This also appeared on al.com and on Water Online.
In 1968, in the small, then rural town of Alabaster, Alabama, Specification Rubber Products celebrated the opening of an 18,000-square-foot facility to produce rubber gaskets for nearby cast iron pipe companies. At the time, Birmingham-area cast iron pipe manufacturers produced 75 percent of the cast iron water pipe manufactured in the U.S. that today makes up much of the country’s water infrastructure.
The vision: to supply a vital product to the waterworks industry; to provide reliable and meaningful work for area residents; and to be a responsible and valued neighbor to the local community. Fifty years later, the company, still nestled in the heart of the popular Birmingham suburb, continues to serve the waterworks industry, as well as others, including mining, agriculture and energy.
“Our expertise is in manufacturing specialty molded rubber products to extremely close tolerances,” said Specification Rubber Products President Steven A. Smith. “This has allowed us, over the years, to adapt to the changing and challenging demands of our primary customers – the waterworks industry – while venturing into various other industries where exacting specifications are required.”
“Our expertise is in manufacturing specialty molded rubber products to extremely close tolerances. This has allowed us, over the years, to adapt to the changing and challenging demands of our primary customers – the waterworks industry – while venturing into various other industries where exacting specifications are required.” Steven A. Smith, Specification Rubber Products President
In 1969, just a year after opening, Spec Rubber, as its better known, joined the family of companies that today make up AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, founded in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1905. “Spec Rubber is a respected manufacturer in the industries we serve,” said AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe President Van L. Richey. “Our strategic partnership with Spec Rubber is a valuable one, ensuring us – and other manufacturers – a reliable source of high quality rubber products that will last as long as our products.”
Over the years, the company has introduced several innovative products to the market. The company’s signature innovation, the Barracuda® Gasket, introduced in 2014, is a bright, safety orange-colored gasket that allows pipe installers, contractors and inspectors to easily see if a pipe joint is properly installed and restrained.
“This product was truly revolutionary for the waterworks industry, and we are very proud of it,” Smith said. “We celebrate it each year in October with Barracuda Day. Everyone dresses in bright orange, and the company provides lunch. It’s a reminder of our successes and what each employee brings to the company.”
The company, which opened with about 25 employees, now employs nearly 70 office and plant workers, and makes some 400 products for a variety of customers. “We’ve made rubber seals for ammo canisters, above ground storage tanks and a variety of doors, including submarine doors.” Smith said.
Non-military products that the company has made include lawnmower tires and the Eggsercizer, an egg-shaped hand exerciser used in physical therapy. “If it’s made of molded rubber, we can make it,” Smith said.
And make it well. Spec Rubber’s commitment to producing the highest quality products is underscored by its ISO and NSF certifications signifying quality processes and products that are safe for use in drinking water systems.
Spec Rubber’s reputation for quality products, at a competitive price, delivered on time keeps customers coming back; its commitment to a values-driven culture of fairness and respect ensures an engaged workforce, which Smith credits for the company’s success: “It’s our people – our employees – who show up every day and put in a hard day’s work to produce the highest quality products for our customers; it starts here, every day, with a dedicated and talented workforce.”
The company’s commitment to the workforce is reflected in its employees’ longevity and low turnover. “We encourage employees to recommend friends and even family members to apply, and we have several generations of families working here,” Smith said. “Many of our employees start work with us straight out of high school and work here until they retire. We are very proud of that.”
Looking ahead, Spec Rubber aims to continue providing the products its customers have come to rely on while exploring new opportunities for diversification and growth, ever mindful of the company’s impact on industry as well as its community. “We are committed to growing our business, thoughtfully, as we look for new ways to reduce, renew and reuse our resources,” Smith said. “That’s our promise to our customers, our employees and our community.”
A Half-Century of Milestones:
1968 – Specification Rubber Products opened in Alabaster, Alabama.
1969 – Acquired by AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company.
1975 – Began offering Tyton Gaskets used in U.S. Pipe’s TYTON JOINT and HP LOK Joint ductile iron pipe and fittings. This product offering doubled business, necessitating the addition of 72- and 84-inch molding presses to improve efficiency and increase productivity.
1992 – Achieved NSF Product Listing certification.
1994 – Achieved ISO Quality certification.
2000 – Introduced injection molding presses that dramatically streamlined high-volume orders.
2001 – Installed a cooling system at the injection press area to improve working conditions on the plant floor.
2004 – Completed a major renovation and expansion of the facility, adding a 5,000-square-foot finishing and inspection area, bringing the total square footage of the plant to about 85,000.
2005 – Installed an inline cutting machine, which automated the difficult task of cutting and reeling rubber components. Dubbed “Big Blue” because of its size and color.
2006 – Partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy, Alagasco and Cleaver Brooks Boilers to install the first ever prototype “Super Boiler,” which reduced emissions, as well as natural gas and water usage.
2008 – In response to the housing market crash and its impact on business, the company began to expand its waterworks portfolio. Over the next several years the company introduced NSF-certified EPDM sheet packing material; flat and ring-style certified gaskets; meter gaskets, including three patented Meter Seal gaskets; and a new flange gasket.
2009 – Received the U.S. Energy Department’s National Energy Savings Award in recognition of efforts to improve energy efficiencies in its manufacturing processes.
2014 – Brought to market the Barracuda Gasket, the company’s signature innovation, a brightly colored safety orange gasket that allows installers, contractors and inspectors to easily see if the joint is properly installed. It also makes disassembly, if necessary, much easier.