Some of the Latest Trends in the Tire Industry

The tire market industry is very diverse, catering to a large variety of constituents and clients. The range goes from light passenger vehicles – including crossover utility vehicles, sports utility vehicles, minivans and pickup trucks – up to heavy-duty construction and 18-wheel long-haul tractor-trailers. In these cost-conscious times, price was the No. 1 concern of fleet managers, according to a recent survey of fleet managers by Work Truck magazine. Quality of product was hands down the second most important attribute fleet managers were looking for in a tire. However, despite the ups and downs of the overall tire market a large part of a bigger picture that is emerging for the commercial tire industry and the fleets that rely on it to keep tires rolling are recent trends in retreading techniques and the search for a use in tire manufacturing for alternative raw materials.

Trends in the Usage of Retreading
Like most segments of the heavy-duty trucking industry, fuel efficiency is a major concern. While the conversation used to revolve around miles to removal, today’s talks are instead leaning towards fuel efficiency and total cost of ownership (TCO) both issues being related to the concept of tire retreading. Let’s face it; the typical attitude is that retread tires have, or had, a poor reputation, depending upon particular contractors’ own perceptions and attitudes. Experts are saying that this is no longer the case, and are boasting that retreading is better than ever, citing statistics which show that while the failure rate for new tires is around 1 percent, the failure rate for retread tires hovers around ½ to ¾ percent. Those little percentile points could equal large amounts of savings, depending upon how many trucks, light, medium, and heavy, are in your fleet and how many tires are on those vehicles. Retread tires are also amazingly cost effective. For example, a single small tire that costs $200 but the cost of the same retread comes in closer to $70. There again the potential for substantial savings gets real.
One reason for the recent interest in retreading, and the overturning of the typical bad reputation retreading is, are, according to the managing director of the Retread Tire Association, state-of-the-art advances in rubber technology and innovative retread designs. Nowadays, fuel efficient retreads are being marketed and offered as an economical as well as environmentally-sound alternative to new tires. With quality tires capable of being retreaded several times, the total cost of the tire asset over the long run is a benefit for the fleet providing they care for the casing. Simply by retreading the casings, for example, fleets can extend the usage that the original casings provided. The major challenge seems to be the ability to recap already used tires because of concerns with casings and ensuring that this process actually pays dividends, which would be the ability for the recapped tire to be worn out before running into case age concerns on these tires. To make their point, proponents of retreading produce charts and numbers showing that some of America’s largest commercial fleets, such as UPS, FedEX, DHL, and Ryder, as well as others, have embraced the use of retread tires.
One of the biggest driving forces in fuel efficiency retread technology is the SmartWay program that has pushed retreaders to create new tire solutions and develop new products to meet the new standards, particularly for fleets operating in or doing business in California. Fleets that travel into California are now required to run new tire and retreads that are SmartWay compliant; so, some of this specific business has shifted to SmartWay-approved products. Of course, that spills into the rest of the country.
Many tire retreaders offer efficiency-focused retreading designs that are similar to new tires. SmartWay-verified retreads, for example, are subject to a rigorous testing method put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which includes testing using the ISO 28580 method, on an 8.25-in. test rim, a 2-meter drum (or a drum that follows the Drum Diameter correction protocol). The load used is 85% of the maximum load of the tire capacity and a capped inflation pressure corresponding to the maximum load capacity as marked on the sidewall for single load application. The challenge for manufacturers developing SmartWay tires is to combine fuel savings and maintain long mileage, as well as reducing the tire rolling resistance.
Wide-base tires are gaining traction in fleets due to their promise of increased efficiency and additional payload transportation. With such tire success comes retreading solutions. Wide-base tires can be effectively retreaded to offer additional cost savings and lower the total cost of ownership for this asset. Like other retread offerings, retreaders claim that wide-base retreads offer similar fuel efficiency and performance as new tires, as long as the proper buff radius is applied.
Trends in Alternative Raw Materials
While the raw material shortage has caused headaches for the industry, it may be a thing of the past if research being conducted by consortiums of tire manufacturers, policy makers, and scientists working on the latest engineering of alternative raw materials with which to make tires, some that could be cheaper than rubber, and more efficient and eventually with higher performance ratings claim the experts. Some groups are researching ways to develop enhanced manufacturing processes for the production of guayule solid rubber as a biomaterial for tire applications, as well as evaluating the plant’s residual biomass for biofuel applications. These consortiums hope to harness biopolymers extracted from guayule, an industrial crop and a natural source of rubber that does not compete against food or fiber crops, as a replacement for petroleum-based synthetics and tropical-based natural rubber used in the manufacturing of tires.
In addition to alternative sources of tire-making materials, the trend toward alternative types of cars and trucks is also growing, especially with legislation and the passage of new environmental laws. The pressure that tire makers are being put under by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to help attain fuel economy and emissions goals is intense in the light truck segment and is growing in the medium/heavy segment as well. The adoption of alternative powertrains such as hybrids and electric drives is changing tire design requirements, and ever more effective low rolling resistance designs are in demand. Tire makers are exploring different materials, such as harder wearing nano-materials, and ‘intelligent’ tire technology, as well as and non-pneumatic tires. This is part of the wider industry push for improvements in fuel economy and to overcome the current trade-offs between grip, wear and rolling resistance on truck tires.

These are two of the more important recent trends that it is worthwhile investigating further.

Story by Mark Joseph Manion


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