Conti and Reifen Ihle Invest in ‘Strategic Components’
While in bygone years retreads were burdened with a reputation for inferiority in comparison to new tyres, over time this attitude has markedly changed. This is not only because the European ECE Regulations 108 and 109 have led to retreaders significantly increasing their focus on quality; haulage companies have also felt increasing environmental and economic pressure and this has made retreading products seem an increasingly attractive solution to operational problems. And demand typically creates a supply – one that ever more often comes from new tyre manufacturers. During a recent factory tour, Continental AG and German retreader Reifen Ihle GmbH revealed how supposed competitors can become harmonious partners.
Continental and Reifen Ihle have worked jointly on the manufacture of mould cure retreads since 2007. Since the beginning of this partnership both parties have aimed to produce tyres that would meet new tyre customers’ high expectations in terms of mileage and rolling resistance and would round out the Continental truck tyre division’s product and service portfolio. To achieve this, the people at Conti’s headquarters in Germany said early on that a reorganisation needed to take place in order to fulfill future market demands.
These demands today include that a retreaded tyre should be “almost as good as a new tyre” – like new, in the marketer’s vernacular. “A premium truck tyre manufacturer needs retreading in his portfolio, otherwise he can’t offer his customers a complete package,” explains Dr. Hans-Joachim Nikolin to Tyres & Accessories. The Continental board member responsible for the company’s truck tyre division consequently views retreading as a “strategic component” that serves another, higher objective, namely satisfying customer wishes. “Market expectations are growing; customers today want a one-stop-shop that offers everything,” adds Christian Sass, Continental’s director of Retread Business.
In the past the German manufacturer cooperated with various production partners to produce its ContiRe mould cure retreads (which until recently were known by the name ‘Contire’), and in recent years its partnership with Bavarian based Reifen Ihle has developed into a very significant working relationship. Retreads that are “like new” cannot be manufactured just anywhere. To achieve this, designers must work intensively together with production planners and quality controllers, and production partners need to invest in new equipment such as tyre building machinery, extruders, and presses. This close coordination between the relevant departments at Conti and Ihle have now been so fine tuned that both partners had no qualms in allowing European trade journalists unrestricted access and inviting them to bring their cameras into the manufacturing facility – evidence of the self confidence Continental and Ihle possess.
Two examples highlight both partners’ acquired self confidence. One is linked to casing management; previously when a tyre manufacturer sold a truck tyre it typically never saw it again. Today, on the other hand, a success factor for every manufacturer also participating in the retreading sector is to successfully keep every casing – particularly the latest generation casings – in its system and thus maintain its supply chain. These days Continental is able to retrieve around 80 per cent of the casings that Reifen Ihle uses for ContiRe retreading from its distribution channels. The remainder must be purchased from casing dealers such as the Dutch Kargro Group and delivered to the company’s retreading facility in Bavaria.
The second example is that of quality control. During ContiRe production at Reifen Ihle casings are extensively examined for possible defect not just once. At the end of the multi-stage production process every retread is once again passed through a shearography machine. As the manufacturer openly states, “ten to 15 per cent” of casings do not pass their initial test and “one to two per cent” fail this exit control. In addition, the so-called “footprint” of ContiRe tyres is randomly tested under pressure. This is then compared with the footprint of the new tyre the retread is intended to emulate. Through this procedure the extent of difference between the ContiRe tyre’s abrasion pattern and that of the new tyre and any resultant change in mileage can be fairly accurately predicted.
As would be expected, these high standards do not just apply to ContiRe tyres that are manufactured for Continental. The Bavarian manufacturer’s own Rigdon tyres are also scanned upon entering and exiting the retreading process, explains Wolfgang Reif during a tour of the Reifen Ihle factory. Yet Christian Sass elaborates that a Conti tyre should by no means be compared with a Rigdon tyre as the difference in product specifications between the two products is too great. “The company places great value upon quality management, particularly in the production process,” adds Wolfgang Reif. Reifen Ihle is certified according to DIN EN ISO 9001:2000 and even has a supervision contract with TÜV Süd: “Extensive inspection procedures serve as a foundation for the high quality of all Ihle products.” The retreader offers a complete portfolio that includes retreaded passenger car and OTR tyres.
When asked whether Continental could have attained an equal or even higher level of production quality had it chosen to operate its own retreading facility, Dr. Nikolin gives a pragmatic answer: “We apply our standards; I do not view the Conti-model with Ihle as inferior to a Conti-owned plant,” the board member states, elaborating that “Ihle is a partner with high flexibility and many years’ retreading experience. Continental has substantial developmental experience in the new tyre segment, plus the highest quality standards and vast innovative strength. Our joint work with Ihle guarantees the best of both worlds: the fast implementation of innovations and the highest quality.”