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Recapping effective Tire Management

Tires are a fleet's third biggest expense after payroll and fuel - up to 25%. So it follows that developing a retreading program and casings management strategy could save a transport company a bucket...


Tires are a fleet’s third biggest expense after payroll and fuel – up to 25%. So it follows that developing a retreading program and casings management strategy could save a transport company a bucket of money.

But despite the fact that tire recycling has proven to be safe, economical and environmentally friendly, and despite the fact that most of the top North American fleets run on retreads, some traditionalists still will not use them.

Perhaps it’s because truckers have long memories – it wasn’t that long ago that recaps weren’t considered trustworthy. Recapping has been part of the trucking industry for over 50 years, but it was not always the precise process it is today. Decades ago, retreading was poorly done across North America. It was a grungy, dirty job that produced tires of uneven workmanship and quality.

In those days the alligator carcasses you saw by the side of the road were usually recaps. Drivers carried pocket knives so they could lop off loose sections of tread before the entire surface peeled.

But all this has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The advent of steel-belted radials meant that the casings could stand up to recycling without readily flying apart on the highway.

The bar was again raised in more recent years with the introduction of non-destructive inspection technologies including x-rays. Today’s recap has a failure rate equal or less than that of a virgin tire – some operators even claim to get more mileage out of their reincarnated skins.

Recaps are safe and environmentally sound

Harvey Brodsky, director of the Retread Information Bureau in Pacific Grove, Calif., likes to point out that retreading is a win-win process. “Environmentalists love us because a retreaded tire only uses a fraction of the oil – 7 gallons as compared to 22 for new tires,” he says.

“As well, retreads have a great safety record and the performance is terrific. Smart companies have embraced retreading and they’re saving a fortune. Still there are some operators who you couldn’t give a retread to,” Brodsky adds.

As fleet manager for Travelers Transportation in Brampton, Ont., Larry Arenburg looks after 1,000 pieces of rolling equipment (700 trailers and 300 tractors) – that’s a lot of tires. But he understands why some smaller fleet owners are still reluctant to go with retreads.

“They’re probably afraid of getting a blow out,” he says. “And they think that by running new stuff that’s less likely to happen.”

“But when you’re dealing with a fleet size of 300 trucks, the casing is worth money to me,” adds Arenburg who’s done the math. “At a cost of $430 per drive tire I can get my steer tire capped for $200. That’s a significant savings when you multiply by eight drive tires on each tractor.”

“So even if I do get a blow out, and tire failures do happen,” says Arenburg, “that’s still a saving of at least $800 per tractor.”

Visit a tire recycling plant near you

Brodsky thinks that once a transport company tries retreads they will never go back. “From a cost perspective it’s less than half. The warranties vary according to the manufacturer but they all have workmanship warranties.”

He suggests that carriers get to know their suppliers and go visit a retread plant. Reputable manufacturers are proud of the work they do and only too happy to show clients through their facility.

Today’s tire recycling plant is highly automated and uses computer technology. There are about 1,000 of these plants in North America, most of them churning out from 80-200 tires per day. The ultra-modern Michelin Retread Technologies Bernard plant near Granby, Que. is capable of processing 450 tires per day.

I visited two plants while researching this story: a Goodyear plant in west Toronto that employees 10 people and processes about 92 tires; and a Bandag franchise in north Montreal, Pneus Metro, that employs about 20 and makes up to 250 tires per day.

Each recycled tire is initially mounted on an NDI (non-destructive inspection) machine where it is screened for flaws and nail holes. The individual tire is given a bar code, and its specs and the work required are scanned into the computer. This information is then stored in the supplier’s data base for the life of the casing.

I watched technicians swing the blanks around the shop on hooks like giant donuts (chocolate glazed). The casings were shuttled to various work stations where they underwent buffing, skiving, repair, extrusion, retreading, baking and final inspection.

The plants I visited were first class-state of the art equipment, brightly lit and very clean. The process is transparent and you can personally watch each tire being rebuilt. If these were my reworked 11R22.5s, I’d be pretty confident I was getting my $200 worth.

An evolving technology

The finished product comes with a customer’s choice of tread and profile (lift and spread axle tires are constructed with more rounded shoulders as they are prone to dragging around corners).

“Tires are meant to be recycled and we encourage our customers to exploit their investment,” says Ralph Beaveridge with Michelin Recycling Technologies. “We’re all trying to find a way to deliver something exceptional to our customers.”

Indeed many of the big players have developed similar yet slightly different recapping systems. Goodyear is happy to show off its Unicircle technology which seamlessly stretches a tread around a casing (ideal for drive tires).

Bandag prides itself on the machine that exactly measures tire diameter and lines up its tread patterns flawlessly.

Michelin, on the other hand, has developed a custom mold process at its Bernard plant in Granby, Que. It uses a blank tread strip that will potentially allow volume customers to design their own tread pattern.

“There are a few bums in the business but we’re weeding them out,” says Brodsky, of the Retread Information Bureau. “The good ones put your tire through the equivalent of a CAT scan before starting the retreading process.”

The CAT scan Brodsky refers to is called a “shearograph.” The machine is more like an MRI than an x-ray. The tire is distorted in a vacuum and hundreds of pictures are taken of the deformed casing from various angles.

Shearography can spot kinked or separating belts, as well as potentially defective sidewalls. After all, it is in everyone’s interest to start with a top quality casing.

Work with your supplier

Reputable suppliers will work closely with fleets to meet their needs. “I sit down with a fleet manager and work out a tread design and a wheel mounting program,” says Jean Arcand, commercial sales manager of Pneus Metro.

Arcand explains some companies don’t want to be involved in tire changing so his company will supply mounted wheels to customers. “They might send us 16 rims to be fitted with tires, say 8 drives and 8 trailer tires,” says Arcand. “That way they don’t have to wait for tire service. All mechanics know how to remove and replace wheels because they have to do it anyway.”

Under-inflation and misalignment are two major factors that affect tire wear. Drivers should be encouraged to check the air pressure once a week and be supplied with tire gauges if necessary.

The Cat’s Eye valve pressure equalizer by Link Mfg. has been around for a few years and seems to be standing up. This allows pressure to be equalized between tandem tires (it comes with a one-way shut off valve in case of a blowout), and drivers only have to use one nipple to fill both tires. The device displays a yellow visual indicator which opens up like a cat’s eye when air pressure is low.

As for alignment, Larry Arenburg brings new trucks in as soon as they arrive from the dealer. “Get them in and get them aligned as soon as you get them,” he says. “Any work you have to do is still under warranty.”

Some fleets are large enough that a tire repair person can be assigned full time to their yard. Tire failure, although it will never disappear, is one factor that can be minimized by every diligent operator.

Controlling tire costs can only be done by developing an effective tire policy and sticking to it. Derek Varley brought his own specifications to Mackie Moving Systems in Oshawa, Ont., when he signed on as fleet manager two years ago.

“Nothing over five years here,” he says. “That means a virgin tire will only be capped once.”

Varley makes sure trailer tires are never run below 3/32 tread depth (“any lower makes the casing vulnerable,”) and 4/32 on the drives. Steering tires are systematically recapped at 6/32, but usually, he says, they don’t ever get that low.

If he needs casings, Varley buys used ones, but only those that are made by a major manufacturer like Bridgestone, Michelin or Goodyear.

“I’m trying to take the tire policy a step higher,” he says. “That means we’re getting our full money’s worth for every tire we buy.”

when is a tire too old to retread?

The retreadability of a worn truck tire casing is not solely a function of its age. The condition of the casing is a function of a number of things.

Among these are the applications in which the tire has performed – long haul, on & off road, pick up & delivery, the type of equipment on which the tire has been mounted, such as single-axle or dual-axle tractors, cement mixers, etc., how well the equipment on which the tire has been mounted has been maintained (did it have regular alignment?), and how well the tire has been treated while in operation (was it overloaded, underinflated, run flat?).

A new tire in a service application with poor attention to equipment and tire maintenance may turn “old” well before its calendar life is over, and may not, in fact, be retreadable.

On the other hand, a tire which, by the calendar, is older, but has not been subjected to overloaded or underinflated conditions and which has been on equipment that has had regular maintenance, is likely to be retreadable multiple times.

Although a tire six years or older might be a suspect, in the final analysis, it is the retreader’s job to determine the retreadability of the incoming casings through a visual inspection as well as the use of a growing arsenal of sophisticated non-destructive test equipment.

The appropriate and informed use of these inspection techniques allows the retreader to make a determination of the retreadability of a worn casing based on more than just its calendar age.

The last thing any quality retreader wants to do is retread a tire that will not endure a useful second or third life. He would much rather reject the casing even if it means the customer may be unhappy. His/her philosophy is “Better to have an unhappy customer now, than a tire failure 500 miles from home that may possibly incur safety hazard to equipment and life”. He knows that in the long run this is the only way to inject safe and meaningful retreading practice thus building sincere and reliable relationships with his/her customer.

The Tire Retread Information Bureau urges truckers to visit their retreader’s plant and learn more about inspection techniques in use today. Then when a retreader rejects the worn tire, the trucker will have a better understanding why and can take steps to improve his/her tire maintenance, and prolong the useful life of the operational casings.

Of course, knowing when to pull the tire goes a long way towards ensuring that it will be retreadable. When is the best time to pull a tire for retreading? The experts say at 6/32nds.

By pulling tires for retreading when the remaining tread gets to 6/32nds instead of waiting until 4/32nds or even less, truckers can maximize tire casing life, according to some tire industry experts.

“It can be a false economy to wait until a tire is down to less than 6/32nds — or at the very least 4/32nds — before pulling it for retreading. Even though the legal limit is 2/32nds on drive or trail positions and 4/32nds on steer positions, truckers should realize that most tire problems occur when the remaining tread gets below 4/32nds”, said Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau, an industry association.

“Most major tire companies will concur that the smartest thing a trucker can do to insure greater retreadability of casings is to pull the worn tire before the casing is damaged. It is actually cheaper for the trucking fleet to do this than to wait until the last minute,” Brodsky added.

When the high price of a new premium truck tire is considered, it can be a costly mistake trying to squeeze a tire down to the last 32nds of legal tread. Most fleets with well managed tire maintenance programs will never allow a tire to keep rolling after 4/32nds, and very often 6/32nds on steers is reached. The retreadability of a casing is greatly enhanced when a tire is pulled before the legal limit.

Certain applications will generally require removal of the casing before the legal minimum tread depths are reached. A pure line haul fleet may find that pulling tires for retreading at 6/32nds works well, while a mixed service fleet might pull selected casings at 8/32nds due to damage the original tread sustained in the particular application. A good tire maintenance program allows the fleet to optimize tire life by pulling worn tires at the appropriate time.


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