Features & Interviews

Making the case for remould tyres

02 October 2014 #Features & Interviews

Almost every other HGV tyre in the EU is a retread. Perhaps this is little wonder, because since 2004 the debate as to whether retread tyres are up to the job has all but disappeared due to the E-109 mark becoming mandatory on all CV tyres in the EU. However, just as fleet managers will make a decision to choose one new tyre over another based on features and benefits, it also follows that there are a number of differences between one remould and another.

While the exact method for refurbishing tyres will depend on the company involved, two processes, variously known as ‘hot’ and ‘cold’, account for all of the retread tyres on the road today. Cold-process is more labour intensive, but is often used on the customer’s existing tyre casings, while hot curing allows for greater consistency when producing larger batches.

Europe as a whole is evenly spilt with 51% taking cold retreads and 49% going for the hot option. The UK market, however, is over 60% biased towards hot, and Germany almost the opposite. The biggest manufacturer and supplier of retreaded tyres in the UK, Bandvulc, says that their business is now almost entirely hot cure. Director Richard O’Connell told us, “Around 97% of the tyres we produce are now hot cured. We only use the cold cure process when it involves an uncommon tyre size, with low volumes, that does not justify the £20K investment in the appropriate mould.” Richard proudly declares that 70% of the UK’s supermarket fleet runs on Bandvulc tyres, a statistic that says a lot about how far the humble retread has come. But there’s an influence at work in the industry, brought about by imports from the East.

A slice of the action

At one time, the big tyre manufacturers were happy to let the independent sector retread their cases. Now the tide has turned for two reasons. Firstly they want to take control of the process to lift quality standards, offering a ‘good-as-new’ promise, and secondly, they want a slice of what has become a lucrative business. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than the new ContiLifeCycle plant in Hannover. Continental’s combined hot and cold retreading plant in Hannover-Stöcken claims a world first, by being a rubber recycling operation to boot. It plays a sufficiently green card to be supported by local government there, but there should be benefits for fleet operators too in the guarantee on quality that such an integrated process should bring. Raising the image of the retread is long overdue in the opinion of Herbert Mensching, Continental’s Managing Director, Marketing and Sales of commercial vehicle tyres. He told us, “The detailed inspection that a used case gets before it is used to produce a retread, and then the full remanufacturing process it goes through, makes it as good a prospect as a new tyre.”

Blowing hot and cold

Bandvulc’s O’Connell raises another issue that is driving choice in the direction of the hot cure process. “Cold cure is essentially hand work and it relies on the skill of the technician. Wherever the human element is directly involved, there can be variations in quality,” he says. Another issue has been raised by the recent introduction of tyre labelling. The operative applying the new tread needs to make sure that the labels on the tyre still accurately reflect the abilities of the new tread, and adjust them if needed. The trend towards hot cure, with the automated processes that are not subject to the vagaries of individual operatives, is clear. But cold cure still has a place in the market, particularly in Northern Europe. O’Connell points out, “It’s been popular in Scandinavia for some time where a CoC (customer’s own case) cold retreading service is still strong. If your tyre husbandry is good, and your drivers take care of their cases, we can see why a haulier would want to capitalise on that and take his own cases back, refurbished, to run them again. With an anonymous set of cases arriving, you can bang on about rigorous inspection regimes that include electronic speckle pattern shearing interferometry, X-rays and ultrasound for as long as you like, but actually knowing the first life that your retreaded tyre had led is worth a lot.

 Bottom line

The numbers have filtered through to most fleet managers, especially the big ones. Continental’s Mensching says that for fleets, retreads are a vital part of cost efficiency with casing management, buy-back and exchange supported by a reliable identity database to enable fleets to track their tyres. He says, “In terms of mileage, reliability, fuel efficiency and comfort, a retread offers a full performance as a second life tyre. It’s not a compromise.” He adds, “The direct costs of tyres are around 5% of a transport operation’s budget, but they influence up to 45% of costs, with fuel economy by far the biggest. When a fleet operator sees the same performance coming from a retread as from his new tyres, it makes him think.”

There will always be tyre failures, but the frequency is steadily reducing. With so many fleets not having carried spares for years, and half the tyres in service retreads, the whip-tread snake is hopefully heading for extinction.

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