RUSSELLVILLE, Ark.—Although most of the tire industry has converted to a tubeless tire, Bridgestone Americas Tube Business, a division of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations L.L.C., has stuck to manufacturing quality synthetic and natural rubber inner tubes for both on- and off-highway usage since 1964.
The Russellville-based BATB division is the only inner tube manufacturer in the U.S. and Canada.
“Even though most tires manufactured today are of tubeless construction, inner tubes continue to be used in many applications, particularly in the agricultural and forestry markets,” said Scott Gateley, general manager, tube business, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.
The division offers a comprehensive product line ranging from tubes used in the forestry and the lawn and garden sectors, he said. In addition to inner tubes, BATB produces bladder stock for other Bridgestone plants to use in the production of tires.
BATB celebrated its 50th anniversary in Russellville on Oct. 16 with a commemorative celebration at its location for employees, local and state government officials, community leaders and business partners.
The facility produced its first butyl inner tube on Oct. 24, 1964, manufacturing 14,650 units per day, Bridgestone said. Currently, the plant has the capacity to produce more than 20 million pounds of rubber per year.
“Russellville plant productivity is currently at its highest point in our 50-year history,” Gateley said.
“Our success depends on supplying a high quality product at a competitive price—which fits well with Bridgestone's stated corporate mission of Serving Society with Superior Quality.”
The Russellville plant originally was a 136,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility, he said, and has experienced five expansions in its half century of existence. The facility today encompasses 320,000 square feet and has employed more than 2,000. The plant currently employs 150.
“The Russellville plant has also played a role in several innovations in the rubber and tire industry,” Gateley said.
In 1973, the factory was selected by Exxon Laboratories to assist in the development of an Enjay splicer prototype model to support the advent of radial tires.
The machine became the standard for quality splicing worldwide.
Other innovations originating from the plant include the development of a premium natural rubber compound for use in forestry and racing applications, Bridgestone said, and introduction of a rear farm severe service product line to provide farmers with a premium butyl tractor tube.
Initially BATB's product listing was limited to tubes that matched tires Bridgestone offered, Gateley said. The company has broadened its offering and currently has “a comprehensive and robust product line that we believe leads the industry.”
The basic equipment has changed “very little for tube production over the last few decades,” he said.
“The addition of automation software and hardware, such as a programmable logic controller and computer control, has made some major improvements. Some of our equipment monitors itself and can send out an email communication if it falls out of its set parameters. This allows for superior quality, improved productivity and increased throughput.”
Because of the advent of tubeless tires, Gateley said the inner tube market has been in a relatively slow decline since even before the plant was built.
“The market continues to decline at a slow pace, but there remains persistent demand for our products,” he said.
“Our strategy is to continue to produce the high quality products our customers demand and to continue to serve the community in which we work.”
The division fits into Bridgestone's overall business because “while the majority of tires are of tubeless construction today, there remain applications where the addition of an inner tube is beneficial or needed,” Gateley said.
“Bridgestone's customers operate across the universe of tire applications.”
By providing “a quality tube product at a competitive price,” he said, the division supports Bridgestone's overall commitment to meet its customers' needs and the sale and use of Bridgestone tires in the markets it serves.
The division's primary market is North America; however, it does supply some products to global customers.
Over the past 50 years, BATB has invested in the tube business, as well as the River Valley community with time, money and resources, Bridgestone said. Organizations have benefited from employees volunteering in educational, athletic and fundraiser programs for various charities.