Collmann brand enjoying renewed growth – Micro-Poise focusing more closely on retreading sector
When US publication Popular Science Monthly enthused in March 1935 over “modern scientific methods” that enable a tyre casing to be “rebuilt” instead of discarded after a working life of 20,000 miles or so, the retreading industry was still a relative newcomer on the scene. It was less than 20 years since Oliver Rubber introduced pre-cure retreading, and when the Popular Science Monthly article hit the newsstands, one aspect of retreading remained very labour intensive – buffing a tyre was still partially carried out by hand, with steel brushes used to prepare the casing for retreading. This was soon to change; in the second half of the 1930s, a German named Nanno Collmann looked into ways of simplifying this part of the retreading process, and in 1938 his company introduced the world’s first specialised tyre buffing machine. Three quarters of a century later, the Collmann brand is still a name respected by retreaders the world over and the company, under new ownership, retains a strong interest in the sector.
This aforementioned change in ownership came in September 2010, when Collmann GmbH & Co, based in Lübeck in the north of Germany, was acquired by US firm Micro-Poise Measurement Systems, LLC. Collmann had applied for insolvency the previous April, citing a loss of revenue due to the global economic downturn. Many view the acquisition deal as the Collmann brand’s salvation, and when Tyres & Accessories recently spoke with Ralf Frohwerk, global sales director and purchasing manager at Micro-Poise Measurement Systems Europe, and sales manager Klaus-Dieter Wergien, both men spoke of the benefits the new parent company have delivered to the retreading industry pioneer.
“When a company buys another, normally financial aspects are the sole driver,” comments Frohwerk. “But it was different with Micro-Poise – they produce equipment involved in all the other aspects of tyre final finishing apart from x-ray equipment. Now we have a company that produces all aspects, and that was the main driver. We can now offer the tyre industry a complete portfolio of final finish test and measurement systems. That includes uniformity testing, dynamic balancers and geometry inspection systems.”
Expanding the Collmann range
Following the company’s emergence from insolvency and return to production, Collmann – renamed Micro-Poise Measurement Systems Europe GmbH in early 2012 – focused on its core products, and for a time the retreading segment took a back seat. “Upon restarting after 2010 we began with our core x-ray machinery,” Frohwerk explains. “But we will produce and focus on all Collmann products, both for retreading and new tyre production. We will re-design our products and bring them back in the market.”
Frohwerk adds that Micro-Poise Measurement Systems Europe is now in a strong position to expand its focus beyond the x-ray product range: “From 2011 to 2012 sales have significantly improved since the purchase by Micro-Poise and we are forecasting additional growth. Customers are really happy that Collmann is back in business with the support of Micro-Poise.” Currently the retreading sector accounts for ten per cent of business at Micro-Poise’s German operation, but Frohwerk is confident this will increase. “In 2010 and afterwards we mostly concentrated on the new tyre industry, and now we want to grow in the retreading sector.”
Key retreading products
The most significant retreading product in the present ‘Micro-Poise featuring Collmann’ range, to use the new official brand name given to products built in the former Collmann plant in Germany, is the strong-selling Buffing Machine 0142. “This is a computer controlled unit,” shares Klaus-Dieter Wergien. “You can enter any tread into the computer and it will recognise how the completed tyre should be. It follows the contours and buffs precisely. It contains a sensor that measures how much rubber should be over the steel cord. The operator only needs to bring the tyre to the machine, clamp it in place, fill it with air and select the correct programme – the machine carries out the rest automatically.” The 0142 is suitable for TBR tyres with bead diameters between 14 and 24.5-inches, and can buff supersingle tyres up to 495/45 R22.5. Wergien comments that the 0142 has been on the market for a number of years now, but is continually updated and improved. “A new option is a double-sided brush that can also simultaneously clean the tyre sidewall.”
Buffing machinery for smaller OTR tyre sizes is also available, and Ralf Frohwerk says the OTR market is an area Micro-Poise is looking at more closely. “Our main retreading customers at presently those engaged in TBR retreading. The next step for us is to increase our focus on products for OTR tyre retreading.” In addition to buffing machines, the key retreading products in the Collmann brand portfolio are camelback stitching machines and presses.
And x-ray equipment may soon join this list. “We are talking more and more with retreaders about the benefits of x-ray,” notes the global sales director and purchasing manager. “It offers a clear advantage when inspecting the steel belts and cords hidden within a tyre’s casing. The retreading business will reach a totally different level in the future, a trend that can already be seen with the increasing focus tyre majors are placing on retreading. In many countries there is a pressure for tyre majors to offer retreading, and most Collmann products offer these companies an answer for both new tyres and retreads. And when it comes to developing products for the retreading industry we can draw on our experience in the area of new tyre production – this is a big advantage from our side.”
Rebuilding – a potentially huge business
The adaptation of core x-ray technology for application in the retreading sector presents an opportunity for Micro-Poise Measurement Systems Europe; another area the company has entered into in recent times is the rebuilding of Collmann equipment, both for new tyre production and retreading. “A major development for us is that our Lübeck site now engages in the rebuilding of Collmann Micro-Poise machines that have already seen years of service,” elaborates Ralf Frohwerk. “Machines that are 20 to 30 years old still have a good base technology, but we can rebuild them with state of the art technology at a 20 to 40 per cent cost saving compared with new machines. We are the first Micro-Poise plant doing this. Rebuilding was first offered in 2011 and is a growing business. Some ‘top five’ tyre industry customers have given us a first order to see how we handle it. If successful, there is a huge business in this area.”
Services on offer range from specific upgrades, such as the replacement of cameras on x-ray machines for diode lines, through to complete rebuilds. “No matter the age, we always try to work with older machines,” adds Klaus-Dieter Wergien. “This level of service is a point of difference that separates us from our competitors.”
Ametek acquisition brings positive influences
The former Collmann plant in Lübeck’s fortunes have taken a definite turn for the better in the last two and a half years, as can be witnessed by growing sales and a focus on bringing more state-of-the-art products to market. The latest development in the long history of the Collmann brand came in October 2012, a little more than two year’s after Collmann’s acquisition by Micro-Poise Measurement Systems. This time it was the turn of Micro-Poise to change hands. Former owner, private equity firm American Industrial Partners, sold Micro-Poise Measurement Systems to electronic instrument and electromechanical device manufacturer Ametek Inc. for US$170 million. Frohwerk sees this change of ownership as a very welcome development. Micro-Poise is now a business unit of Ametek.
“Collmann was bought by Micro-Poise and was able to provide more service and sales guys around the world to improve our responsiveness to our customers needs,” he elaborates. “Now, we are a business unit of Ametek – a company that also forges beneficial partnerships with its customers. It’s a logical next step, and it will have positive influences for both the Collmann brand and its customers going forward.”