Bridgestone Bulldog Held 7.5% UK Retread Market Share in 2007

When Bridgestone bought Bulldog two years ago the retreader had worked hard to increase its annual production to 45,000 units a year from around 30,000 units. It was clear from the outset that Bridgestone’s management had its sights set on substantially increasing output in order to better service its increasingly successful fleet business. Under the Bridgestone banner the new short term target became 75,000 retreads annually, which was comfortably achieved in 2007. Now the company is aiming for 10 per cent of the 1 million-unit-strong UK retread market or a six-figure annual output sum by 2011.

When T&A visited Bulldog in late February, the factory was already running ahead of schedule with 83,000 units of production expected during 2008 – all this while installing new machinery and changing staff shift patterns. Of the 83,000 retreads Bulldog is aiming to produce this year around 60 per cent will be pre-cure products. Put alongside other premium manufacturers (Michelin, for example, 10:90 pre-cure:mold-cure production split) it is clear that Bulldog is running a different kind of retreading operation. In Bourne the emphasis is very much on Qualitread as a flagship product and the aim is to produce an increasing number of Qualitread pre-cure retreads on Bridgestone/Firestone casings.

With competing manufacturers offering sidewall veneers as a standard part of the hot retreading package, David Gray concedes that there is a need to educate fleets about the performance benefits of pre-cure retreading over the good looks of mould-cure. As a result of the £750,000 capital investment put into Bulldog, plant efficiency has significantly increased, with energy costs actually expected to fall compared with the former production system. A significant part of this improvement comes from the installation of two new cassette loaded autoclaves. These modern units are capable of curing up to 20 truck tyres each and the fact that they are cassette loaded means loading uncured casings takes three minutes, 10 times faster than it used to be. The smart move here is that the steam generated by the boiler to feed the four new mould-cure bladder presses installed on the other side of the curing hall is also used in the autoclaves. Other notable equipment upgrades includes two very modern automated buffing machines that run in parallel and represent the starting point for a factory-wide monorail circuit.

Changing lanes

In addition to the significant machinery upgrades that have taken place, implementing a four-shift continuous 24/7 working environment has been crucial to increasing capacity and output. Rather than actively producing tyres 240 days a year as it used to, Bulldog now makes tyres 340 days a year. The fact that the operation didn’t lose any employees during the shift transition is a testament to the commitment of staff employed there and to the management’s internal communications policy. Speaking to Bulldog managing director, David Gray, reveals that the new machinery also played an important part in making 24/7 production a reality. According to Gray, in the early stages of the plant upgrade the company ran into some down time problems with the older equipment, which led the management to install new curing presses and autoclave machinery in order to keep the process running smoothly. Prior to the takeover Bulldog worked as Bridgestone’s own casings collection agent. Now however, the company works with four independent casing collections companies who, like other leading retread manufacturers, speed up the initial stages of the casing collection process by filtering out products that are not appropriate for Bridgestone retreading. But this is only the preliminary check.

100 per cent of the casings that come into the Bulldog plant are assessed using Shearography and there are also plans to install electrical current-based nail-hole detection equipment in the near future. The ongoing integration process that is taking place in Bourne represents a cross-fertilisation of ideas between Bridgestone and Bulldog, something that can clearly be seen walking around the factory. The investment Bridgestone has pumped into the plant must have really helped, but the presence of engineers on secondment from the Bridgestone Technical Centre in Rome goes to show that the Bourne site is benefiting from Bridgestone expertise.

Prior to completion of the manufacturing plant’s upgrade, the first stage of upgrading the retread business saw the company focusing on the operation’s core retread business. This meant the phased closure of Bulldog’s wholesale operation, which was completed on 30 June 2007. Apart from avoiding the danger of cannibalising its own sales, the closure of Bulldog’s wholesale arm reflects the importance Bridgestone attaches to its Truck Point network of independent dealers and in turn to fleet contracts. Without being seen to clearly divest the wholesale business Bridgestone would have been in danger of alienating the Truck Point dealers that help it obtain and retain a growing number of influential fleet contracts.

Comments closed

We see you are visiting us from China.

If you would like the latest news from the Chinese tyre industry in Chinese, visit our partner site Or click below to continue on Tyrepress.