MT: What would you consider the main challenges facing your fleet customers today when they are spec’ing tires?
Filer: Fleets are doing everything they can to analyze their current tire maintenance programs to ensure they are getting maximum performance from their tires. That holds true not only for the new tire but also the retread. They are looking at every opportunity to reduce their costs. They are looking at best mileage performance and also at opportunities to control fuel costs.
MT: In your view, is the average Canadian motor carrier sophisticated enough in its tire selection and tire management strategies to get the most out of retreading? If not, what are the most common issues that need to be addressed?
Filer: I have found many of our Canadian fleet managers are very sophisticated when it comes to tire knowledge. However, in those instances where the individual making the tire purchase decision wears so many hats that his focus and tire knowledge is limited, they can and should rely on a knowledgeable tire supplier for the information and guidance that will help them maximize their tire program. Bandag dealers in Canada and their account representatives generally have years of training and tire experience. They view the fleet’s tires as assets and can help the fleet manager maximize the return on those assets with tire maintenance and management programs that are bench marked against the industry’s best practices.
MT: About 40% of fleets are starting to use tires from Asia, according to our research. How retreadable are you finding these products to be?
Filer: We are certainly starting to see some of these products entering the North American market. We realize we need to understand these products a lot better than we currently do. We are working hard to capture the information but the problem is we can’t get our hands on a large enough group of casings to determine how these casings perform. So scientifically we don’t have the answers yet. The data on them is just not sufficient enough to determine just how good they are. The jury is still out on that.
MT: What else would you consider a major challenge for retreaders and how is Bandag responding to those challenges?
Filer: There’s many challenges we face as retreaders, but as it relates to our fleet customers, our biggest challenge is ensuring that fleets have the best maintenance practices in place so that we have something to work with once a tire has gone through its initial life and begins to move into its retread life. That requires making sure that all the necessary pieces of the puzzle fit together so that the tire maintenance program is efficient and does the things that it is designed to do. We are very vulnerable as retreaders because if the tire is not maintained it makes it a lot more difficult for us to retread it. Beyond that, there are many things that are squeezing retreaders right now. There is not only a North American but a world-wide shortage of available casings. The other thing is that as retreaders we are all being punished on commodity pricing. Our raw material costs are essentially things we don’t have control over and as a result we have to pass them on to our franchiser dealer network and ultimately on to our fleet customers.
MT: Can anything be done, perhaps through other areas of your operation, to help mitigate the impact of rising materials costs?
Filer: We’ve done a number of things to try to reduce costs. We’ve introduced new buffing capabilities that fully automate the removal of the old tread off the casing. All we need to do is dial in what type of casing we are about to buff and the machine takes it from there. The other thing that we’ve done is employ a casing inspection capability where we use non-destructive technology called shearography. The casing goes through the shearography prior to buffing and if the casing is determined to be non-retreadable we’ve reduced the amount of handling required for that casing.
MT: Your Application Specific Advantage Program (ASAP) was designed to move Bandag from an “internally, product-driven development approach to an externally, customer-centered approach.” Can you elaborate on the program and how it is helping you become more customer-centred in your product designs?
Filer: The application-specific product has been good for our fleet customers because before we introduce any new application-specific product it goes through a significant amount of testing and comparisons to not only other Bandag products but also to the performance of the best-in-class tires for that application. When the fleet customer moves to an application specific product from Bandag he can do that with a great deal of confidence that he is getting the best return on his tire investment.
MT:: Bandag is well known for its variety of tread designs. Why do you focus on having such variety?
Filer: Again, this ties into our application specific philosophy. We have a variety of tread designs because different fleets have different needs and ways of ranking performance. In Canada, for some fleets traction is the most important criteria. Other fleets look for wear mileage or fuel mileage. Over-the-road and vocational fleets have different tread design needs. Even vehicle configurations, like single-axle trucks, might result in a different tread design selection.
MT: Many of Bandag’s tread designs include MilEdges, which are a result of the Micro-Sipe process where thin sipes are cut across the tread surface. Can you elaborate on the advantages of this tread design?
Filer: There are a couple of reasons we went to MilEdges. Trailer applications were running into problems both in the new tire and retread end with diagonal wear. MilEdges was a design to reduce that by reducing the tread face on the tire. Also, with MilEdges we increased the braking surface. MilEdges also offered reduction in heat, which is the number one problem for tires. Reducing the amount of heat a tire is subjected to by even small amounts we can increase the performance of that tire. MilEdges are mainly used in trailer axle applications and to a smaller degree in the drive axle position.
MT: Two years ago Bandag launched two new tread products – the Drive Mixed (BDM) and Bandag All-Position Mixed (BRM), molded from a new group of compounds for the refuse and construction industries. It was said that they could increase tread wear by up to 20% . Can you explain what it is about the design and/or materials used that provide such improved performance and what the field results have been to date?
Filer: It is a significant improvement. This was driven by the waste industry which is under tremendous pressure to reduce costs yet is so hard on tires because of the stop and go nature of the operation and all the heat build-up from constant braking and twisting and turning. We worked very closely with the industry to find a way to address that. It took a while to bring those products to market but the success we are having with these products was worth it.
With BDM and BRM we are helping those fleets get a better return on their tire investment.
MT: What’s new for on-highway fleets?
Filer: We introduced the Mega Tracks design, which is a long-distance highway design. Fleet customers were looking for high mileage performance for their tires. A tire is a trade-off. If you want it to perform well in one area it’s going to compromise performance in another area. The long distance applications may not need high traction capabilities so the Mega Tracks tread has been designed for that kind of application and the feedback from customers has been very positive. One of the things we’ve noticed is that when you introduce a tire that performs well in one area and not as well in another, there tends to be a learning curve for the operators and the management of the company. With application specific products we focus on what the fleets want to do and where they want to go.
MT: At the close of last year, U.S. Xpress, the fifth largest publicly-owned truckload carrier in the United States, signed an expansive, six-year agreement with Bandag to handle its tire management needs. Can you outline when you believe such outsourcing of tire management practices makes sense for a truck fleet?
Filer: There is a lot of interest in our total tire management outsourcing program from fleets. The key is to understand the current situation in the fleet. That’s a challenge. Where are the fleet’s costs on tires and what’s included in those costs? What kind of controls are there? What are the maintenance and disposal practices? What casings go into what applications? There’s so much to know before going into a total outsourcing arrangement that a lot of groundwork needs to be done before any kind of outsourcing proposal is made. One of the reasons we are able to offer an outsourcing option such as this is our dealer network and the way it is aligned with Bandag. Our dealer network works very hard to make outsourcing work and there is a lot of interaction among Bandag and the dealers and fleets involved.
MT: You’ve spoken about the importance of your dealer network. How has that network evolved over the past 10 years and how would you like to see it continue to grow?
Filer: Probably one the biggest misconceptions that exist in the industry today is what really takes place inside the four walls of a retread plant. Whenever I take a fleet customer through a plant tour it always turns out to be a huge eye-opener for them. It’s a very important component of moving fleet owners and operators from looking at a tire as a round hunk of rubber to recognizing it as their tire asset. Not only have our dealers invested heavily in their retread plant capabilities but Bandag has invested a significant amount of money in research and development and improvements in the retread process and the products are perfect examples of the impact from that. Our dealers across Canada have been making ongoing investments in retread plant capabilities, IT capabilities, and people capabilities not only inside the retread plants but also in the people dealing with our fleet customers. We are also driving toward corporately having our franchised dealers ISO certified. Most of the dealers are in the process of being ISO certified. ISO certification results after the dealer puts in place repeatable, auditable processes that assure the fleet customer of consistent level of quality.
MT: Is there a growing understanding about the role of retreading among legislators as well?
Filer: We don’t see a lot of activity in terms of government involvement in Canada. In the States we hear more about it. We are very fortunate to have a great advocate in the Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB) and Harvey Brodsky. There are a lot of misperceptions about our business. We have a real challenge and opportunity for education.
MT: What do you see as the major changes in terms of retreading technology and tire design over the next decade?
Filer: I see retreading continuing to play as important a role in reducing fleet costs as today. Retreading is a very integral part to a successful tire management program. To get the most value out of your tire assets you have to retread them.