March 27, 2014
Bridgestone’s new off-road radial tire plant construction is nearly complete, and the 9-foot, 5,000-pound tires are nearly ready for marketplace sale.
The chief project officer at the Graniteville site, Steve Brooks, said by the end of April, he anticipates the tires to be off the line and on the market. But currently, those tires are going through a Bridgestone qualification process. Construction of the part of the plant that will produce the 12-foot, 12,000-pound tires is currently underway.
“That qualification process, after we pass it, allows us to make tires for the marketplace,” Brooks said. “Right now, we’re only producing development tires, which means that they can only be used to qualify the plant to make them.”
These specific tires will be used for large, off-road mining trucks. If an individual walked through the plant, they would see a large number of overhead cranes and large equipment due to the sheer size of the tires, Brooks said. Currently, there are about 275 employees working with these large tires, and at full production capacity, Brooks said the plant will have 500 employees.
The new off-road tire production plant is part of the $1.2 billion investment announced by Bridgestone in September 2011; it is still one of the largest capital investments in South Carolina’s history. The other part of the investment is the expansion of Bridgestone’s existing passenger and light-truck tire plant.
The final building construction phase at the new off-road tire plant will bring the Sage Mill Industrial Park facility’s size to a total of 1.5 million square feet.
Once it is complete and production starts rolling, Aiken County will be home to one of the world’s largest manufacturer of Bridgestone tires.
Bridgestone was just producing these large tires in Japan, and this is the first time this technology has left Japan, according to Brooks.
“We are a local company,” Brooks said. “We try to identify opportunities within the markets and to beat the markets … The tsunami in Japan also identified a potential risk that had not been identified before that … We’re going to be the new guy now.”
Whether Bridgestone intends on expanding even more is just not a guess Brooks said he could make.
“We can’t predict the future relative to that,” Brooks said. “But we’re always preparing. And if we’re not always hungry at being the best globally, then we won’t be prepared.”