Founders Included Chemist from Manhattan Project, Pioneer of Urethanes, and Charlotte-Based Cotton Company
MOUNT AIRY, NC—NCFI Polyurethanes, an international manufacturer of rigid and flexible polyurethane foams turns 50 this year. The Mount Airy-based company got its start in 1964 as North Carolina Foam Industries through a partnership between Dr. Harris W. "Ace" Bradley, who had worked on the Manhattan Project during WWII and with Dupont in discovering and pioneering urethanes in the 1950s, and the Barnhardt family, founders of the Barnhardt Manufacturing Company.
"There was a company in Mount Airy getting out of the synthetic foam rubber business," says Lewis Barnhardt, president and COO of Barnhardt Manufacturing Company, Charlotte, NC. "Ace Bradley was working there at the time, and he called Jake Barnhardt with the idea they step in, buy the equipment, rent the facility, and rehire the company’s employees so they would have a ready-made customer base for the new company they named North Carolina Foam Industries. Bradley and the Barnhardt family put together a team of 30 employees to make and sell the foam in large blocks called buns then shipped them to customers who fabricated the buns into cushioning units for furniture, and it’s been a whirlwind of growth for 50 years."
The breakthrough moment for the company came when Dr. Bradley perfected the "One-Shot" production method for foam that allows a continuous production process of simultaneous polymer formation and expansion to form the foam. Dr. Bradley’s/NCFI’s One-Shot method has become the US manufacturing standard, and Bradley was inducted into the Flexible Polyurethane Hall of Fame for the game- changing discovery.
Since 1964 the company has expanded in size with manufacturing facilities in Mount Airy and Hickory, NC, Dalton, GA, and Salt Lake City, UT. The company maintains 14 distribution facilities around the nation. Today the company provides foam for many diverse industries. On the Consumer Products side is furniture, airline, marine, medical, mattress and pillow, and carpet underlay. On the Specialty Products side is spray foam (SPF) insulation for residential, commercial, agricultural, and geotechnical uses, roofing, adhesive, aerospace, taxidermy, and custom molding.
Steve Riddle, president of NCFI, says, "We changed our name to NCFI back in 2005 to better reflect our national presence, which is becoming more of an international one. We were shipping product to Canada, Mexico, and South America back in the 1970s. We added Russia in 1993, then Africa and Australia, now Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.
Riddle says the company has many watershed moments over the years: "Our foam has the highest content of renewable raw materials anywhere. We’ve become the leader in supplying foam to the commercial and general aviation market, and we offer over 125 different grades of foam to meet almost any customer requirements. He adds that another source of real organizational pride is the work they’ve done for NASA’s Space Shuttle program. "We were chosen in 1980 to supply the foam insulation for Lockheed Martin’s External Tank Program (ET) for the US Space Shuttle program. Over the many years since, we’ve had a great relationship with Lockheed and NASA. We’ve even met some shuttle pilots and crew." NCFI was awarded Lockheed Martin’s Supplier Quality Excellence Award in 2010.
Riddle points to another source of immense company pride—being a US chemical company awarded the EPA’s Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award (now the Montreal Protocol Award). "We’ve worked hard to be responsible stewards of the world around us. Not just North Carolina, but every facility we are involved with, our products, and how our products are used. The EPA award says NCFI stands out as one of the best US companies when it comes to eliminating emissions of ozone- depleting substances, and that has always been part of our mission. To make as big a mark on the world as we can with our quality and processes, but to leave as small a footprint as we can."
Two of the highest growth industries being affected by NCFI are the US construction and homebuilding. Higher than predicted rises in the cost of petroleum and electricity make the energy efficiency of buildings a top priority for building owners and homeowners. Everyone in the process from architects and designers on down to the general contractors and home builders are searching for ways to lower the operating costs of buildings, and better insulation plays a key role. Mitch Clifton, director of business dev. for NCFI’s Specialty Products Division, says his company’s spray foam insulation (SPF) has become a building standard. "SPF insulation has the highest R-value in the modern available insulation field. Nothing else comes close. So, we’ve seen amazing growth in our residential and commercial spray foam insulation market. Clifton says the same is true for the roofing market. "Building owners want to lower costs by adding cool roofing, or roofing covered in white or light colors that reflect sunlight. Our roofing systems add the R-value of SPF insulation to that reflective feature and drop the heating and cooling costs dramatically. We’ve seen steady growth in roofing since we did our first job back in 1967."
Clifton credits employees who’ve made a 20, 30 and 40-year career at the company with giving NCFI a definitive competitive advantage. "Spray foam insulation is something everyone wants now, but until recently has been a small sector of the insulation market, thus few know much about the product. Architects and builders and trade contractors want experience. They want a partner who has seen and done it all. Someone they can turn to when they need answers in their business. We have that in spades."
Clifton knows what he’s talking about. His father, Ralph, was one of those first 30 employees in 1964 and worked at the company for more 42 years until his retirement. His son followed in his footsteps by working on the loading docks while in high school. Clifton [Mitch] who received his MBA last year, is now in senior management and says, "We buck all the trends: we’re a family-owned US company; we make products right here in this country, and the people who work here can choose to make a lifetime career with us. We’re a private, profitable US company willing to change to grow, and we’re celebrating our first 50 years. It’s good to know that still exists in America. Maybe we’re setting the trends for the next 50 years."
For more information or to arrange an interview on this subject contact: Dale McGlothlin, (202) 341-8615
Celebrating 50 years of foam. NCFI, headquartered in Mt. Airy, NC since 1964, manufactures polyurethane foam chemical systems for spray foam-in-place insulation (SPF), geotechnical, agricultural, roofing, marine floatation, packaging, specialty molding, and many other uses. The company also offers a complete line of flexible foams for furniture seating, transportation seating, bedding, carpet underlay, and packaging. NCFI also has manufacturing plants in Hickory, N.C., Dalton, GA., and Salt Lake City, UT. NCFI is a Barnhardt Manufacturing Company, Inc. company. To learn more about NCFI please visit www.NCFI.com.