The AirBoss segmented and solid tire business is under new management, which plans to expand the operation and broaden the product line.
Robert Gilkenson, who had been a sales executive with AirBoss of America Corp. for the AirBoss tire segment, purchased AirBoss's solid loader tire unit recently and renamed it SolidBoss Worldwide Inc.
He said he plans to keep the business in South Haven at a leased facility but intends to expand the company rapidly.
Newmarket, Ontario-based AirBoss, which still owns the segmented tire patents, will continue to make tire sections for SolidBoss under an agreement between the two firms, Mr. Gilkenson said.
SolidBoss will assemble, market, sell and supply tires used on skid- steer loaders, backhoes and small articulated wheel loaders. The new firm has seven employees, all formerly with AirBoss, who handle segmented tire assembly, warehousing, marketing and sales, said Mr. Gilkenson, who bought the operation for an undisclosed amount when AirBoss offered employees an opportunity to buy the business.
SolidBoss is planning to introduce a line of Aperture Tires in the near future that wear longer and feature added cushioning, a spokeswoman said. The company takes over the distribution network already in place, with distributors in all 50 U.S. states and nine Canadian provinces.
The patented AirBoss segmented tire/wheel assembly involves bolting hollow, non-pneumatic rubber segments to a flat-base wheel. The major makers of skid-steer loaders have used the AirBoss tire as original equipment since 1992, the firm said.
AirBoss decided to sell the segmented tire business, which accounted for only about 1.5 percent of AirBoss' overall sales-or about $2 million-because it was not profitable and didn't fit the company's business profile, according to AirBoss President and CEO Robert L. Hagerman,
``We couldn't expand the business by making tracks, forklift tires or off-the-road tires because we supply compound to manufacturers of those products, and we don't want to compete with our customers,'' he said. ``It's a good product but we were losing money on it.''
The sale takes AirBoss out of the segment that gave the firm its foundation in the U.S. and Canada in 1989 when it was formed as Iatco Inc. That company was funded by several investors who purchased the North American concept rights to the segmented tire line of an Australian company, AirBoss Ltd., and set up shop in Canada.
For a few years, that was all AirBoss of America manufactured.
The company broadened its product base and began making solid loader tires in 1994 when it bought Controlled Rubber Products Inc. of South Haven, which made segmented tires and rubber parts for railways and original equipment automotive makers.
As AirBoss made other purchases and expanded into the rubber mixing, footwear and military products industries via acquisitions, it eventually moved product manufacturing from the South Haven factory, which it closed, to its facilities in Canada.
Mr. Gilkenson said the company had not put much emphasis on the tire segment as AirBoss grew in different directions.
AirBoss has become a large custom rubber mixer, compounding rubber at its Kitchener, Ontario, and Acton Vale, Quebec, plants.