It seems like a long time coming, but spring finally is here and, with it, comes new hope of a better year. Not only are flowers and trees blossoming, but the COVID-19 vaccines are here, and its rollout is picking up steam.
With the weather getting warmer, and COVID fatigue getting the best of us, we're in a race against time. At the end of March, nationally, more than 145 million doses have been administered, with 72% of the age 65-and-up group having one dose and 49% fully vaccinated. That is huge.
Overall, 29% of the total adult U.S. population has had at least one dose, while 16% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.
This has economists predicting that the U.S economy — and more specifically the trucking economy — is in for a rocket-like recovery in the second half of 2021.
This recovery will be juiced by $1.9 trillion in federal stimulus funds, $1.7 trillion in American household savings in 2020 and early 2021 and pent-up exhaustion from the pandemic that when enough people are vaccinated and feel safe, they will return to restaurants, ballparks, theaters, etc. in droves.
As a result, economists predict the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) will grow 7% to 8% this year, which is about three times greater than what the GDP has grown any year in the past decade!
And with money burning holes in people's pockets, they also will spend it on good stuff that trucks bring. That means every sector of trucking is going to be "scary strong;" even those that experienced a downturn during the pandemic, like tanker fleets, are going to see a jump in business.
I say "scary strong" because the only thing that could hold trucking back is the driver shortage.
Expect trucks to be plying the roadways wearing down tire treads like never before. The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) expects replacement market truck tire shipments to increase 2.9% this year to 19.7 million units and original equipment shipments to be up 20% to 5.7 million units. You can count on retreads to increase as well.
You should have fleets knocking on your doors begging you to take their tires and retread them.
You should, but as we all know that doesn't happen. Instead, you will be competing with other retreaders for a fleet's business.
So, how do you get it?
Well, a fleet inspection of your retread plant can be an effective sales tool if the plant is up to snuff. Most fleet managers know that any retreaded tire is only as good as the workmanship and the quality control in the plant that manufactured it. A plant visit is a core part of a trucking customer's thorough evaluation of a potential retread supplier, whether it's for a first-time business partnership or the continuation of an existing one.
If you want to make a good impression and win over or keep a fleet account, put yourself in the shoes of a fleet manager. What would you look for?
You have to take off those rose-colored glasses and see things as he or she would. Or better yet, open your eyes and see all the problems that you have grown accustomed to seeing and don't recognize as issues anymore.
First, as the fleet manager walks around the outside of your building, the first thing to hit you is the overall plant image and appearance.
It should be clean and orderly. Stacks of rotting pallets, piled scrap tires or a messy buffing-dust collector area are not attractive nor make a good first impression. Will the outside appearance of your plant make a real fleet manager get back in his or her car?
Now, walk in the entrance to your plant. The facility should be clean and orderly on the inside, have adequate layout and space for efficient handling of tires and be well lit.
Adequate ventilation is important. You don't want to be hit over the head with the smell of burnt rubber or covered with buffing dust.
Rubber, cement, and repair materials storage areas should also be orderly, meet storage condition requirements and provide easy identification of the products.
A fleet manager will look for annual plant inspection and/or certification documents, which should be proudly displayed as well as the training certificates the plant employees have earned in retreading and safety programs.
In the initial casing inspection area, you want to see an experienced inspector who works in a well-lit area and is able to turn the overhead lights off so he can use a hand-held light to check for sidewall ripples as well as inner-liners. You check to make sure all water and debris is removed before inspection and that unsound repairs are marked for replacement.
Naturally, if there is some type of high-tech casing inspection equipment, such as shearography, X-ray, electronics, ultrasonics, high pressure, holography and/or flouroscan, a fleet manager will want to know all about it: what tires are put through it and how the operator determines a good casing from a bad one.
So it's important to have a knowledgeable person explain the use and capabilities of this equipment when your real customer takes a tour of your shop.
You'll also want to see that all returned-as-received (RAR) casings have the cause of rejection marked on the tire with the problem area clearly identified and documentation provided if inspection equipment provides it.
The repair area is one that many fleet managers scrutinize since one can often find problems there. Not only should it be well-lit, but wall charts also should be posted showing repair procedures, repair unit selection, cure times, etc.
A fleet manager will look for current manufacture date codes or expiration date codes on repair materials, ensure that all repair materials and supplies are from the same manufacturer and are stored properly.
You may watch a repair person complete a tire repair to ensure all the procedures are followed correctly. A shortcut you can take is to simply inspect the air tools. If you see the stones and rasps covered with reverted rubber, that's a sure sign that the tools have been used incorrectly.
You check to see that grinding stones are mounted in high-speed air buffers and rasps and carbide cutters are mounted in low-speed drills.
Finally, you make sure the repair technician identifies repairs with the retread plant RDOT code, date of repair and the technician's initials and installs a blue triangle to identify potential repair bulges as necessary.
At the buffer, a fleet manager checks to ensure that the crown width, radius and symmetrical profile are buffed according to predetermined settings and the remaining undertread is sufficient for the application.
If the retread operation has a mold-cure system, then diameter also should be predetermined and you will want to see where these dimensions are referenced.
Wall charts, manuals, and/or computers should be in use to show the buffer operator and the fleet inspector the correct specifications for each tire. It's wise to have the buffer operator explain how your shop's particular buffer works and how it ensures every tire is properly buffed.
Since not everyone is good at speaking, you might consider having your buffer practice on you and explain what he/she is doing so they are ready when your next real fleet account visits.
You also check to see if the buffer operator inspects the tire for sidewall bulges that may indicate potential zipper ruptures while the tire is still inflated on the chuck.
Next you look for a nice buffed texture (BT3 or BT4) that is free of scorch, and if you notice smoke coming from the buffing rasps, you won't be happy. You make sure the buffed casings are handled carefully to ensure the buffed surface does not get dirty or contaminated by an air hose used to clean off the buffing dust.
You go to the skive area next and check to see that all untexturized areas, such as tread grooves and irregular wear spots, are buffed with a hand rasp to remove oxidation and surface dirt. You also check to see that all holes, cuts and penetrations are probed to determine the severity of the injury and that all foreign material is removed.
Since buzz-outs are the single-most neglected or mishandled detail of the retread process and one of the major causes of retread failures, you naturally inspect tires to ensure the skives are made so that all areas of separation, rust, dirt and debris are removed and the exposed steel cords are cut back to solid rubber in a way that leaves a clean solid surface to which the filler material can adhere and then are cemented promptly.
You ensure that steel cords are coated with cement within 15 minutes. If they sit longer than that, you are not a happy customer.
At this station you check again to see that air hoses are not used to clean off the buffing dust caused by skiving and buffed tires are handled so that the buffed surface is not dirtied.
Next, make sure the cement has dried in the skives and over the steel cords before they are filled or covered with rubber. Once dried, all buzz-outs are filled flush with the buffed surface.
Many retreaders don't use cement anymore, but if your shop does, check to see the cement container is protected from air-supply line moisture and oil contamination and that the manufacturer's date code has not expired. Ensure that the cement container in use is kept mixed and that cemented tires are dry prior to application of the tread.
Once in the well-lit tread-building area, there are loads of things a fleet manager will look for. The first is the tread rubber. You check to see what brand, product line and type of tread rubber is being used and whether it is within the manufacturer's date code or expiration date.
Lastly, you watch the builder-operator to ensure the adhesive surfaces of the tread rubber, cushion and the buffed surface of the tire are kept free of contamination from hands and other sources.
For precured treads, stitching must be performed in a manner that eliminates trapped air pockets under the tread. You might consider having the builder operator explain to you what he/she is doing as they would if you were a real fleet customer.
Then check built tires to see whether there are no more than two splices in precured retreads or die-size rubber and that the distance between them meets the manufacturer's specifications. Also check to see that the tread is centered all around the tire.
When fleet managers get to the curing area, they normally will ask to see what control systems or procedures are used to ensure that all tires are cured at the correct temperature, pressure and time period. You, in the fleet manager's shoes, ask to see records showing current certification of the retreader's curing equipment.
You also check the envelopes, bladders, curing tubes and chamber and/or presses for leaks or at least ask how plant personnel check them and see if anyone is doing that. One thing you want to make sure is that tires are stored in a way that avoids distortion of the tread and/or casing before and immediately after curing.
Lastly, if the process uses wicking material, check to see that the staples used to hold it in place are not in the tire sidewall or bead since these holes will penetrate the liner, cause leaks and allow moisture to enter and rust the steel cords.
If the plant has gotten this far through your plant inspection relatively unscathed, be advised that the fleet manager will be looking for proper procedures to be followed in final inspection as well.
Most importantly you will want to see that every tire goes through final inspection and is placed on a spreader in a well-lit area. A hand-held light should be used as well to inspect the tire interiors thoroughly. Tires should be hot when they are inspected so that separations and other anomalies are still visible before the tires cool.
Watch the inspector check that all repair units are properly bonded and labeled and no other problems are evident inside the tire.
The outside of the tire should be inspected for appearance and marked with a blue triangular label to identify potential repair bulges. You should also ensure that all metal staples and wicking material are removed and that the RDOT code is located near the original tire DOT code but closer to the bead so that it will not be scuffed off.
Finally you'll want to see that any tires rejected at this point have the cause of rejection marked on the tire with the problem clearly identified. Then tires are trimmed of rubber flashing or overflow, painted and high-pressure tested if available, and tagged for delivery.
So how did your inspection go, Mr./Ms. Pseudo Fleet Manager? Did this new perspective open your eyes to things you've been overlooking?
If so, you need to correct the problems you found immediately. Business may not be booming at the moment, but it sure will be as the summer approaches and the economy starts to take off in the second half of the year.
Now is the time to improve your plant's workmanship, quality, appearance and image. When fleets come knocking on your door looking for a professional, high quality retreader, you'll be ready.