INDIANAPOLIS (May 29, 2008) — Firestone Industrial Products Co. L.L.C. plans to open an air springs production facility in Turrialba, Costa Rica, to serve growing areas in the region.
Located between San Jose and the port of Limon, the plant will allow the firm to better support “emerging international markets in a cost-effective manner,” said Mike Cerio, president of Firestone Industrial Products, a subsidiary of Bridgestone Firestone Diversified Products.
The firm has signed a lease on a former Conair facility in Turrialba and at the start will employ 100 people and occupy about 125,000 square feet. It did not release investment or initial capacity figures.
One reason Firestone Industrial Products chose Costa Rica for the factory was because Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. operates a tire plant in the nation, a facility that has been in place since 1967.
Officials from the tire business helped Firestone Industrial Products through the process, including such things as gauging the availability of labor and dealing with governmental agencies in the permitting process.
“They were very instrumental in assisting us in getting this off the ground,” according to a company spokeswo-man. Having the tire facility nearby also will provide operational synergies.
The manufacturer has filed for all the necessary permits, so as soon as those are approved, the company will begin installing machinery and hiring staff, the spokeswoman said.
The firm anticipates initial startup by the end of the year, with product qualifications for customers and full production to follow in early 2009.
The plant will manufacture both the company's air springs as well as its Marsh Mellow-brand spring.
Firestone's history of producing air springs dates back to 1939. The product is an engineered elastomeric bellow with specially designed metal end closures that contain a column of compressed air.
The products' main application is in trucks, providing vibration isolation and other benefits, such as keeping the vehicle level, reducing suspension fatigue and tire wear, user-friendly height control, adjustable spring rate and road-friendly suspension that increases road life.
The Marsh Mellow spring is a fabric-reinforced rubber cylinder that doesn't require air and is aimed more at industrial uses that require vibration isolation or shock impact.
Cerio said the factory will support growing global needs and service all global markets as needed.
“We are capacity constrained, from a global perspective, on certain varieties of heavy duty truck, rail and industrial air springs, as well as the Marsh Mellow spring,” he said.
Heavy duty air springs have high penetration in North America and Western Europe of 70-95 percent depending on the category.
But Cerio said in emerging markets in Asia and South America the products have penetration of less than 10 percent, with rapid growth expected over the next decade.
The spokeswoman said with easy access to the port of Limon—located on the Caribbean coast—Firestone Industrial Products will easily be able to ship product from Costa Rica to where it's needed.
Firestone currently has air springs manufacturing at three operations in the U.S. and one each in Brazil and Poland. The company also has an assembly unit in China.
Asked if any of those facilities would be impacted by the new Costa Rican operation, the spokeswoman said the new plant is “intended to serve the growing and emerging markets rather than replace anything else.”