Joseph P. Danules is looking for a few good dealers. Well, actually, between 300 and 500.
The president and CEO of Urethane International L.L.C., a newcomer to the tire flat-proofing business, is in the throes of getting his just-launched dealer network funded. Thus far, he has seven companies including at least one commercial tire dealership signed on.
What they're handling is the company's patented polyurethane foam flat-proof material and machinery, which Mr. Danules said he believes could very well revolutionize the specialty and industrial tire industry.
While that's a lofty vision, he talks of his company's goals with the excitement of a neophyte entrepreneur convinced success-and significant growth potential-are within his grasp.
Urethane International's product, Superlite Safety Foam Fill, is a urethane foam whose density is about a third of that of more traditional tire fillings, such as those used in construction equipment, he said. So it's possible to use it to fill smaller tires. Traditional heavy fill consists of polyurethane and oil that's mixed and cured for 24 hours. It weighs about 64 pounds per cubic foot, Mr. Danules said, and is ``not really a foam'' but rather an elastomer consisting of 70 percent oil. That makes it very heavy.
He called his product, which weighs 18 pounds per cubic foot, ``a true foam, with air bubbles trapped in it''-and the ``first commercially viable light-weight foam fill for tires.'' A polyurethane with no oil added, Superlite-which consists of isocyanate and polyol-also is ``environmentally clean and friendly,'' Mr. Danules claimed. About an inch of the material expands to about six times its volume, he said, resulting in a closed-cell foam.
His company, which on May 31 relocated its headquarters and research and development center to Alpharetta from Rome, Ga., embarked on the road to an alternative to traditional foam fill when, according to Mr. Danules, the owner of another Rome firm suggested a lightweight foam fill was needed. That company makes wheel-tire mounts for off-the-road vehicles and had been using tires filled with traditional foam fill in order to prevent flats. But that method is not usable in a number of applications. So Mr. Danules developed the new material and the machinery.
Mr. Danules noted that the most popular skid-steer tire size for a Bobcat tire/wheel assembly is 12x16.5, which takes 45 minutes to fill with traditional foam fill material.
``With our machine and process, it takes a maximum of two minutes,'' he told Tire Business. That's not only a boost for productivity, but ``our fill has no danger of exploding,'' he continued. ``When you use traditional fill, you have to pressurize the tire and there's a danger-just like in overinflating with air-that they'll explode and the wheel and tire will separate.''
Traditional fill should be but is rarely installed in a tire inflation cage, he also pointed out.
The 12x16.5 size tire takes about 210 pounds of traditional fill vs. 70 pounds of Mr. Danules' material, so his version is a third lighter. Yet he acknowledged that, on a pound-per-pound basis, Superlite is three times more expensive because it doesn't have oil added to the filler. What makes it competitive, however, is the fact that ``we put in three times less material into that tire, so it averages out to about the same cost.''
Among Superlite's selling points are Mr. Danules' claim that it can extend tread life by 25-30 percent, provide a less-jarring ride than tires filled with traditional foam and is easier on equipment. The company's Web site states the fill has been field tested on 14x24-inch tires on loaders that have run more than two years without experiencing any foam failures or flats.
Another ``huge advantage,'' he said, ``is that a customer can run our fill on equipment with over-the-tire tracks without any problems.'' The heavy weight of traditional foam can put a strain on such equipments' drive chains, often causing them to snap-to the tune of thousands of dollars in damages.
To help Urethane International's fledgling quest for a dealer network, the company recently switched its approach to market. Mr. Danules is completing the process of buying out the stake of one of his company's investors, Fred Taylor, with whom he co-founded OTR Wheel Engineering, a company still operated by Mr. Taylor. That, Mr. Danules said, changed his company's direction ``from concentrating on manufacturing and trying to set up a dealer network-we couldn't do justice to both. We were growing too fast for manufacturing to keep up with it.''
So Urethane International started discussions with Ace Products L.L.C., purported to be one of the world's largest manufacturers of solid rubber and semi-pneumatic tires. Ace also makes plastic wheels and serves the light-industrial and agricultural markets.
Mr. Danules said his company entered into a strategic alliance with Ace, which is now ``using our machines and manufacturing process and our proprietary foam fill to fill pneumatic tires'' at its Conneautville, Pa., plant. The transition, which was completed in May, allows Ace-rather than Urethane International-to do mass production of foam-filled tires up to 26 inches in diameter.
``We will continue to provide them with machines, technology and our intellectual properties,'' he said, ``and we'll get our revenue by selling them the foam and machines.''
That move now allows Urethane International to concentrate all of its energy toward setting up its dealer network, first throughout North America, Mr. Danules said, then probably in Europe, followed by Japan and Australia.
The company's recently signed dealers include one in Canada; one in Mexico is on the brink of signing. Although he wouldn't specify who all the dealers are, Mr. Danules said Dragon Tire Inc., a commercial tire dealership based in Denver, ``has proved to be what we think our prototype dealer should be.''
Lorenzo Mondragon, Dragon Tire's president, told Tire Business that tires containing Urethane Technologies' foam have been sent through the retreading process without any problems. ``We've foam filled a lot of skid loader tires and lawn and garden stuff, and (Superlite) is definitely a third of the weight of conventional foam. So people who're having equipment problems with the weight of conventional foam are very happy with this product.
``It's new to the market, so some people are still skeptical, but once they try it, they're very satisfied. We've gotten very good feedback and it seems to be taking off. Word of mouth seems to be selling it already.''
Unlike traditional foam, Mr. Mondragon has found that Superlite ``seems to hold its form a lot better. When you dig into it, it doesn't spill out like conventional foam. It holds its shape...if it gets damaged.''
Dragon Tire has three commercial outlets. Although it has been outsourcing retreads to a couple other companies, the dealership will open its own Oliver-process retreading plant Sept. 1, Mr. Mondragon said.
Mr. Danules has been looking at a number of avenues from which to cull possible dealers and conducted a pilot program that included lawn and garden equipment dealers. Also, some independent landscapers have expressed interest in the business, but he noted that ``without the tire industry experience and connections, it could be a tough business to launch.''
So he's decided to concentrate more on commercial tire dealerships which ``already have customers like general contractors, construction companies and lawn and garden centers.''
The company is offering dealers a three-year, zero-down lease program that includes the cost of a machine and the first two totes of foam-fill material, according to Mr. Danules. Since first coming to market, Urethane International has lowered the price of its apparatus significantly from an initial cost of $50,000 for the machine alone. Now, he said, it takes less than a $30,000 initial investment-including machine and foam fill, or less than $20,000 for just the machine-to get someone started in the business.
Meanwhile, Mr. Danules is continuing to target companies such as Home Depot Inc.'s tool rental division in the U.S., which he said has been making an effort to foam fill the tires on its equipment to cut downtime in the field. And one of his better customers has been Charles Machine Works Inc.'s Ditch Witch Division, the Oklahoma-based manufacturer of equipment such as small trenchers.
As for the environmental benefits of Superlite, Mr. Danules said any similarities between his and traditional fill begins and ends with the way a foam-filled tire is disposed. While both must be cut off a rim, some landfills won't accept the traditional fill because the oil in it can leach out, causing an environmental problem. He claimed his foam fill product contains no harmful oils and can be disposed of in a company's regular trash.
Superlite can be used in any tires that run 10 to 15 mph or less-including agriculture, off-road, construction, mining and light industry equipment. It also has been in use on military bases for equipment such as ordnance carriers, Mr. Danules said.
Other markets he is pursuing include tires on wheelchairs and scooters for handicapped persons and the small 9x3.50-4 casters that go on small tractors and commercial mowers. They are notorious for developing holes, which are sometimes plugged upwards of 10 times. But that can throw off the equipment's balance. Superlite could solve that problem, he said, and ``there's probably a million tires we can sell a year in that size alone-it's incredible.''
Mr. Danules, 54, has come a long way from his days at General Motors Corp., where he graduated from the GM Institute of Technology, then worked 16 years for the company's truck and bus unit. He then worked for American Isuzu Motors, helping set up its truck dealer organization, was vice president of sales for Volvo Construction Equipment's North American division, then served as president of Grove Manlift, a division of Grove Worldwide that makes large cranes, manlifts, scissor and boom equipment.
Once he came up with the idea for a lighter-than-traditional foam in 2001, he started his own company by raising money through private investors. Since then, it's been an exciting foam-filled ride.