- June 01, 2000, Teresa Koltzenburg, Senior Editor
What do the apparel, automotive, marine, shoe, juvenile car seat, and medical industries have in common? Not a lot, really, except for one small textile-to-foam laminating plant in South Carolina. Bondtex Inc., Duncan, SC, is a common thread that runs through all of these industries. Jerry Hightower, president and founder of the company, explains: "We're very diversified from a laminating point of view."
Bondtex was started by Hightower in 1987. He had been working in the textile industry for the duration of his career but ventured out on his own when the right opportunity came along. "I've been in the textile industry all of my life," he says. "I first worked for Milliken & Company and then moved from Texas to South Carolina with a company called Ibena. While I was working for them, they had this flame-laminating machine that was just sitting in a corner, not running. It was brand new."
Hightower says he began a market search of products for which the machine could be utilized, but Ibena then exited the manufacturing market. "So, I bought the machine and moved it to a new location in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We started out with five people at that plant, and once we got started, we really diversified our markets. We were in the van industry, the apparel industry, the medical industry, and the shoe industry. We then got into the marine industry and the automotive industry," he notes.
In 1993, Hightower acquired another laminating company located in Mooresville, NC, which expanded the company to a total of three lines at two locations.
Another addition for Bondtex came in 1998-a new plant and a new flame-laminating system manufactured by the McBride Machine Div. of McGuckin & Pyle.
Hightower reports, "We expanded our business again by building this new 60,000-square-foot facility here in Duncan. We put in the new flame laminator and had McGuckin & Pyle refurbish the older laminating machine that was first located at Spartanburg. So now we have two lines here in Duncan and two lines in our Mooresville location."
Automotive Products and More
The automotive industry has been a boon for the small company, says Hightower. "In the automotive area, we make products that are used for the seats in cars, the door panels, head liners-those types of things. We also do things for truck interiors that are for sound deadening; we put a needle-punch, nonwoven fabric to the foam, and then they put that inside the cab of the truck to make it quieter when truckers sleep. One of the reasons this facility was opened was our continuing expansion in the automotive product industry."
But Hightower is careful to point out that Bondtex still makes products for a very diverse marketplace. "In the marine area, it would be hull liners and seating. We're also big into juvenile car seats; we make products that go into baby seats, like the ones manufactured by Even-Flo or Cosco. In the shoe industry, we laminate for such products as insulated boots; in the apparel industry, we're into insulated hunting jackets; and in the medical industry, we laminate products used in orthopedic supports, such as knee braces and neck braces."
According to Hightower, Bondtex's newest machine, the McGuckin & Pyle flame-laminating system expressly bought for the new Duncan facility, provides the company with "state-of-the-art" laminating capability. "It's fully automated, from entry to exit. We can run it nonstop, and we can laminate both sides at one time."
He adds that the system can handle web widths up to 96 in. and foam thicknesses from 1/16 to 11 /2 in., and it can run at speeds to 80 yd/min.
Hightower describes the textile-to-foam laminating process: "The foam comes in rolls of various thicknesses, and it's first butt-welded, or seamed, together. Then it's put on the conveyor, which relaxes the foam, and it enters a system that guides the web into the first laminating head. The foam then comes down into the laminating head, the flame hits the foam, melts it, and makes it tacky like glue. The scrim backing substrate is applied at this first head. As the scrim substrate is being applied, a film is put under it to keep it from bleeding off onto other rollers. If it's a thin scrim, sometimes it will do this. But the film keeps that from happening."
Hightower continues, "Then the web goes into the second laminating head, where there's another flame. This is where the face substrate is applied. Finally, when the composite comes out of the laminator, it goes to, if needed, a printing station. On our automotive products, we have to print the Julian date, the direction of the pile, and the logo." Bondtex's one-color printing station was manufactured by Diagraph Corp.
After the web has passed through the laminator, it goes through a compensator unit, which allows operators to "doff" or take the fabric off on the fly, says Hightower. "The compensator is actually loose. The rolls come down as the tension is released. This allows the machine to continue to run and keep the tension. Then, when we start again, the machine catches back up."
Most of the line was manufactured by McGuckin & Pyle, adds Hightower, but the fabric entry conveyor and the web straightener were made by Bianco America, and the windup and exit were manufactured by Krantz. Bondtex purchases its textile and film substrates from a variety of suppliers, including William T. Burnett Co. Inc., Vitafoam, Foamex International, Acme, Guilford Mills, Glen Raven Mills, and Tietex International
Bondtex also utilizes an oxidizer for emission control. It was manufactured by Stelter & Brink, and Hightower reports that it incinerates 99% of the emissions, leaving very little to be released into the atmosphere.
Hightower says he also had McGuckin & Pyle refurbish and retrofit the other flame-laminating line at the Duncan location (which was the first machine Hightower purchased). "That line is a single-burner laminator, and it's not quite as efficient as the newer machine, but it's still a good, flexible laminator. We can do a lot of different things with it. And McGuckin & Pyle did an excellent job refurbishing it."
Reward and Forward
The year after Bondtex started production in its Duncan plant, the company was nominated for the North and South Carolina Entrepreneur of the Year Award. According to Hightower, Bondtex was one of 25 finalists in the competition (which is sponsored by Ernst & Young) and was selected as one of the top three new industrial manufacturers in the two-state competition. "The judges looked at several different aspects for the selection; they looked at our growth, at our numbers, basically, what we had done."
And that has been a lot in the company's 13-year existence. Even with its multi-industried production capabilities, it's hard to imagine any more markets that Bondtex could enter. But, says Hightower, Bondtex certainly plans continued expansion. "Most recently, we've purchased a perforating company. This will add to our medical- and shoe-industry production capabilities. With the addition of this company, we will be able to perforate foam and fabrics to make them more breathable."
Hightower says he also has plans for adding to Bondtex's flame-laminating business. "We are looking at expanding outside of the Southeast, and we're also looking into new markets and laminating opportunities, not necessarily foam. Maybe we'll get into other converting-type laminating with other substrates."
Considering the number of markets Bondtex is already in, Hightower's plans to get into more seems likely to be realized.
McGuckin & Pyle Inc., McBride Machine Div., Downingtown, PA; ph: 610/269-9770; fax: 610/873-8970.
Diagraph Corp., Earth City, MO; ph: 314/739-1221; fax: 314/770-5700.
Bianco America Inc., Charlotte, NC; ph: 704/529-5221; fax: 704/527-7293.
Krantz-Babcock Textile Machinery, Charlotte, NC; ph: 704/583-4353.
William T. Burnett Co. Inc., Jessup, MD; ph: 410/799-1788; fax: 410/799-2620.
Vitafoam--Olympic Div., Greensboro, NC; ph: 336/378-9620; fax: 336/273-0298.
Foamex Intl., Cornelius, NC; ph: 704/892-8081; fax: 704/892-0409.
Acme, Detroit, MI. ph: 313/894-7110; fax: 313/894-2167.
Guilford Mills, Greensboro, NC; ph: 800/486-8305.
Glen Raven Mills, Burlington, NC; ph: 800/487-4536.
Tietex Intl., Spartanburg, SC; ph: 864/574-9450.
Stelter & Brink, Inc., Harrison, OH; ph: 513/367-9300; fax: 513/367-1524.