As the Tire Retread Information Bureau never tires of reminding us: ``Retreading is recycling.'' In fact, most environmentalists consider retreading to be the best use of a worn casing, returning it to the purpose for which it originally was intended. (Though, of course, that can't be done indefinitely.)
By extension, then, the American Retreaders' Association's annual World Tire Conference and Exhibition is perhaps the preeminent international gathering of the tire recycling industry.
When this year's conference, the 37th, opens in Louisville, Ky., on April 21, about 200 exhibiting companies will be showing up-to-the-minute, proven and newly developed technologies for the maintenance, servicing, repair, retreading and recycling of tires.
Scheduled to take place in the new South Wing of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, the ARA conference is unrivaled for its sheer size.
The three-day program will follow a successful format that combines a first-class trade show with excellent seminars and workshops, featuring those in the tire industry who speak from current experience.
Anything that's new most likely will be on display. Over the years, Louisville has probably seen more prototype machinery than any other tire exhibition.
Just about every tool and machine made for those engaged in the maintenance, repair and retreading/recycling of tires will be in display at the show-everything from a probing awl to the most sophisticated, computer-controlled retreading equipment.
This year's show will, of course, be far different from the first one back in 1958, when there were only about 25 exhibitors and fewer than 500 people in attendance. It certainly will be far different, too, from my first show in 1964, which some 2,700 attended. That was the year the show's organizers became the American Retreaders' Association.
In 1958, retreading was very much a manual operation, from the building of the tire to getting it in and out of the mold. Today, in many instances, the buffing and building processes are computer-controlled, and the mold loading and unloading is automatic.
Back then, Bandag Inc. was the new kid on the block, and many doubted its prospects for success. Today, precured retreads account for 80 percent of the truck market, and a number of mold manufacturers-some world famous-have gone out of business.
They failed to heed one of the real messages of the Louisville conference: Innovate or evaporate. Like the new-tire manufacturers, mold makers did not realize the critical importance of quality control in radial tire production. Radials could not be processed satisfactorily in bias-ply equipment.
Most tire specialists are well aware that in order to live up to their role they must keep pace with ongoing technological developments. They also know that to enhance their professional status they must procure more advanced and efficient equipment, not only to reduce physical effort, but also to improve product/service quality.
Exhibitors participating in this conference fully appreciate this need and generally seek to offer solutions. These solutions tend to focus on improved service that will most certainly outlive the current recessionary phase of our economy and pave the way for a more durable and stable industry.
The very size of the Louisville exhibition together with the specialized nature of both its showgoers and exhibitors make this a ``must'' event for all who are engaged in servicing tires at any point in their life cycle and who intend to keep abreast of changing techniques and professional requirements in their respective businesses.
Changing technologies force every business operator, especially those involved in the sales and servicing of tires, to keep up with the ever-increasing numbers of motor vehicles, whose operating costs have increased substantially.
Hourly service rates at new-car dealerships in my area are now $69. Their profits from service exceed those of new-car sales, and the same holds true with tires: In most cases, servicing is more profitable than selling new tires.
Because of the greatly increased costs, today's motorist no longer is inclined to change vehicles as frequently as before. The average age of autos in service today has grown to eight years.
An older car requires more maintenance. Indeed, the older it is, the more it calls for expert attention by highly trained technicians using modern equipment to provide safe, reliable service.
The experience gained by years of professional activity must be kept up to date through observing and evaluating new methods and new working techniques. This is the primary characteristic of the Louisville conference, which provides exhibitors with all the facilities necessary to demonstrate their products to a specialized audience interested in concentrating on essentials, gathering information and making direct contact with suppliers.
The conference provides an occasion for people from all parts of the industry to get together and talk things over. It affords attendees an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with colleagues and competitors, suppliers and buyers.
Then there are the workshops and seminars, a major part of this event that also have evolved and grown over the years. Fifteen are scheduled this year, covering not only the technical aspects of tire retreading and repairing, but also scrap tire disposal, cost reduction, storage and distribution systems, and government regulations.
Every tire specialist visiting Louisville should return home with two thoughts uppermost in his mind: first, that his future welfare will be governed by the quality of the service he provides; second, to provide such service, he must possess efficient equipment and charge realistic prices.
This is a big industry; it requires major investments; and it is driven by increasingly high-level technology. It deserves a more satisfactory return on that investment.