sizes, rebranded as Rollei films: Infrared, Scanfilm and Slide Direct.
Is Agfa making films?
Yes. Basemaking. Emulsionmaking. Coating. X-ray films, graphic films, pcb films and micro-reprographic films. Paper is supplied, though I am not sure whether it is still coated, as their paper has been substituded by new, comparable types.
As I heard that their cine colour emulsions were prepared at the Leverkusen plant and coated in Mortsel, it could be that until the breakdown of the Leverkusen plant they got all their colour emulsions from there.
They had ordered a 5-year-supply! (based on recent production figures or on extrapolation?) of some of their aero films at the insolvent AgfaPhoto. The intention was to bridge a span of time to follow the aero survey market and decide then to make up a new range of films or leave that field due to the upcoming of digital imaging. (End 2005: "We certainly will develop new aerial films and will evaluate the market opportunity for these new products in 3 to 4 years”) In the begin of 2006 they uttered that they foresee many years of need for aero films and are willing to be competitive.
This spring the aero department called out that “Film technology is alive and kicking” (a statement which in contrast to Ilford’s recent statement seems not to have reached this forum…) and (more remarkable) gave the purchasers of their reversal film a supply guarantee for 2 years, and further: “Aerial film business is a sound business for Agfa-Gevaert offering a long term perspective for users of analogue aerial camera systems.”
As this department is used to have tight user relations, inviting them to Antwerp, in contrast to the late consumer department, they could be open for new ideas emerging from let’s say Apug. On the other hand an Agfa paper from last year ordered all departments to reduce their direct users contacts…
All facilities and resources needed to produce films interesting to us should be readily available or could be installed in the Mortsel plant. Agfa’s size could give the reserves necessary for new ventures on a specialised consumer market, the same time it most probably would not yield the flexibility needed and further their diversification makes the film making business a source of revenue of limited share. On the other hand the splitting into independent sectors could give Materials more freedom. As last resort there would be the custom coating on their large and small scale coating lines.
Timetable Agfa /AgfaPhoto
1867 Founding in Berlin
1880 first photographical Product: sensitizing dye
1894 emulsion making (Ilford 1879, Kodak 1880, Ferrania 1917?, Konica 1929(1873), Fuji 1934)
[1894 founding of Gevaert in Mortsel (emulsionmaking the same year, mainly export)]
[1909 Bayer starts making photographical products]
1909 moving to the Wolfen plant (world’s 2nd biggest filmmanufacturer, mainly export)
[1912 Bayer starts a papercoating plant in Leverkusen]
[in WWI Gevaert is German controlled]
1925 Bayer buys Agfa and brings her into the IG Farben
[1928 Agfa buys the Ansco (USA); the two Agfa US subsidiaries merge with Ansco to Agfa Ansco Corp.]
1934 worlds first synth. fiber
[1939 General Aniline (IG Farben) as mother of Agfa-Ansco becomes GAF]
[1942 (feb.) Agfa-Ansco as enemy property becomes nationalized]
during the war start of colour paper coating in Leverkusen, film manufacture stays in Wolfen
1945 US-occupational force takes part of the Wolfen R&D into the West. Soviet occupational force seizes the Wolfen plant
division of the Agfa by occupational zones (British/Soviet)
1946 dismantle (50%) of the Wolfen plant to Shostka (SVEMA) [later from there to China]
Wolfen plant becomes soviet owned, part of SAG Photoplenka (until 1953)
Resurrection and completion of the two Agfa plants. Agfa-West keeps obtaining materials from Agfa-East
1953/1954 founding of the Agfa AG and VEB Filmfabrik Agfa Wolfen
[VEB Filmwerk Agfa Wolfen skips the name Agfa and chooses ORWO (Original Wolfen), a long agreement over the Name was not prolonged]
The Agfa name goes to Leverkusen
Geat merger of the German photochemical industry: with the exception of Adox (1960 to DuPont /USA ) is Bayer now owner of all film manufacturers in Western Germany.
Merger of Agfa and Gevaert with similar product ranges.
Bayer and Gevaert are forming on their own the Agfa-Gevaert and the Gevaert-Agfa N.V. (the latter later Agfa-Gevaert N.V.) and exchange the very half of the shares.
Both product ranges keep unchanged.
Leaning of the product range within the German plants.
Leaning of the product range: Leverkusen more consumer orientated, Mortsel more industry related
Both plants produce cinefilms, but with different masking techniques.
Brand name: Agfa-Gevaert (exception cine)
1970 34,000 employees, 2nd behind Kodak
brand name: Agfa
[ORWO is the most important filmmanufacturer (15,000 employees) of the Comecon.
Preparation to the change at ORWO to C-41 and E-6, market introduction of C-41 1991.
Failing of the large scale production with introduction of the DM. Cancelling of coating 1992. Liquidation 1996. Cutting facilities remained as Filmotec, processing chemicals at Calbe Chemie..]
1995 cine camera film production is cancelled
Sales at Leverkusen are decreasing.
The Flemish twin Agfa-Gevaert buys the Agfa-Gevaert AG from Bayer.
Agfa is from now on Flemish and held by the Gevaert Holding (Bayer is retracting as co-investor, Agfa is going to the stockmarket).
Agfa wants to retract from consumer orientated activities (consumer films, minilabs, photo- paper) and sells the Leverkusen plant and the photo chemicals plant in Vaihingen to a group consisting of Management and US-investors. Agfa gives a credit on the buying sum. In Leverkusen the AgfaPhoto GmbH is founded with a capital of 372million € and 2400 employees (1800 of them in Germany, 870 in Leverkusen [at that time Agfa had 4000 in Flanders]).
Production is decreasing.
Sudden insolvency without depictable cause.
The buying sum was still not payed. The capital has vanished.
Sell out of the stock.
May til December
Production of a 5-years-supply of aero-films for Agfa.
a&o imaging solution takes over the photo-chemicals plant in Vaihingen
Cancelling of coating
Minilab production is sold
Cancelling of cutting/sizing
Exploitation of the Agfaphoto brand by the AgfaPhoto Holding for products of others (Sagem cameras and printers), with a law suit against this by Agfa
The film-base production plant is sold to a Korean company which is making plastic sheets for LCD-monitors.
The production of the photo-chemicals plant is extended to custom synthesis including pharmaceutical synthesis. The Agfa processing chemicals are produced again. Under the Agfa brand.
Agfa plans to reduce their workforce of 14,000 by 2000-4000.
A last attempt to sell the paper coating plant fails.
The coating plants are going as scrap metal.
AgfaPhoto i.i. has got 18 employees
The last one turns out the light…
Last edited by AgX; 06-17-2007 at 03:10 AM. Click to view previous post history.
This sad story makes me feeling sick.
The same happened during the interbellum with the in Gent (Flanders) based Van Monckhoven's company that finally ended, via O.I.P., in the hands of a French industrial group.
Van Monckhoven was among the very first to produce (wet?) glass plates on industrial basis.
"...If you can not stand the rustle of the leafs, then do not go in to the woods..."
(freely translated quote by Guido Gezelle)
PS: English is only my third language, please do forgive me my sloppy grammar...
Thank you both for these interesting timelines and information.
Agfa has been my paper source for years. I still vainly ask at any new photo supply shop I'm at if they have any old backstock that they want to sell (this worked once!). No matter what other paper I try, it just doesn't compare.
It is not all dispair. The small group of ex-Agfa emulsion engineers is working with Fotoimpex to develop similar papers to the old Agfa ones, that can be manufactured on a smaller scale than Agfa had to make them.
The Agfa/Gevaert operation "might" be agreeable to getting into the consumer products manufacture, (if I read the OP right) if the right partner came along.
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Very interesting. I'd love to know the inner details. Agfa Ultra 50 was my all time favourite colour neg film in 120. Coincidentally, I'm using the last of my supply on a current personal project.
Definitely some odd legal questions, and some blame directed towards one individual, who shall remain nameless in this post. That individual appears to have seen more value in the name AGFA in the form of AGFAPhoto, than in any products. Dilution of the brand is an issue, as is licensing agreements of a brand.
The other thing that appeared to be the case during the failure was that this one individual seemed to be pushing for a guarantee of return on investment, even at the expense of dragging the company down. I think that was partially the behaviour that caused some investigations and studies to attempt to figure out what happened.
Unfortunately we might never know the true story. Even if we do find out in a few years what really happened, and the true causes, the damage has already been done.
A G Studio
That’s all I can tell in principle. It was quite time consuming to get all these details. The very few ones I left out to not overload these posts, won’t change the picture. My main intention was to show that the picture revealed here that the big Agfa has gone down and that in some Flemish side street a tiny subsidiary is still coating something has to be corrected somewhat. And of course at least hint at the strange demise of AgfaPhoto. And intentionally I began with that monument.
For the rest… neither me nor you are in the industry, so all we can do is sit and wait.
Or go and empty our garage…, but that has extensively been talked about in another thread in this forum.
that individual was named in that exam I stumbled over in the net and hinted at in my post. If this is the way students are educated (alma mater...) we'll have to face weird times.
The key to success in silver-based photo imaging it would seem is to be small and lean, such as how Ilford has structured itself, or Foma. If the Agfa/Gevaert operation can get small enough in its overhead, it too could be successful in film production, as the Agfa name has very good reputation for quality film and paper.