HILTON HEAD, S.C.—Truck tire retreaders face an array of new challenges this year—including tighter tolerances on tire repairs and the age of casings for retreading—as the trucking industry moves increasingly to downtime-intolerant, just-in-time delivery schedules. These and other changing parameters will impact the way retreaders conduct business in coming years, according to Marvin Bozarth, executive director of the International Tire and Rubber Association.
The industry also may face a growing casing shortage this summer, especially in selected low-profile medium-truck sizes, and must come to grips with rapidly changing demands from intermodal customers, Mr. Bozarth said in a speech and interview during the recent Clemson Tire Conference in Hilton Head, March 1-3.
Mr. Bozarth sees the possibility of a greater casings shortage, especially in the most popular low-profile size: 295/75R22.5. This tire has a tendency to be damaged more easily through contact with the sidewall, he said. It is also somewhat less tolerant of underinflation than conventional radials. "So we're seeing more of them rejected for retreading."
Compounding the problem, few companies outside the U.S. make that size—which is used on many long-haul trailers—and the tire is not used much outside North America, so it can't be imported if demand outstrips supply, he said.
Today, many trucking fleets are providing just-in-time deliveries to customers, which has created another issue for retreaders, the ITRA executive said.
Just-in-time fleets, anxious to avoid tire failures and the resultant downtime, have "a little less acceptance" of repairs larger than a nail hole, reducing the number of tires that can be retreaded.
"Fleets are restricting the size of injuries in repairs for tires used for just-in-time (purposes)," Mr. Bozarth said. "It used to be fleets wanted the largest repair you can do. Some still do," he added.
More and more fleets also are specifying that no tires more than four or five years of age be retreaded. "Some of these tires are being retreaded for local use, but a lot of others are being scrapped," he said.
However, if fuel costs remain high, some of these fleets may have to rethink such restrictive retread and repair policies in order to keep their overall costs in line, Mr. Bozarth added.
Within the last year, the railroad industry has specified that all new intermodal trucking equipment come with new radials, which could be a negative for retreading in the short term, since these tires tend to wear longer than the bias-ply tires used in the past, Mr. Bozarth said.
In the long term, however, if the casings are not damaged in use, the opposite could be true, he said. Radials tend to be more retreadable than their bias-ply counterparts, he said.
Radials also are a little more resistant to damage, he added, but are less tolerant of running flat than bias-ply tires.
Many intermodal companies also are purchasing low-cost new bias-ply tires, in size 10.00-20, imported from China, for their equipment rather than opting for retreaded cap-and-casings. "It remains to be seen whether these tires will perform as the intermodal companies expect them to," he said.
Considering all the changes that have occurred in retreading the last three to four years, Mr. Bozarth said it is nearly impossible to predict what might happen 10 years hence. But one thing is certain, he said: "Computers and technology will advance to the point that many of the systems we know today will be antiquated."
Retreaders, he said, likely will see more automation, thanks to the development of permanent bar codes or computer chips that will allow a tire to be scanned and the information fed automatically to inspection machines, buffers and builders. The scanning systems also will alert plant personnel to inappropriate tread designs and will control the diameters and radii of the buffed tires.
Mr. Bozarth said the industry should expect to see more application-specific tread designs, which will improve tread life, traction, performance, fuel economy and casing durability.
He also thinks the use of spray cements in retreading will disappear and that retread plants will be forced to improve turnaround time as fleets strive to reduce their tire inventories.
"In the year 2000 and beyond, the biggest challenge retreaders will face is staying abreast of technology in new-tire construction and providing transportation fleets high quality retreads that deliver the mileage, fuel efficiency and safety they demand," he said.