MiniFIBERS began almost by accident. It was the early sixties. G.B. Keith of Kingsport, Tennessee, and E.T. Farmer of Weber City, Virginia, were witnesses to a jet loom foul-up at the International Textile Machinery Exposition in Greenville, South Carolina. The operator was in a daze. He had visitors. They wanted action. He could offer none. It was embarrassing.
While Keith and Farmer offered nominal mechanical advice, the vice president of a prominent textile company taunted, “Forget it! The wave of the future is nonwovens. Fifty years from now, it will all be done on web laying machines – most likely paper mills.”
Over a cup of coffee, further crystal ball wisdom was imparted to Keith and Farmer. “Somebody needs to devise a machine to cut fibers into accurate, short lengths at a high rate of production. Whoever does that will be in the driver’s seat.”
The two eager listeners became obsessed. They had the mechanical background for developing new ideas. Farmer had grown up in a machine shop; Keith was a licensed mechanical engineer with a textile background. Ideas began to surface.
Work started in a small, 20-by-30-foot workshop in southwest Virginia. Over a period of several years, many ideas were tried and discarded. In 1967, a machine was assembled and some fiber was cut. The quality was admittedly poor, but a sample was sent to the prominent textile vice president. He was interested. “This is close.” He ordered several lots of two different fibers. A product was born, and marketing began.
Machine development and sampling continued in a leased 3,000 square foot shop, which was outgrown in three months. A move was then made to a 7,000 square foot shop. In 1968, continued interest in our precision cut fibers forced naming, incorporating, and filing for patents. The name “MiniFIBERS” seemed obvious. Miniskirts were popular at the time – short skirts, short fibers! It had to catch on.
And catch on it did! An amazing thing happened. One large corporation, after trying a 15,000 pound trial shipment, sent a purchase order for half a million pounds in 1970. Suddenly, it was time to move again. This time, a 130,000 square foot warehouse in Weber City, Virginia, was leased. The project was beginning to take off.
The precision cutting machine had one moving part, it cut fiber accurately with smooth, square ends, and later, after additional development, a test model was to produce 309 pounds per minute. U.S. patent 3,768,355 was issued on the original machine. Other patents followed.
In 1977, Farmer left MiniFIBERS to pursue other interests, selling his shares to Keith. This same year, MiniFIBERS expanded its product line to include SHORT STUFF® fibrillated HDPE thickeners for paint, mastic, and putty. These pure white products were marketed as replacements for asbestos and other fibrous fillers. Their introduction was timely in view of the problems faced by asbestos users, and MiniFIBERS foresaw great demand and bright futures for them.
In seven short years, the SHORT STUFF® products had lived up to and exceeded expectations for their success, and MiniFIBERS had also been awarded a long-term contract to custom fluff products for a large international supplier. A separate fluff-dry operation in nearby Gray, Tennessee, was obtained for the production of SHORT STUFF® so the Weber City fluff-dry line could be devoted to the custom contract.
Just one year later, in 1985, MiniFIBERS moved its offices and original precision cutting operation out of the Weber City facility and into its newly purchased 45,000 square foot corporate headquarters in Johnson City, Tennessee. The small, family-owned company now operated three facilities in two states.
Plans were made almost immediately to add a 40,000 square foot addition to the Johnson City facility, nearly doubling its size. The company was growing by leaps and bounds. By 1991, it was time to leave the outdated Weber City facility. Additional warehousing space was leased at the Gray facility, the custom fluffing operation was moved to the Johnson City facility, and the old Weber City location was vacated.
The growing trend towards just-in-time inventories made it necessary to streamline operations in the late nineties. In 1999, a 50,000 square foot addition to the Johnson City facility was completed, and all operations were moved to this location. MiniFIBERS was back under one roof, where it remains today.
In 2011, MiniFIBERS purchased a small, highly specialized fiber extrusion operation and moved it to the Johnson City facility. This operation gave our company the ability to increase our offering of specialty precision cut fibers, as well as allowing us to participate in the creation of new and unique fibers extruded from unconventional polymers.