LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (March 14, 2012) — A subsidiary of German synthetic rubber producer Lanxess A.G. has purchased Tire Curing Bladders L.L.C. (TCB), a maker of bladders for the tire industry based in Little Rock.
Rhein Chemie Rheinau G.m.b.H, a developer of additives, specialty chemicals and service products for the rubber, lubricant and plastics industries, is now the owner of TCB, formerly the curing bladder business of Pirelli Armstrong and before that Armstrong Rubber Co.
TCB generated sales last year of $21 million and employs 100 at its plant in Little Rock, where annual capacity is listed as 400,000 units, Lanxess said.
Financial details of the deal, Lanxess' second in this industry segment in the past year, were not disclosed.
“The acquisition of TCB is a further cornerstone in our strategy to position Rhein Chemie as a global producer of high-quality bladders,” said Lanxess Board Member Rainier van Roessel. “We are gaining capacities to serve our growing list of tire customers and we also gain access to bladders for tires of trucks, off-road and agricultural vehicles, as well as building machines.”
Former joint owners Vernon Almon and Mark Nutt said they were pleased that the workforce will be part of a global platform.
Messrs. Almon and Nutt founded TCB in May 2005 for the purpose of acquiring the bladder business from Pirelli. They claim the plant, which Armstrong Rubber opened in 1986, is the largest bladder factory in the world, producing more than 120 different sizes of bladders in 15 separate tire categories ranging from industrial/small farm/passenger tire to passenger/light truck to large truck to farm truck vehicles.
Bladders are used in the tire manufacturing process. A non-vulcanized tire is placed in a press. Once the press is shut, the internal pressure forces the tire against the internal wall of the tire mold. This is done using a butyl rubber bladder that is then inflated under high pressure and at high temperatures to give the tire its final shape
Rhein Chemie went into bladder production last year through its acquisition of Darmex S.A. of Argentina. That deal brought Rhein Chemie three plants and $30 million in annual sales, including exports to North America. Darmex also markets the silica-based mold release agent.
Rhein Chemie also invested $13.5 million last year to build a plant in Porto Feliz, Brazil, for producting bladders (170,000 a year) and predispersed processing chemicals.
Rhein Chemie markets its bladders under the Rhenoshape brand. Rhein Chemie markets the bladders together with its Rhenodiv release agents.
Demand for bladders is expected to grow parallel to global tire production, Lanxess said, which is expected to grow on average by 5 percent per year in the coming years. In addition, tire companies increasinlgy are outsourcing their bladder production in order to optimize productivity and take advantage of the higher quality offered by bladder specialists. The size of the global bladder market is estimated at more than $400 million.