High demand for run-flat wheels for U.S. military Humvees in Iraq is keeping the U.S. subsidiary of a French industrial firm working at top speed.
Trenton-based Hutchinson Industries Inc., a subsidiary of Hutchinson S.A., calls itself a world leader in enhanced mobility devices for the military, commercial and monorail industries, including all types of run-flat systems and tire beadlocks.
While all of these markets are growing, Hutchinson's major current growth area is in run-flat systems for Humvees for U.S. military use in the Iraqi desert. The company has produced nearly 100,000 run-flat wheels for that purpose in the last two years, according to Gregory J. Bilhartz, Hutchinson marketing manager for military products.
This represents about a 30- to 40-percent increase in business, Mr. Bilhartz said, and has boosted Hutchinson to about $75 million in sales in 2004, compared with $65 million in 2003.
While Hutchinson makes several different types of run-flat devices for the military, the kind it provides for the Humvee is the VFI, or Variable Function Insert. According to Hutchinson's Web site, the VFI is a solid rubber insert that fits securely around a multi-piece, flat-base rim. It fits into a tubeless tire, which in turn is fitted around the wheel.
The resulting assembly, the company said, provides optimum mobility, as well as improved survivability for Humvee occupants because of its design and the dense rubber compound used in its manufacture.
The VFI works both as a run-flat and a beadlock, according to Hutchinson. The company defines a beadlock as a device-made solely for multi-piece wheels-that fits between the tire beads and locks the tire to the wheel rim flange. This allows the tire to operate at low pressures in mud, sand or snow, significantly increasing its footprint, Hutchinson said. It also prevents the tire from unseating from the rim.
Meeting all U.S. military and NATO standards, the VFI is the most widely used run-flat in the world, according to Hutchinson. It can fit into any standard-production tire, Mr. Bilhartz told Tire Business, adding that in the Humvee's case the vehicles use Goodyear tires.
Among other products for the military, Hutchinson also makes the TLMO, a chambered rubber run-flat that fits inside a tire and replaces some of the air volume in the tire cavity; and ``countermine'' run-flats that redirect laterally the blasts from land mines, minimizing damage to vehicles and injury to passengers.
Hutchinson supplies all these products to a variety of military vehicles, Mr. Bilhartz said, though, for security reasons, he declined to say which ones. These products, he added, are constantly being improved and expanded through the company's ongoing development projects. The firm spends a great deal on research and development, he said, though he declined to state a dollar amount.
Hutchinson Industries employs about 170 in three Trenton plants. Its parent company employs more than 20,000 at some 80 manufacturing plants in 28 countries, and boasts annual worldwide sales of more than $2 billion, according to the company.