Driven largely by the shortage of new off-the-road/earthmover tires, OTR tire retreaders in North America for the most part enjoyed a boom in business.
The 10 largest OTR tire retreaders, for example, used 30 percent more tread rubber last year than in 2004, which in turn was double that used in 2003.
The biggest increase among the larger retreaders was by H&H Industries of Oak Hill, Ohio, which nearly doubled output last year to rank second in North America behind Northwest Retreaders Inc. of Portland, Ore., which saw production grow 30 percent.
``It's been crazy, and I don't think it's peaked yet,'' said Noah Hickman, manager of H&H, which has quadrupled its employment in the past three years to 150 and has been working three shifts a day, seven days a week for the past year to keep up with demand.
``We've just scaled back to six days,'' Mr. Hickman said. ``I was afraid of burning out the employees.''
To illustrate how the business has changed in just a short time, Mr. Hickman said H&H is now doing regular business with mining operations like Rio Tinto or Kennecott, which up until three years ago didn't use retreads at all.
``I regularly go to the big end users now,'' Mr. Hickman said, ``and try to educate them on the benefits of pulling their tires out of service before they're nearly destroyed.
``At first,'' he said, ``they didn't really pay that much attention. But once they've had to idle equipment because they had no tires, they've started to come around.''
H&H Industries, the second largest employer in Oak Hill, a town of about 1,665 inhabitants, is doing business globally as well.
``We're about to ship out four tires to South Africa,'' Mr. Hickman said, ``and we now have customers in South America, Asia and Europe.''
H&H Industries' biggest advantage at the moment is its supply of casings, Mr. Hickman said. ``We've cultivated good relations with a lot of suppliers over the years,'' he said, ``and now it's paying off.''
Having said that, Mr. Hickman noted that the supply of good casings is getting thinner and thinner. ``We're now looking at No. 3 or No. 4 grade casings,'' he said, ``grades we wouldn't have considered just two years ago.''
H&H earlier this year put into service an inflatable buffer capable of handling tires up to 57-inch rim diameter and is installing an inflatable builder for the same size product. It should be running by June. The plant operates four autoclaves for curing, including a 140-inch chamber installed in early 2005.
The firm offers mold cure, pre-cure and cut tread retreads in sizes up to 57 inch. It also repairs tires up 63-inch rim diameter, he said.
Mr. Hickman estimates he's on the road at least two days a week visiting customers or securing casings. Domestically he flies almost exclusively in the firm's Cessna Citation II twin-engine jet.
``We have no salesmen other than Ken (Daniels, vice president) and myself,'' he said, ``and we found traveling this way actually saves a lot of time and money over commercial flights. Sometimes we have to get to some fairly remote areas.''
H&H was founded in 1970 by Mr. Hickman's father Michael and uncle Joe, who continue today as owners along with Mr. Daniels. The firm originally was a passenger tire retreader.
Elsewhere among OTR retreaders:
* J&M Tire International Inc. of Oshawa, Ontario, sold its medium truck tire retreading assets to concentrate on its OTR tire business, where it plans to add two computerized Marangoni builders, two autoclaves and five molds.
* I.T.R. Inc. has added equipment to its Jacksonville, Ill., plant to accommodate OTR and larger size industrial tires, owner Richard Brahler said.
* BR Retreading Inc. of Glasgow, Ky., added 22 employees and a third shift to its retread operation and plans to add a ``giant'' Marangoni builder. Output last year shot up 50 percent to 7.5 million pounds (95 tires a day).
* RDH Tire & Retread Inc. of Cleveland, N.C., added a Marangoni ``mammoth'' builder and buffer, 90- and 180-inch curing chambers and a new groover, which should help the firm double capacity this year after boosting output 60 percent last year.
* Craft Tire Inc. of Uniontown, Pa., is adding equipment to both its plants, in Greenville, Ohio, and Uniontown to expand capacity. Output was up 12.5 percent last year, and sales jumped nearly 40 percent to $12.5 million, according to CEO Mark Goodes, who took over the CEO's job last year after company founder Allen Craft died from injuries sustained in an accident at the plant. Mr. Craft's widow, Tessie Craft, continues as president and owner.
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