BROWNSVILLE, Texas (April 7, 2000)—Titan International Inc. held an open house March 29 at its newly constructed tire plant in Brownsville, putting to rest most questions regarding the status of the 1 million-sq.-ft. facility, which commenced operation in mid-January.
The current production of small, bias-ply specialty tires, from lawn-and-garden sizes up to all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) and forklift lines, represents the first of four phases of development at the plant, the company said. Installation of the second phase, which will add capacity for skid-steer and backhoe tires, already is under way.
Titan President and CEO Maurice "Morry" Taylor Jr. said the remaining phases should be completed in about three years. At full production, the Brownsville plant will be capable of producing 550,000 pounds of tires daily, but currently is operating at about one-tenth of that level, Mr. Taylor said.
Eventually, the plant should have capacity for most, if not all, of the types of tires Titan manufactures in the industrial/utility, specialty, farm and off-the-road segments—including its proprietary LSW (low sidewall) models. Employment will swell to 600 from about 230 at present.
Ground was first broken for the plant in November 1996, and it was to have been completed within 18 months, but a series of delays kept pushing back the projected completion date.
One delay involved shifting the location of the plant to the opposite end of the 200-acre site, so it would not butt against an historic U.S.-Mexican War battlefield, which is slated to become a state park.
Another delay occurred when environmentalists claimed part of the site was habitat for an endangered frog, Mr. Taylor said.
The numerous delays led to charges by the United Steelworkers of America union, that Titan was failing to meet hiring promises and production goals and that the company was attempting to install shoddy, used equipment at the plant.
By building the entire structure at the outset, but slowly ramping up production through incremental development, Titan should achieve full production at the plant—generating annual sales of $200 million—with a total investment of about $100 million, Mr. Taylor said.
The major tire makers generally will complete all construction and equipment installation before commencing commercial production at a new plant, he said, spending approximately $235 million to achieve the same $200 million-per-year sales level.
As a result, Titan will recoup its investment much more quickly, Mr. Taylor said. "Do you know how long it takes a plant like this to earn $135 million (the difference between Titan´s investment and that of the typical major tire maker in a similar facility)!´´
The gradual phasing in of production also gives Titan time to train tire builders and other skilled workers. It takes 12 to 15 months to develop a skilled tire builder, Mr. Taylor said.
Training requirements were a consideration in the decision to choose small bias-ply tires for the plant´s first phase. With fewer body plies, they´re easier to learn to make, Mr. Taylor said.
However, they also require tighter tolerances in the splices where the ply ends meet, said Ray Evans, Titan vice president of tire engineering. As a result, a worker who has learned to splice small tires successfully should have no trouble when it comes to building larger sizes, Mr. Evans said.
In addition to the tire-building stations and molds associated with the phase-one tire production, the Brownsville plant contains two Banbury mixers to produce the rubber compounds used at the plant (it eventually will have four such mixers); two extruder lines; a calendering operation, in which the fabric used in the casing plies is impregnated with rubber; and what Mr. Taylor characterized as a state-of-the-art bead-forming machine, capable of producing beads for the smallest sizes up to 54-inch rim diameter sizes. &Copy;