MUSCATINE, Iowa-Lubricating a curing envelope can be a messy, time-consuming task. Just ask any retreader.
Bandag Inc. did. And through an interactive development process that included suggestions and ``real-world'' testing from its franchisees, Bandag created the Optimizer lubeless envelope.
The Optimizer brushes aside the need for lubrication and improves shop efficiency, profit and safety, according to Jerry Howard, Bandag ancillary products manager. The product is so effective, he said, it will be the only envelope sold by Bandag after Nov. 1.
The Optimizer incorporates three ``dramatic'' improvements into the traditional curing envelope used in retread shops, according to Mr. Howard. The envelope:
Uses a special liner that allows the envelope to remain permanently lubricated;
Has a redesigned valve that eliminates valve loosening and enhances air evacuation; and
Has a reinforced valve area that reduces valve tearing.
The secret to the lubeless envelope is ``a special material added during the manufacturing process, which migrates into the rubber and allows the envelope to remain permanently lubed,'' Bandag said.
By eliminating the need for lubrication, plant efficiency increases, Mr. Howard said. Shops that had poor schedules or work areas will benefit the most because those shops are the ones who traditionally have the most difficulty keeping envelopes in operation.
The Optimizer could lower labor costs as much as 9 cents per cure by eliminating the need for lubrication and someone to apply it, Bandag said, though the company could not provide specifics.
Eliminating the need for lubrication also removes a material covered by environmental regulations, Mr. Howard added.
The enlarged valve, which Bandag dubbed ``Big Foot,'' reduces the tendency for valves to pull out of the envelope and provides for better air evacuation, ultimately resulting in a tighter seal and a better cure, Mr. Howard said.
The Optimizer officially went on sale to Bandag dealers in August. Some dealers, however, were able to gain firsthand experience with the envelope earlier in the year.
In fact, the product was developed as a result of dealer comments, gathered by Bandag through survey forms. Later, Bandag allowed dealers themselves to test the Optimizer in ``real world'' situations, Mr. Howard said.
The involvement of and communication between dealers and other internal Bandag departments has become known as the company's Product Development Process, or PDP.
``From a new product standpoint, we've never operated like this before,'' Bandag Plant Manager Steve Sperlazza said in the company's Bandagram newsletter. ``We had representatives from all the involved departments in the communication loop from the beginning, and we had total involvement and input from the people on the plant floor.''
The company declined to release specifics about its development process, calling the PDP ``proprietary information.''
The company will be using the PDP format for the design, testing and production of future retreading equipment as well as upgrading existing items, he added.
That means Bandag will continue to receive dealer input on the Optimizer, Mr. Howard said.
``It's an ongoing thing to basically confirm that the product is performing as it should in the field,'' he said.