While local people in the Amazon rainforest were well aware of the “trees that dripped tears,” rubber as we know it now, was so named because it was discovered to “rub out” pencil marks off paper. But it was not always the commodity it is today. European industrialists began exploring the commercial potential for the sticky product in the early 1800s, and it wasn’t long before the Amazon rainforest was quickly exploited for their pursuits.
But rubber was an imperfect product. In hot weather it became soft and sticky, and in cold temperatures it was hard and brittle. Entrepreneur Charles Goodyear was intrigued by this material, conducting numerous experiments to improve rubber’s usefulness and legend has it that he accidentally dropped rubber and sulphur on a hot stove, creating a charred product that felt like leather, but had an elastic property. Further work by Goodyear created the vulcanization process that transformed the valuable resource into more than a coating for the eponymous named raincoats made by Charles Mackintosh, men’s suspenders, gloves, and life vests.
But today, the biggest market users—over 12,000 tons of this versatile resource produced in 2015—is the tire industry.
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Details Make the Difference
At Titan Tire, makers of specialty tires and wheels for the construction, mining, and agriculture market—global off the road (OTR) product manager Johni Francis explains that matching the tire to the job is based on science and technology. And, the customer service of the Quincy, IL-based company is equally integral to matching the right tire to the right job.
“Not all people on a construction site know what all the codes mean on their tires, so they’ll just call and tell us, ‘hey I need a tire for this or that loader, or grader,'” he says. “But it’s the matching of that machinery with the right formulation of tread compounds, puncture resistance, heat resistance, tread pattern, and more that make it a perfect fit for the job.
“We don’t just grab a tire off the shelf without a customer application specific discussion,” adds Francis.
Titan’s tires, wheels, undercarriage, and tracks are specifically manufactured for industrial use under the brands of Titan, Goodyear Farm Tires, and Voltyre-Prom (in Russia). With all of its companies under the Titan umbrella the company has representation on six continents.
Francis describes the company approach “as a unique, full service product.”
“We started as a wheel manufacture, and then we acquired other companies, so we have the resources to build assemblies and do custom work. For example, we can take a 57-inch loader wheel diameter, and increase it to a 63-inch wheel diameter in order to mount a 63-inch tire to make it a low sidewall application. What this does is increase surface contact with the ground and gives you more stability; nobody else can do this.”
Francis says that some tire companies serving industry don’t go the extra mile to understand the specifics and environment where the machine needing tires is being used.
Titan works with each customer to understand these demands, and helps the operators optimize efficiency of both the job, and the longevity of their tires. Francis describes the different functions of the vehicles that service various industries, like construction or mining, require different types and sizes for tires to do the job.
“Mining tires are the largest tires in the world and can range from a 63-inch rim down to a 45-inch rim. In mining, for example, the terrain is very tough, and you need tires with our specially developed ‘cut compound.’ This is a formulation of natural and synthetic rubber, steel belts, and polymers.”
Francis says that very abrasive scenarios such as those encountered in mining require four to six layers of steel belts, so that if you accidentally “have a piece of rebar go through the tire, the tire can still hold up.”
“In this setting you have the wheel loaders that dig the ore, then they dump it into a haul truck. They’re like slow moving giants—carrying huge loads but never going any distance. So, the loader needs tires with beefier sidewalls and more steel in the treads, and the hauler needs less robust tires but ones that are more nimble. We make these specially formulated for all the tasks required, to withstand puncture, or to take the heat of driving long distances at higher speed with those loads.”
These designations denoted as E, G, or L offers operators three different “tire manufacture ‘tire types’ that the customer can choose from,” and each one is suited to a specific application of use.
Credit: Pressure Pro
Pressure Pro Tire Pressure Monitoring System”Our top level, which can withstand very abrasive roads and conditions, is extremely rock-cut resistant—good for loaders only going five mph [miles per hour]. Then, we have a compound for graders [G] who may travel at 25 mph on unimproved roads, but not as severe a surface as the loaders. Our other formulation for earthmovers [E], has less cut resistance but is more heat resistant; so while it cuts easier, it will last longer at high speed, up to 40 mph for transport purposes.”
He cites forestry as another scenario where you need a specific tire tread pattern to gain traction that you wouldn’t need in an aggregate or mining situation. “The depth and pattern of treads allow flotation on surfaces where it’s wet, and where you want less ground disturbances; or you may need a rock tread—these are deep and allows you to work in a demanding environment.”
In essence, the company offers cut, wear, and heat-resistant tread styles with a compound formulated specifically for each category. “We get all kinds of requests from OEM specialty items, and we can do that with our resources. For one thing, when we build our tires, we incorporate nylon in the sidewalls, rather than using steel. This is because nylon doesn’t like heat as steel does, so it acts as a heat dissipation function. Plus, if you get a sidewall puncture, that’s usually the death knell for tires, but with multiple layers of nylon cords, there are more plies in the sidewall to make them puncture-resistant.”
The nylon helps dissipate the heat when traveling with a load at high speed, and with tires inflated to 100 psi, the puncture resistant sidewalls help avert the chance of a dangerous blowout event, Francis adds.
Titan is also now looking at a process that would partner with mining companies to reclaim tires. Francis says that by separating the carbon black, the steel and oil constituents, each can be reused. Passenger tires he says, can be ground up and reused for aggregate, or mulches, but separating the large industrial tires is another, much more complex effort.
“For 30 or 40 years, these 13-foot-high, 9,000-pound tires from mining are just lying in scrap yards, and this is a waste of resources. Plus, with increasing environmental regulations and sustainability challenges to the rain forests, the market has to find a way to recycle these tires. We’re now developing a technology and testing it with mining companies to reclaim the components.”
He says that their reputation for customer service and “boots on the ground presence” is another company asset, as “We pride ourselves on getting in front of the customer with our dedicated sales people who are off the road specialists.
“If a customer calls and says they need something special for a particular situation, we can answer any need. Our field personnel have a good relationship with the mining companies, and our dealers are all located close to those sites and keep products stocked, so there’s no time downtime.”
The field reps also go out to those sites and do fleet inspections, Francis says, so they “can keep an eye on any problems with a tire that might need service and have that tire on hand when it’s needed.
“Our dealers or the mine personnel can come out with a giant tire handling truck, and in just under an hour, we can change a massive 57-inch tire, which is pretty amazing,” he notes.
Titan also serves a huge agricultural market and all their products are available at globally located service centers.
There’s Only One Market First
“Advantage Pressure Pro is the original provider of commercial and aftermarket Tire Performance Management Solutions [TPMS],” says COO, Vanessa Hargrave of the Harrisonville, MO, company founded in 1991 by her father, “a retired entrepreneur in search of a new product and market that he could help create and bring benefits to users.
“He saw that a tire monitoring system could achieve multiple benefits for fleets and truck operators whose investment in industrial tires is substantial. He envisioned this as more than just for safety, but also for savings from improved fuel efficiency, extended tire life, decreased maintenance and downtime, and more.”
The benefits of their system drives home the point that the American Automobile Club promotes every summer for the road trip vacationers: Always keep tires inflated for better mileage. But, Hargrave says her father “didn’t know much about trucking or tires, but he did know about efficiency and finding ways to improve operations, and he learned that tire performance management can be a key factor in a company’s bottom line.”
She cites studies that have surveyed fleets to learn how tire pressure affected costs and fuel efficiency, and reports that on average “20% of the fleets had low tire pressure.
“This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s not something you can visually identify. Low tires only look low when they’re really down on pressure, which is dangerous. But the effect of any level of low pressure is incorrect tire profile, which causes extra tire surface touching the road, increasing drag and allowing increased bend and flex. Every mile you drive without optimal pressure only accelerates tire deterioration.”
PressurePro’s TPMS offerings were originally designed as a two part piece, with Sensors fitting to tire stems that read to a proprietary display installed in the truck cab, providing real-time alerts for drivers. With the advancement and adaption of GPS and other technologies, “We understood the driver had enough distractions and there wasn’t a need to add an additional viewable if we could avoid it.
“To adapt to the changing market, we worked alongside leading communication providers to provide integrated solutions that not only allow our information to display partnering screens, but also piggy-backs the information alongside established communication send, allowing remote monitoring.”
Still utilizing two main components, in an integrated set up, Hargrave explains that PressurePro can hide reading units under-dash and utilize their advanced capabilities. This includes J1939 protocols that communicate their information via truck and trailer networks to provide a clean and streamlined installation. She adds that this not only provides the driver with real-time readings and alerts, “but also allows fleet managers and owners to gain real-time data and alerts.”
“The advanced options we provide to users allows them to arm themselves with a complete and real-time picture of how their tires are performing at all times, from virtually, anywhere.”
Getting on the Right Track
Twenty-five miles east of Atlanta in Conyers, GA, a 40,000-square-foot warehouse operates as a goldmine supplier for the construction and landscaping industry. Inside the structure is the Rubbertrax inventory, the largest dedicated track warehouse in the US that spokesperson Jonathon Hardy says, “has an average of 4,000 tracks in stock on a daily basis. These include tracks for skid steer track loaders, multi-terrain loaders, walk behind tool carriers, and undercarriage parts for many brands of mini-excavators.”
Indeed, a goldmine supply that he says can fill any need, for wholesale or retail, one track, or hundreds at a time, with same-day shipping from Conyers, or one of the other West Coast inventory locations. But Hardy says their business is far more than a fulfillment “call and place your order” style center.
“We have exceptional customer service, and that, along with our manufacturing to the highest OEM standards, is the key to our success. Making sure the customer has the right track is part of our customer qualification process. Basically, we interview them to find out about their machinery, their geography and working environment, and other factors to determine not just the track that fits, but one that is the right fit for the job.”
He cites an example where a “a guy who was doing debris removal in Atlanta called and said ‘I’m going through tracks too fast,’ so we talked to him about his job and his machines. So, instead of just selling him just what is supposed to fit, we gave him our heaviest-duty track for concrete debris that met his needs for that particular job.”
Hardy explains that quality is the byword for a rubber track and “all of our tracks are new rubber, not recycled, which degrades the OEM specs of the exact composition for original equipment.”
And there is continuous steel braid (continuous Steed Cord-CSC) that he says Rubbertrax was “one of the first to introduce to the aftermarket industry, and this gives extra strength to a rubber track.”
Hardy adds that instead of cast steel parts, their tracks use dropped forged metal inserts, and this gives the tracks a stronger metal core.
As one of the largest dedicated wholesale rubber track supplier in the US, Hardy points out that customers will know what they are getting, because unlike some mystery manufacturer, their products are all stamped and branded with the Rubbertrax name. The serial number and identifying features offer credibility and aid in warranty claims as well.
“This ensures customers that they are doing business with a company that has a physical location, and they can be assured that our production and manufacture standards meet, and may, in fact, exceed the original manufacturer specs for their machines.”
Emphasizing it’s not a one-size-fits-all, each of the tracks has various tread patterns. “We have tracks for flotation that disturb the ground less, and these less aggressive patterns distribute the weight of the machine more evenly, and we have tracks to stand up to more aggressive demands. All of sales reps know what works in what kind of situation so they can recommend accordingly.”
He cites the most recent additions to their line-up include more rugged treads for Bobcat mini-loaders and that the summer of 2017 will see new Kubota and
Caterpillar parts being launched as well.
Market Leaders in Off-Road Technology
As the number two global leader in replacement rear farm tractor tires, BKT Tires, headquartered in Mumbai, India, is working hard to “to build our leadership in mining and construction to equal our farm presence,” says Ron Tatlock, company spokesperson.
“Since its founding 30 years ago, BKT has realized great success in western markets, primarily due to our high tech manufacturing, and, our stringent quality control of the rubber product,” he says.
He explains that the plants in India receive incoming raw material—rubber primarily from Southeast Asia—where it undergoes several tests for quality before processing.
“You can’t arrive at a higher quality than that which you start out with, so we ensure we’re using top quality product out of the gate. When suppliers come to us, we require they provide lab tests with every rubber shipment—we can’t just take their word for it that it is clean, not full of dirt or bark. There’s a lot of pride in our stringent requirements, but that is reflected in the final tire product and the customer has to be satisfied with that tire’s quality and performance.”
Tatlock says they have manufacturing plants in India that use state-of-the-art tire molding techniques and that the average tire “has 30 different recipes of rubber put in that tire that are specifically compounded for each component of that tire.”
And, each step of the production is subjected to tests that he says “are examined in the plant every day, down the line.” These include how well the rubber being used stands up to ductility, wearability, even before it is extruded into the shapes for the tires.
“Then, we monitor the curing qualities to ensure the hardness rubber properties are consistent with the expected wear.
“One other crucial step we take improves the steel cords in radial tires. Rubber doesn’t stick well to the steel cords so our cords are first coated with a brass coating. This allows special compounds to adhere to the brass. The cords are encapsulated with a special rubber, using a proprietary ‘recipe’. This multi-step bonding process adds a level of measureable durability and longevity to the steel radial tires.”
He adds that the quality produced in the huge tires, “the $10,000 mining tires for example,” reflect the BKT philosophy to learn from their expertise as they perfect one size tire, which they leverage to then “go on to develop and introduce the next sized one.”
Their newest tire, the 2700R49, is a new size for the company and is very commonly used on a 100-ton hauling truck in aggregates, gravel, and rock.
“We brought those out last year and are getting those around the world now,” says Tatlock, and he notes that their inventory now includes over 2400 SKUs (stock keeping unit) of tire choices.
But inventory alone does not guarantee success. “We feel it’s important to have a servicing dealer network, and my job is to train people how to do things and how to protect the tiers of products and get the best performance.”
Tatlock cites improper handing of the massive construction and mining tires can cause serious harm. “Sometimes guys use the tines of a forklift to pick these up, but you can unknowingly pierce the inner liner. Now, you won’t know this puncture has happened, but then, air has a way of finding the path of least resistance to get out, so after the tire is mounted and inflated it starts ‘wicking’ its way through the tire.”
A Trusted Brand Adds More
One company that has been around for more than a century is Bridgestone Americas (Bridgestone)—the combined force of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, founded by Akron, OH’s Harvey Firestone in 1900, and Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corporation founded by Shojiro Ishibashi in 1931.
The renowned Firestone brand recently expanded with its new Firestone VersaBuilt OTR radial tire line. According to Bridgestone, these new tires are designed for use on loaders, graders, and earthmoving equipment with special technology to meet the demands of those industrial job sites having the most challenging of environments.
From muddy surfaces to rocky terrain, the new line of tires, first showcased in March 2017, includes important features to help withstand the rigors of hauling, construction, and other heavy-duty industries.
Taylor Cole, president, off the road, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, describes these tires as having a steel casing and SideArmor sidewalls that will “deflect stone and debris, and reduce the incidence of cuts and punctures.” Additionally, the VersaBuilt line features a non-directional, self-cleaning tread to increase traction and extend tire life.
“Our construction customers are looking for a versatile line of tires that they can rely on to get the job done. That’s what they get with Firestone VersaBuilt tires,” adds Cole. He also notes that customers will have 11 different tire sizes to choose from, suited for different applications.
In addition to the Firestone VersaBuilt line, Bridgestone Corporation launched a new line of rubber tracks in March 2017 called Vortech, designed for compact tracked loaders. Designed with an H-shaped tread pattern, Vortech expands the edge portions of the track to better grip the ground and provides operators a higher level of traction while maintaining powerful performance.
Vortech tracks address the heavy-duty equipment industry’s need for improved driver efficiency and workability on compact tracked loader applications. Company designers describe the new structure and tread pattern as being able to deliver increased performance by “lowering the bending resistance when tracks typically rotate, which improves driving efficiency as well as reduces engine power loss.”
Bridgestone Vortech rubber tracks also utilize an ideal tread pattern and tread positioning to achieve smoother driving, which helps reduce fatigue to the vehicle operator resulting from vehicle vibration. Firestone VersaBuilt tires are available in North America through the Bridgestone dealer network.
Unfortunately, with all these unique technologies built on one man’s first invention of vulcanizing rubber in his kitchen, Charles Goodyear was cheated out of his due. Like so many inventors, whose benchmark scientific contribution literally changed the world, he died virtually penniless and never realized the financial benefits of vulcanization, whose products work for us in countless ways, every day around the world.