Foam supplier NCFI Polyurethanes, with headquarters in Mount Airy, North Carolina, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. A division of privately owned Barnhardt Mfg. Co. in Charlotte, North Carolina, NCFI originally was established as North Carolina Foam Industries by Barnhardt owners and the pioneering polyurethanes scientist Dr. Harris “Ace” Bradley.
Bradley was renowned for his work in flexible polyurethane foam chemistry at DuPont and other chemical companies and devised a game-changing foam production method. During World War II, Bradley worked on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bomb.
“There was a company in Mount Airy getting out of the synthetic foam rubber business,” said Lewis Barnhardt, president and chief operating officer of Barnhardt Mfg. “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. 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.”
Bradley and his team at NCFI perfected the “One Shot” flexible foam method, a continuous production process from polymer formation to foaming that is now the industry standard. The polyurethanes industry named Bradley to the Flexible Polyurethane Foam Hall of Fame for his achievements.
Currently, NCFI has manufacturing facilities in Georgia, North Carolina and Utah, as well as 14 distribution centers across the United States. In addition to the sleep products industry, NCFI supplies more than 125 grades of foam to a broad range of consumer, commercial and industrial product sectors.
One of many “watershed moments,” the company said, was when it developed foam insulation for Lockheed Martin to use in NASA’s Space Shuttle program in the 1980s.
NCFI President Steve Riddle said the company also is particularly proud of its environmental stewardship, which earned it the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Montreal Protocol award (formerly the Stratospheric Ozone Protection 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,” Riddle said. “The EPA award says NCFI stands out as one of the best U.S. 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.”