Firestone Fibers & Textiles is growing beyond its traditional tire and building textile products into highly-specialized industrial and composite fabrics for sale outside the company.
♦ Firestone Fibers & Textiles Co.’s Kings Mountain location currently is in the process of
expanding to accommodate equipment and capacity from another location.
Firestone is a name and a brand synonymous with tires, various forms of racing and the Indianapolis 500® Mile Race. The company has a long history with that famous race, and since 2000, has been the sole tire supplier to the Verizon IndyCar® Series. However, Firestone also happens to incorporate a textile division dedicated to the development and production of textile products for a variety of end uses.
Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. was established at the turn of the 20th century by Harvey Samuel Firestone. Then, in 1935, Firestone Fibers & Textiles Co. LLC (FSFT) was created to supply tire cord and related materials to the growing tire business. During World War II, FSFT produced items for the U.S. military including artillery shells and rubberized military products. In the more than 80 years since it was founded, the company has accumulated significant amounts of manufacturing experience making tire cord, as well as fabrics for tire linings and building products.
A typical passenger car tire is a flexible composite product made of numerous layers including a liner, body ply, side wall, beads, apex, belt package, tread and cushion gum. Other components can be incorporated depending on the tire’s use, performance level and price point. Each component layer is built up on a drum form before it is cured using heat and pressure. Tire cord is incorporated in the body ply and bead, and textiles also are integrated into the lining.
♦ Firestone Fibers & Textiles weaves Kevlar® fabrics in Kings Mountain, N.C.
FSFT also has traditionally produced woven fabrics for mechanical rubber goods, industrial hoses as well as tires; and polypropylene multifilament/monofilament woven fabrics used as liner fabrics. The company also produces weft insertion fabrics primarily used in roofing products. Its TireTough™ fabrics are used in many applications including automotive belts, brake diaphragms, conveyor belts, roofing, coated fabrics, military/party tents, cargo/safety netting, pillow tanks, industrial hoses, air ducts, sign fabrics, tires, truck covers and inflatables. The fabrics are used primarily in-house by Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, Firestone Building Products – Commercial Roofing Systems, and Firestone Industrial Products businesses.
Quality, Environmental Emphasis
The company’s Kings Mountain and Gastonia facilities are ISO 9002 certified and have been ISO 14001 certified since 1999. More recently, the company’s ISO certificate was updated to include design and development in advance of ramping up its outside sales efforts.
♦ The Kevlar fabric may then be treated with a resorcinol/formaldehyde/latex coating
before it is bonded to rubber to be used in industrial applications.
On the environmental side, FSFT was recognized by the North Carolina Environmental Stewardship Initiative as a Steward, which is the highest level in the program. In 2013, Kings Mountain was awarded a Wildlife at Work Certification from the Wildlife Habitat Council; and in 2014, the company achieved zero waste to landfill status. In addition, the company currently uses a proprietary process to apply the RFL coating to the tire cord, but is working to develop a new process that removes formaldehyde from the equation.
Growing Beyond In-House Consumption
More recently, the company has been working to grow sales outside of Firestone, especially in technical fabrics. The focus now for FSFT is to transition beyond traditional mechanical/rubber goods into industrial and technical fabrics.
“We are innovating by combining non-traditional fibers and mixing fiber types,” Luebbers said. “Nylon and polyester processing is the traditional business for us, but we’re now getting into aramids, UHMWPE [ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene] and have the ability to process metal fibers. We’re expanding into markets we didn’t play in before, and going out to the marketplace to show our capabilities and the hybrid possibilities.”
FSFT is experimenting with many different hybrid fabrics. “We define a hybrid product as one where dissimilar yarns are combined to give the final product properties that one stand-alone fiber cannot give,” Luebbers said.
“Every fiber has a positive and a negative. Whether it is strength, stretch, cost or some other property. Creating a hybrid product requires the ability to take advantage of the positives of one fiber with the positives of a different fiber while offsetting the negatives of both fibers if they were standing alone.
“We can create hybrids in many various ways,” Luebbers continued. “We can combine the fibers prior to weaving to produce a blended cord or yarn. Or, we can combine them during weaving. The process is really dependent on what the final properties are that we want to achieve.”
♦ Firestone Fibers & Textiles’ Senior Process Engineer Prudence Dabruzzi assists in
developing new hybrid fabrics for technical applications.
Innovation and development at FSFT often starts with a request from Bridgestone’s Americas Technical Center located in Akron, Ohio, or from customers who are looking for fabrics with specific properties. FSFT then drives the development forward as it looks for innovative solutions to fulfill the requests.
“Some of our projects begin with a request from Akron for a product that hits certain properties based on how they know they want the cord to function in a tire,” Luebbers said. “They may need a certain strength per weight or specific weight or elongation. We can then take those same ideas and concepts and utilize them in non-tire projects for the open market.
“One example is a nylon and hybrid cord we worked on for tire applications that is now also used in a woven fabric that is RFL treated and used in an industrial application in Europe,” he added.
FSFT also works with customers to develop innovative products that fulfill customers’ requirements. “Most of the requests brought to us are for lighter, stronger and lower gauge products,” reported Luebbers. “Then I get to design a fabric that meets their criteria. That’s the fun part!”
A significant investment was recently made at the Gastonia facility to convert a warehouse into a space dedicated to carbon processing for composite products. At the moment, the facility features a pilot line and laboratory-scale equipment including specialized twisting machines, braiding machinery, cutting equipment and freezer space for storing prepreg materials. In addition to carbon weaving, FSFT also is experimenting with Vectran™ liquid crystal polymers and basalt materials. The company has the capability to quickly scale and ramp up production when the time is right.
Source from Textile World.