Sand Processing

Big tyres in short supply

A recent shortage of large-diameter tyres for aggregate hauling equipment might actually be a blessing in disguise, according to several experts in the tyre-manufacturing industry. That is because the shortage is creating a new awareness of the wisdom of preventive maintenance to maximise tyre life. Some aggregate companies are also looking at alternatives to purchasing new pneumatic tyres for replacement of old ones.

A demand-supply imbalance has adversely affected the availability of 1250mm and larger tyres used on mining equipment since 2004.

The impact on mining has trickled down to the aggregate production industry, too; even supplies of 635-900mm tyres ? prevalent on loaders and haul trucks for moving aggregates ? are reported to be tight as well.

As with rising petroleum prices, the tyre market has been impacted by increased global demand.

Developing nations such as China have provided tremendous demand for iron ore and their emerging economies demand precious minerals.

An April 2006 article in the New York Times cites several reasons for the shortage, ranging from increased demand by the US military fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to reconstruction of the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast of the US to the rapid industrialisation of China, India and other developing countries.

“A lot of it has to do with the minerals that are being purchased that are in high demand, like steel and iron ore,” explained Tim Good, manager of global customer accounts, off-the-road tyres for Goodyear Tyre and Rubber.

“You’ve also got gold; India is one of the largest producers of gold. As the dollar gets weaker, gold gets stronger, so there’s a lot of demand in other parts of the world.

“When you get to quarry and aggregate, you’ve got smaller loaders, so you’re looking at the very high end of the 635mm tyre,” said Mr Good.

“A lot of your 840mm tyres for loaders are very, very backlogged and your 900mm haulage tyres are still very tight.”

The tight tyre market is forcing many aggregate producers to take strong medicine in order to maximise equipment uptime: preventive tyre maintenance.

Extending tyre life
Whether they are referring to new pneumatics that replace old tyres, retreads or solid tyres, tyre industry experts stress that equipment operators and fleet managers can take several simple measures to extend tyre life. Obviously, keeping tyres properly inflated might be the most important one.

“Watch your tyre pressure, maintenance on tyres ? that kind of stuff we are always looking out for,” said Noah Hickman, who co-owns H&H Retreading, with his father.

A task that falls outside the domain of the equipment is maintaining roads to minimise tyre damage.

“That’s where new-tyre manufacturers and retread manufacturers are speaking the same language because we are all preaching, ‘Maintain your roads,'” Mr Hickman continued.

“Road debris is a killer for any tyre; pick up loose rocks, watch your grades ? just typical things like that.”

Mr Good echoes the sentiment: “If there is something in the haul road or something in the load-out area, move it ? don’t drive over it,” he said.

“Also, keep the haul roads and the loading areas relatively dry; keep water from puddling up because if you ever tried to cut a tyre and you take a knife ? I don’t care how sharp it is, you can’t do it ? but spray a little water on there and it is like paper. You want proper drainage of the haul roads, and also drainage down in the dumps and load-out areas.

?Seventy-four per cent of your tyres come out for one reason and that is basically impacts and cuts. The loading route is where you want to focus,” Mr Good explained.

John Sparks, who oversees a tyre maintenance program, said that each operation was different and should be treated as such.

“On haul trucks, having super-elevated turns reduces the amount of deflection on the outside tyres,” he noted.

“There are so many different facets of this and it is all site-specific; there is not one particular thing that is going to work out for you. There is a grouping of things we have to do at each specific site,” Mr Sparks explained.

Mr Good added that successful lifecycle tyre maintenance required consciousness of the issue to filter down to the operator level.

“More of what we call awareness training is definitely going on out there,” Mr Good said. “If the operator continuously runs over something and ruins a tyre (and it is obvious that it is the way they ran over it), there has got to be some discipline and that is starting to take place as well. They have got to have some strength behind what we keep telling them.”

Shawn Rasey, executive director of North American sales for Bridgestone/Firestone Off-Road Tyre, said that making improvements to quarry roads was something that quarry operators should be doing anyway.

“Some customers have re-examined their haul profiles and either lightened their loads, reduced speeds or decreased the grades in order to improve tyre life.”

In many cases, the customers have not only reduced the number of new tyres required for their operations but they also have found a resulting improvement in the wear and tear on their equipment without giving up productivity, according to Mr Rasey. This issue alone is a great takeaway for Bridgestone end-user customers who have been bold enough to break away from conventional thinking that faster and heavier is better.

“In smaller sizes, solid tyres can be an alternative worth considering,” he added. “It simply is a matter of economics as to whether the application can support the higher upfront cost of a solid tyre.

“Really, retreads and repairs should be considered together. Many of our dealers provide repair options that can be a really good option to saving an injured tyre. Retreading, on the other hand, is a bit more site- and application-specific. In some cases, retreading is a good option, but the users should always consult with their local servicing tyre dealer to make sure it is a good application.”

Collaborating on maintenance
Producers can increasingly rely on their local dealers for assistance in maximising tire life. Mr Good argues that resources provided by dealers are one part of a successful tyre maintenance management program; managerial vigilance is the other.

“Record-keeping is huge,” he said. “We have come out with a record-keeping program that we call the EM Track program and there are others out there. A lot of our dealers use it religiously. They have rotation cycles set up and track air pressure maintenance over time. It shows you by truck, by wheel position, what is happening with your tyres.

“A lot of companies also use it to reward operators,” Mr Good said, adding that some actually reward driver groups for reaching targets for tonnage hauled or revenue generated on tyres.

“As tyre manufacturers, yes, we are here to sell tyres, but we have always taught this. If we lower the price of a tyre, that is short term; that does not help. It is the long term of making sure that everything is done right for continuous cost savings. Now people can see the results of it.”

Mr Hickman said that another philosophical change among producers had opened the door to more retreading.

“We check the tyres ourselves and see if there are things we can do as far as preventive maintenance – different tread depths, different tread designs – to protect the tyres more or give better mileage or hours to the end user,” he said. Instead of running tyres until the cores are completely worn down, customers learn to regularly rotate the tyres.

“Have the foresight to see where your tyre situation is heading and realise that there are a lot of dependable, qualified repair and retread providers who can help the situation, as long as they are allowed to be a participant in day-to-day activities.”

Sparks Commercial Tyre uses the EM Track program as an integral part of its Professional Tyre Maintenance System (PTMS), which was developed to correlate preventive tyre maintenance with financial data. The PTMS may include a site inspection, continual financial analyses of the fleet’s tyres, weekly air pressure checks by a trained professional, a monthly fleet tyre analysis, a 30-minute awareness training presentation for drivers, and a scrap tyre analysis to identify areas for tyre performance improvement.

“What we try to provide for our customers is a total cost of ownership,” said Mr Sparks. “It is not so much the actual price of the tyre; it is what did the tyre provide for you in the total time that it was used and correlate that with the pricing. We back that down to cost-per-tonne because, ultimately, that is what it is all about.

“One of the things that we have noticed is that this program requires hands-on actions with management, the tyre vendor and everyone involved with tyres,” Mr Sparks continued.

“It takes ownership with management that is willing to execute on certain actions and certain recommendations that we make. The key to the program, I would have to say, is constant communication,” Mr Sparks explained.

As the tyre shortage has prodded many producers to start taking a hard-nosed, financially focussed approach to tyre maintenance, it has opened the door wider to alternatives such as retreads and solid tyres.

“[Producers] have done a lot more retreading than what has ever been done before, so they are managing that casing better than ever before, whereas many places (in the past) ran them to destruction,” said Mr Good.

“Now they are running them to, maybe, 20 per cent left on the core. That was a hard mindset change.”

Along with financial awareness, Mr Hickman said that further education of how retread performance differed from that of new pneumatics was necessary.

“A retreaded or repaired tyre can’t be run the same way as a new tyre ? that is what we really try to drive home with these guys. Retreads or repaired tyres are application-sensitive. They have more restrictions and limitations than a brand new tyre; however, if they are placed in the right applications in the right conditions, they will run fantastic and they are cost-effective.”

Mr Hickman said that retreads were not necessarily the total answer in every application.

“Maybe if you have got shorter hauls, place your retreads in those applications and save the new tyres for longer haul applications where retreads will not work,” he explained.

“Typically, retreads are for rear use only, but if you have cores, what we try to do is retread the cases or cores for rear use and save the new tyres for front-wheel positions.”

Mr Hickman said that front tyres were normally retreaded and then rotated to the rear of a vehicle and the fronts are replaced with new pneumatics.

Another alternative that can ease the impact of the pneumatics shortage ? albeit not necessarily for the entire equipment fleet ? is solid tyres.

Bob Gilkenson, owner and president of SolidBoss Worldwide, points out that higher prices for pneumatics have helped make a more convincing case for solid tyres, which are less prone to flats than pneumatics if cared for properly.

“Solid tyres still cost more, but it makes the longevity of the solid tyre more attractive now,” said Mr Gilkenson. “For instance, if the tyre previously cost three times as much and lasted two times to three-and-a-half times as long, it might be a wash, but now if the tyre is only one-and-a-half times the price and lasts two-and-a-half to three times as long, then you have really got something.” SolidBoss sells solid tyres from as small as 790mm to 2000mm and has sold units as large as 2900mm.

Mr Gilkenson has noticed a definite mindset change regarding tyres as a financial asset, which makes solid tyres a more attractive alternative for the long term.

“People are now looking at cost-per-hour a lot more closely,” he said, “but we don’t want to put a band-aid on selling solid tyres in this industry for just the longevity of the tyre shortage – we want to put a band-aid on their cost-per-hour long term and really fix their cost-per-hour issues.”

Managers and operators should be aware of some differences between solid tyres and pneumatics that affect equipment operation.

Full-depth solids with aperture holes provide a comparable ride to pneumatics, according to Mr Gilkenson. “The ride is the number one consideration after talking about the longevity of the tyre,” he said.

“Not only is the ride about driver comfort but it is wear and tear on the machine as well.”

Also, when overloaded, solid tyres generate more heat than pneumatics and aggregate companies are better off confining them to short-haul applications. “On longer runs, in overload conditions, solid tyres may not be the best tyre for the market,” said Mr Gilkenson.

“A lot of people run their tyres through their cooling pond; they will put a depression in the ground that comes up just below the axle and fill it with water and they will slowly run the tyre through that as they finish a run to try to bring the tyre temperature down,” he said.

“You let that tyre temperature build up and there could be a breakdown from the centre out. We do not seem to have that problem on wheel loaders because wheel loaders are short run.”

Mr Gilkenson said that although solid tyres were not necessarily a complete replacement for pneumatics, they had their place in some fleets.

“People have put solid tyres on the front of wheel loaders and kept their pneumatics on the back because that is where they have the most wear problems,” he said.

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