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Published on January 10, 2007

'Catch 22' for retreading?

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Opinion

AKRON (Jan. 1, 2007) — With all the new technological advances, oil prices and world ecological issues, it seems that retreading will become more in demand.


Cheap imported tires—tires that dealerships sometimes struggle to retread—will have to be disposed of somewhere along the line, and if our country purchases them, we will be liable for their disposal. Therefore, it will be obvious that this is not the way to go as a cost-effective solution or an ecological solution.


Tires already are made to sustain three or four lives; this characteristic should be fully utilized.


Is the world of disposability—with the use-it-once-and-throw-it-away mentality—reaching into the tire world? Unfortunately, it seems to be a disastrous way to look at the issue.


The other side of the coin also shows the industry is set to grow, while the interest in working in a retread plant is set to decline.


Technology in retreading is increasing, with the use of computers, lasers, touch screens and modem-friendly business arrangements—a technician in Germany, for example, can fault find on a machine in Hawaii, over a phone line. But the average retread shop is not advancing as quickly as the machinery it uses. The problem with advancements in technology is that the factories and work forces have to keep up with it.


Some see them as challenges to overcome, while others consider them obstacles to be avoided. Yet if retreaders don't keep up with technology, there is a tendency to fall behind and then get left behind.


The statement, “We've been doing it like this for 20 years! Why should we change now?” shows either the unwillingness to advance or fear of advancement.


It takes courage, confidence, dedication and a leap of faith to steer from the norm, but some are doing it. With this trend toward technological upgrading, the work requires less pure manual labor, and it in turn becomes a lot more mentally oriented.


The die-hard retreaders of yesterday have had little to do with writing buffing programs when there was a template to follow. Now, non-dynamic steel templates have started to give way to dynamic mathematical program templates. These require a lot more thought and attention to detail.


Retreading can still be a dirty, hot and demanding industry, and the college and university graduates who spend millions of dollars per year purchasing computer games will not want to let go of a PlayStation console for one on a buffer or other piece of retreading machinery.


It seems many crimes committed nowadays are blamed on computer games, so let's invent a game to retread tires. Then maybe the vast majority of youngsters will want to go out and retread a tire. Just a thought.


It seems that education has pushed retreading aside; the lack of young people coming into the industry is staggering. Does anyone in the retreading industry visit schools on career days to try and explain the benefits of retreading—and its positive effect on the environment—and maybe encourage people to consider a career in this industry? If not, why not?


Some of these students will become the retreaders of tomorrow. With the ever-increasing awareness of world habitats and ecosystems, youngsters are becoming more involved in their future and environment, and the disposal of tires is a big factor in this.


Some retreading shops are lucky and have a dedicated work force that has been there for years. Others are not so lucky, due to the fairly low pay (at present) for the work required. The interest in working in a retread plant is that of a last resort in most cases, brought on by desperation to earn some money.


Most new recruits into the industry do not stay more than a week or so. And those who are dedicated have been so for many years and are close to retiring. There has to be a way to bring younger people into the industry without insulting their intelligence by offering them minimum wages.


My philosophy is: You get what you pay for and invest in.


Many workers who take employment in a retread factory may only stay for a day. Those who decide to stay longer usually seem to be trained for only 10 minutes and then left to their own devices. Then the worker, who had minimal training, trains someone else.


This is a serious issue with regard to quality, and though these incidents are few and far between, they do exist. There is never enough training. It should be an ongoing process that continues toward the No. 1 goal of quality.


While some owners who have an every day involvement with their retread plants appear to be more successful, those who don't interact as much seem to be paying a price that many don't even know about with regard to quality, training issues, upkeep of machinery, machinery downtime and a whole Pandora's box of small time and money wasting issues.


The demise of many independent retreaders is a sad fact of life. It is hard to compete with a multi-million-dollar company that operates just around the block. But the fact is: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Quantity does not outweigh quality. When was the last time an independent dealer recalled 50,000 retreads?


Is there an immediate fix for the lack of younger potential retreaders? Possibly not.


However, retreading is here to stay on probably an ever-increasing spiral. Something has to be done for the progressive turning of the wheel, retread-wise. Something must be done to tempt a new generation of retreader or the continuation of existing ones. Retreads are proved to be beneficial—let's hope someone will continue the legacy.


Or will retreaders become the proverbial dinosaurs of the tire industry?


Dean Smith, president of Doc Retread Inc., is a retreading consultant and trainer based in Goodlettsville, Tenn.

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