AKRON-Way back when Casey Jones started out as an engineer, it's doubtful he ever envisioned the degree to which railroads would provide business opportunities for the tire industry. The tire industry?
No, the ``iron horse'' hasn't forsaken the rails for same fancy rubber footwear. But the trailers-and shipping containers-that ``piggyback'' the trains are playing a significantly increasing role in how America receives the products it needs and desires.
As the shipping industry continues to grow and evolve, so does the tire industry-specifically the retreading business which provides many of the tires upon which those trailers ride.
What is known as ``intermodal'' shipping has spawned new opportunities-and lucrative contracts for some savvy retreaders.
Take for instance Pacific Coast Retreaders (PCR) Inc. According to a TIRE BUSINESS ranking compiled earlier this year, PCR is among North America's largest retreaders. The Oakland, Calif.-based firm, which operates a plant there and in Irvine, Calif., produces about 600 units per day-many of them radial intermodal retreads-using mold and precure processes. The firm consumes approximately 3.10 million pounds of rubber annually.
Two years ago, Tire Business Staff Reported that PCR was awarded a 7,400-tire contract from Matson Navigation Co., a world leader in container transport.
The key to success, according to one large intermodal tire retreader, is simple: Having an ample supply of competitively priced retreaded tires available as chassis are being manufactured.
The economics are such that intermodal has proven it's a dependable, economical way to ship product from one point to another, giving a company the flexibility to combine several modes of transportation, the retreader said.
That makes it easier for retreaders to pick up extra business, he said, as word has spread from one shipper to another ``that intermodal tire retreading is a good way to go.''
Thomas Pivk, manager, purchasing for Matson Navigation, acknowledged that fact recently dur-ing a seminar on intermodal trucking presented at the Ameri-can Retreaders Association's (ARA) annual World Tire Conference in Louisville, Ky. Other participants included Nicholas Picinich, maintenance director of Maher Terminals, and Jim Perrine, manager, maintenance services, Crowley American Transport Inc.
To provide the highest level of customer support, San Francisco-based Matson maintains an equipment inventory of more than 20,000 sea containers and almost 8,600 chassis, Mr. Pivk said. This year the company embarked on a program to procure 1,180 chassis requiring 9,640 tires, all of which are to be radial recaps. The company is switching from bias-ply.
He predicted that the intermodal business will grow, boosted by the North American Free Trade Agreement and increased exports from Pacific Rim countries such as Mainland China and Vietnam.
That growth will lead to more equipment required to move goods, which should prod more shippers to switch to radial retreads, Mr. Pivk said, ``especially if they are under pressure to reduce or contain costs.''
But that growth hasn't been without pitfalls.
Three years ago, he admitted, the company ran into supply and quality problems in obtaining bias casings for a 6,000-tire order for new chassis. Dwindling supplies forced Matson to seek additional suppliers ``just to keep the chassis production line going. . . Many of the casings were of poor quality and our failure rate soared.
``We found another solution-radial recaps-by finally listening and working with our chassis tire supplier, but we paid the price.''
To hold expenditures in line, Matson is still exploring ways to cut costs, which led to specifying recap tires as replacements for worn or damaged OEM tires. The up-front costs were higher than those of bias recaps, Mr. Pivk said, ``but in the long run we expect overall tire costs to go down.''
The radial casings have proven to be sturdier, able to take more abuse, and have a failure rate of less than .002 percent. The company expects 35 percent of its chassis fleet to run on radial recaps by year's end. Its long-term plans call for converting the entire fleet to radial 11x22.5 by the end of 1998, he said.
What does Matson look for in an intermodal tire supplier?
``We expect our suppliers to provide. . . a quality product and quality service and work with us as our advisers,'' Mr. Pivk said. ``We expect them to keep up with new technology and tell us what is new in the marketplace, either in product or processes, and tell us of the advantages and disadvantages of the innovations.
``We expect them to advise us what we are doing wrong with tire maintenance and what corrections must be made to our procedures.''
From a humble start in 1892, with one row boat and a persistent owner, Crowley American today has more than 50,000 containers and trailers and revenues of more than $1 billion. Its transport division is based in Jacksonville, Fla.
At the ARA seminar, Mr. Perrine addressed one of the intermodal industry's worst problems: pilferage of equipment-from copper tubing to light bulbs to tires.
Crowley turned to retreaded in-termodal tires, in part, from necessity. Because of theft, ``the tires cannot be overly valuable!'' Mr. Perrine stated. He then outlined the criteria-and preferences-his company has for tire purchases:
A balanced, bias-ply tire, for trouble-free over-the-road trucking, with a casing strong enough to operate over unimproved Third World roads, but not so desirable as to be stolen;
Tube-type tire, also less likely to be pilfered. Crowley utilizes only new tubes in recaps for better air pressure retention;
A recap tire, because its casing and subsequent recapping costs less than an OEM tire; and
A top cap, which always looks like a recap tire and is less appealing to thieves.
Crowley also expects professional repairs on its tires so they don't experience premature failure, and tread rubber which has good adhesion, abrasion-resistance and adequate ozone protection.
Mr. Perrine said the company aims to form ``a partnership with (its) retreader with trust, understanding, continuous communication and total cooperation.''
Maintaining intermodal tire quality requires a monthly visit to Crowley's retread supplier's shop to conduct a joint inspection of rejected casings. Currently, the firm retreads more than 40 percent of the casings it owns.
To address the problem of a bias casing shortage in the future, Mr. Perrine said the company is currently working with a domestic manufacturer to build a new 14-ply 10.00x20 tire rated with 35,000 pounds of plunger strength and good ozone protection for long casing life.
Maher Terminals, a stevadore located in Port Elizabeth, N.J., is one of the world's largest independent, privately owned multi-user container terminal operators.
According Mr. Picinich, the company's services include loading and discharging cargo from customer vessels; delivering and receiving cargo via truck; an on-dock intermodal rail facility with some 2,000 weekly shipments; and dedicated trucking services. Its maintenance and repair facilities service customers' intermodal container and chassis fleets.
Maher uses a bias 10.00x20 recapped intermodal tread on most chassis, and services about 320 of the chassis-and 150 tires-daily for local and long-haul deliveries.
He provided several reasons why Crowley replaces so many of its tires:
Lack of tire maintenance knowledge and airing programs;
Cost-``most customers do not understand what or how a recap is built,'' and thus make comparisons between retreaders based on cost;
Abuse-rough handling of tires by truckers;
Casing failure due to caps placed on inferior casings; and
``If we are lucky, normal tread wear.''
Unlike Matson's shift to radialization, Mr. Picinich sees a continued use of bias ``because of radial tire cost, the short life expectancy of a tire in our industry and the possibility of theft. . . .''
To help thwart theft of intermodal retreads, PCR vulcanizes onto the tires yellow decals bearing the transport company's name. Some retreaders also imbed a company's name in the tread surface.