An illustrated history
West System International has been working in partnership with Gougeon Brothers for more than 30 years, manufacturing and distributing WEST SYSTEM® and PRO-SET® epoxy products throughout Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. With Gougeon Brothers extensive knowledge going back over 50 years we know that we have the most complete database and knowledge on the use of epoxy available on the market today. Now, the WEST SYSTEM and PRO-SET ranges developed by the Gougeon Brothers, are the epoxies of choice for naval engineers, boat manufacturers, chandlers and private boat owners throughout the world. Follow their journey in epoxy innovation right from the early days in their Michigan boatyard in this illustrated history.
In the beginning
The Gougeon brothers – Meade, Joel and Jan – grew up building and racing wooden boats on Lake Huron, Michigan, in the United States. They raced on water in the summer and on ice in the winter. In the 1960s they began building boats professionally and experimented with practical, low-cost and versatile methods of construction.
Fast and strong
They wanted to build fast, lightweight boats that were tough and strong enough to survive the high loads of hard racing. With limited time and money, their methods couldn’t be fussy or expensive.
The power of epoxy
The answer lay in a recent development of epoxide resins and hardeners. These were solvent-free and – crucially for boatbuilding – formed an exceptionally good barrier against both water and oxygen, which cause wood rot.
As if to prove a point, here is a photo of ‘Adagio’: built in wood epoxy composite by Meade Gougeon, this catamaran is lighter today than it was when Meade built it in 1968, providing first hand proof of the exceptional qualities and benefits of using WEST SYSTEM epoxy.
Flexibility and strength
Realising that a boat’s ability to withstand a single impact was not as important as its long-term resistance to the daily assaults of wind and water, the brothers set about the task of modifying the epoxy formulations until they found the best balance between many crucial factors including flexibility, moisture resistance and high strength.
Safe working practices
The brothers honed their techniques to reduce labour and, at the same time, to establish safe handling procedures for the new epoxy system. Just as they aimed for a balance between cured physical properties, so they looked for – and found – formulations that were effective and low in toxicity.
We began marketing WEST SYSTEM® epoxy and associated products in 1982; Gougeon Brothers began 10 years earlier. Since then, we have continued to improve our methods and materials. WEST SYSTEM epoxy has always been strong, but it was only through intensive test programmes that we discovered the true extent of its physical properties, and in particular the ability to withstand repeated loads.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, It was not long before boatbuilding techniques were applied to volume production of high-quality aerofoils in other industries. By the 1980s, Gougeon Brothers had become a leading manufacturer of laminated wind turbine blades, thus gaining further invaluable experience and knowledge on the performance of WEST SYSTEM epoxy.
The industry standard
The methods first developed by the Gougeon brothers using WEST SYSTEM® epoxy have become the standard techniques taught in colleges the world over for building boats with epoxy.
Half a century on, our product lines have all the epoxide resins, hardeners and associated ancillary products to produce strong, moisture and fatigue-resistant epoxies suitable for an extremely wide range of common and specialist applications. Our continuous commitment to research and development has led to the development of improved high-density fillers for gaps and low-density fillers for simple sanding. The epoxy formulations have been fine-tuned to work well in different conditions and climates. And our PRO-SET® range has set the bar for the world’s most demanding, high-tolerance professional composite applications.