What Does Future Hold for Truck Tyre Retreading?
2009 may have been a difficult year for the tyre business in general, but the new truck tyre sector faired particularly badly. And as a knock-on effect of the reduced number of miles driven by fleets in the slowing economy, retread product was also hit (for example some figures suggest UK retread output was down 20 per cent this time last year). However, this improved during the course of the year and with retreading companies securing an increasing share of fleet business, Devon-based Bandvulc tyres is looking forward to a bright future in the international logistics business.
In a period of expansion that has impressed even the truck and bus market’s leading new tyre manufacturers, in recent years Bandvulc has grown to an influential position in certain segments, particularly to supermarket fleet tyre supply. Along the way the company has developed a reputation for environmental consciousness and recently took on an expanded new tyre distribution role in order to extend the service it can offer its growing fleet customer base. Speaking to Tyres & Accessories, company director and co-founder Richard O’Connell defines three important dimensions for those in the retreading business to consider: environmental, technical and political.
One of the strongest arguments in support of the ecological advantages of retreads – particularly in a market that demands cost savings – is what Richard O’Connell calls the “environmental economics” of premium versus budget tyres (see diagram 1). In order to make his point O’Connell compares the whole-life cost of a new premium tyre, which can be retreaded, with that of a new budget tyre, which can’t (see diagram 2). In short, however much cheaper budget tyres are in the first instance, they are actually more expensive (on a cost per kilometre basis) across the life of the tyre.
In addition, the headline environmental benefits of retreading (how the process of retreading a truck tyre saves 44 kilograms of rubber; 68 litres of oil; and 182.24 kg CO2) are well documented. However what this means for a million-unit strong country like Bandvulc’s domestic UK market (44,000 tonnes of rubber compound saved; 68 million litres of oil; and 182,000 tonnes CO2) is less well publicised.
“The important contribution retreading tyres makes both economically and environmentally in reducing life cycle cost and removing worn tyres from the waste stream cannot be over-emphasised. The better the casing construction the more environmental the tyre,” O’Connell explained.
Retreads of the future must look and run like new tyres
As far as the technical dimension is concerned, “the premium retread of the future must look and run like a new tyre,” says Richard O’Connell. And in order to achieve these requirements, he suggests a number of criteria that forward looking retreaders must consider including: Testing to meet set standards for sound and rolling resistance (similar to eco-labelling for household products); Casing design dimensions need to be better aligned between manufacturers enabling more automated production; Bead area durability of drive axle tyres; increased weight tolerance of low profile trailer tyres. On board tyre pressure monitoring for trucks correct vehicle axle alignment are also suggested as ways of savings casings.
Then there is the technical dimension. Central to this is the kind of technology that can ensure the casings is maximised and that all unsuitable units are eliminated immediately from the retreading process. Richard O’Connell suggests inspection machines of the future that incorporate both shearography and X-ray separation detection and highlight potential zippers and nail holes in one operation. Next are horizontal buffing machines with a conveyor feed and the ability to read barcode on casings to set pre-programmed buffing dimensions would speed up the process and ensure that the optimum amount of rubber is removed.
Furthermore, O’Connell talks of machines that can remove marked-up damage areas with laser recognition for an automated buffing head to then buff away the required amount of rubber and tyre builders that incorporate an auto-loading strip winder with barcode reader. Finally he suggests high pressure steam injection with nitrogen and robot loading together with pipless moulds together with subsequent testing at low pressure (4 bar) “incorporating a very accurate distortion measurement.” Interestingly RFID technology is noticeable by its absence, despite the wireless chip makers suggestions of how suited this technology would be to the retreading sector.
What can retreaders hope for with regard to legislation?
Finally it is everyone’s favourite subject – legislation, an area increasingly influential in the future of truck tyre retreading and the tyre business in general. So what could we hope for here? Here O’Connell makes the case for governments to endorse retreaders as part of the waste hierarchy. As a result these businesses could benefit greatly, he says, citing the facts that in Italy they have a 20 per cent prescribed retread quota on government vehicles and in the US a federal mandate is in place for government vehicles to use a proportion of retreads: “In the Far East we also see the Chinese Government embracing retread technology,” he commented, adding:
“With the benefits retread tyres bring it would also be encouraging to see the government supporting retreaders through grants for new machinery thereby helping to reduce costs and increase environmental friendliness. But maybe one of the biggest bones of contention is the Climate Change Levy (CCL). Retreading in the UK is supported by the Retread Manufacturers Association (RMA) which in turn is a member of BIPAVER…As UK tyre recyclers, we are penalised by the CCL. Retreaders pay 100 per cent, new tyre manufacturers pay 20 per cent. No other European country’s retreaders have to suffer this levy and we feel unfairly penalised by this penalty on recycling.”