TYRES: Bandag retreads

By: Steve Skinner


Bandag’s Australian boss has been a true believer in tyre retreads for three decades

TYRES: Bandag retreads
The tread about to be stapled onto the case

When Greg Nielsen started as a fitter and turner apprentice in the workshop at the Bandag factory in Brisbane 33 years ago, the older hands gave him all the usual orders for the storeroom.

Such orders included striped paint, a left-handed screwdriver, long weights and all that sort of stuff — in jest of course.

"No one’s lower than a first-year apprentice in the Bandag food chain," Nielsen says.

But from there the 16-year-old went on to build the factory’s equipment, maintain the factory, teach staff how to retread, audit other Bandag retread factories, sell the product and eventually run the company in Australia.

"I’ve been all over the world for Bandag," Nielsen adds, referring to the global company first owned in Germany, then the United States and now by Japanese tyre giant Bridgestone.

"It’s an amazing business — it’s been my whole life, really. Pretty sad, isn’t it," he jokes.

Nielsen is General Manager, Retread Business, with Bridgestone Australia. He’s one of those rare people you come across who is obviously genuinely passionate about the industry he works in.

And he clearly feels very responsible for the 100 or so staff who work at Bandag’s Wacol complex in Brisbane’s west, each with an amazing average length of service of more than a decade. Several have worked for Bandag much longer than Nielsen.

With price increases virtually impossible to squeeze out of hard-pressed customers, and pressure from imported tread ever-present, Nielsen says Brisbane is the only plant left in Australia that mixes and makes its own tread from scratch.

There are no new tyres to provide casings manufactured in Australia anymore.

CHEAP IMPORTS ON THE RISE

On the other side of the equation Bandag is being squeezed by cheap new bus tyres, which can cost not much more than a retread at around the $200 mark.

Bandag makes about 200,000 retread bus tyres a year. This includes 11,000 tyres a year for Brisbane City Council’s bus fleet, its biggest customer. Other big fleet customers include Melbourne’s Ventura and line-haul operator Greyhound.

As every urban operator knows, bus tyres wear out relatively quickly, because of all the friction caused by stopping and starting and turning on bitumen.

Nielsen estimates urban buses are doing well to get 50 to 80,000km out of a tyre.

He mounts a compelling case for a policy of buying premium new tyres with multiple premium retreads — up to five or six times on the one casing on urban use.

This is an alternative to buying cheap new tyres which he says "generally" turn out to be only single-use.

This business case hinges on the difference between cost — that is, over a tyre’s life — versus price, which is what you pay upfront.

Nielsen says his company puts its money where its mouth is via the ‘Bandag Challenge’ — if Bandag tyres don’t give you a lower cents per kilometre (CPK) cost over their lifetime, you get your money back.

He says the company has never had to pay a refund.

Nielsen makes another pretty bold statement "Our retreads will outlast a premium new tyre".

He must be serious because he raises the parent company’s product as an example.

"A lot of customers think new is always best, so we have evidence that our product compared to Bridgestone tyres is like for like.

"So in millimetres per 1,000km wear, it’s the same, there’s no difference.

"But what you do is retread a tyre for a bit over $200 depending on the pattern and you get equal wear to a premium new tyre.

"When we’re comparing to a cheap Chinese tyre, some of those tyres wouldn’t last 50 per cent of the life of a retread. You get what you pay for."

Nielsen says tyre resellers can earn a higher margin on cheap new tyres compared with retreads, so they tend to push the new ones.

He says retreads have often had a bad rap and get falsely blamed for the tyre debris you see on the side of the road, which he says is usually a case of punctures causing a tyre — whether new or retread — to go flat, then overheat and burst.

ON A ROLL

Throw Bandag’s low rolling resistance (LRR) retreads into the mix and Nielsen reckons you can’t go wrong when it comes to CPK savings.

Bandag has been trialling its LRR retread tyre — the BRL3 — with Greyhound, and the results so far are looking good.

One bus is projected to achieve 157,000km on the BRL3s. That’s several thousand k’s more than another bus on the standard retread R4200s, at the same time as saving more than 2 per cent in fuel.

A separate test on five buses operated by an urban fleet, also showed an average fuel saving of more than 2 per cent. That fuel saving figure is much higher in early feedback on two buses run by a regional operator, who says "The tyre wear appears to be good on both vehicles".

The good LRR tyre wear is despite these tyres costing the same as standard retreads — not more — so that it’s all upside with fuel savings, Bandag says.

Saving fuel also obviously benefits the environment in terms of reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

In fact retreads in general — which are basically recycled tyres — have major environmental benefits.

Compared with using new tyres once and chucking them out, the recycled tyres save massive amounts on transport fuel, electricity, carbon dioxide, oil, water, steel and landfill space.

Here’s a startling example. According to Bandag there are about 80 litres of oil in a new bus tyre, versus 16 litres in a retread.

ON THE CASE

Nielsen says Bandag will retread anyone’s tyres, but it’s the premium brands’ casings which have a much lower rejection rate.

"Sometimes we get accused of ‘Oh you’re not retreading my tyres because you’re now owned by Bridgestone,’" Nielsen says.

"But our business doesn’t judge casings, we just retread tyres, so whether it’s Bridgestone or Michelin or another brand of tyre we just want to retread it, because when we get it into our factory it’s already cost us probably $10, $15 just to process it.

"The last thing we want to do is return it not retreaded, because we miss out on the sale and we can’t give the customer a bill for our freight and our labour."

: When Greg Nielsen started as a fitter and turner apprentice in the workshop at the Bandag factory in Brisbane 33 years ago, the older hands gave him all the usual orders for the storeroom.

Such orders included striped paint, a left-handed screwdriver, long weights and all that sort of stuff — in jest of course.

"No one’s lower than a first-year apprentice in the Bandag food chain," Nielsen says.

But from there the 16-year-old went on to build the factory’s equipment, maintain the factory, teach staff how to retread, audit other Bandag retread factories, sell the product and eventually run the company in Australia.

"I’ve been all over the world for Bandag," Nielsen adds, referring to the global company first owned in Germany, then the United States and now by Japanese tyre giant Bridgestone.

"It’s an amazing business — it’s been my whole life, really. Pretty sad, isn’t it," he jokes.

Nielsen is General Manager, Retread Business, with Bridgestone Australia. He’s one of those rare people you come across who is obviously genuinely passionate about the industry he works in.

And he clearly feels very responsible for the 100 or so staff who work at Bandag’s Wacol complex in Brisbane’s west, each with an amazing average length of service of more than a decade. Several have worked for Bandag much longer than Nielsen.

With price increases virtually impossible to squeeze out of hard-pressed customers, and pressure from imported tread ever-present, Nielsen says Brisbane is the only plant left in Australia that mixes and makes its own tread from scratch.

There are no new tyres to provide casings manufactured in Australia anymore.

CHEAP IMPORTS ON THE RISE

On the other side of the equation Bandag is being squeezed by cheap new bus tyres, which can cost not much more than a retread at around the $200 mark.

Bandag makes about 200,000 retread bus tyres a year. This includes 11,000 tyres a year for Brisbane City Council’s bus fleet, its biggest customer. Other big fleet customers include Melbourne’s Ventura and line-haul operator Greyhound.

As every urban operator knows, bus tyres wear out relatively quickly, because of all the friction caused by stopping and starting and turning on bitumen.

Nielsen estimates urban buses are doing well to get 50 to 80,000km out of a tyre.

He mounts a compelling case for a policy of buying premium new tyres with multiple premium retreads — up to five or six times on the one casing on urban use.

This is an alternative to buying cheap new tyres which he says "generally" turn out to be only single-use.

This business case hinges on the difference between cost — that is, over a tyre’s life — versus price, which is what you pay upfront.

Nielsen says his company puts its money where its mouth is via the ‘Bandag Challenge’ — if Bandag tyres don’t give you a lower cents per kilometre (CPK) cost over their lifetime, you get your money back.

He says the company has never had to pay a refund.

Nielsen makes another pretty bold statement "Our retreads will outlast a premium new tyre".

He must be serious because he raises the parent company’s product as an example.

"A lot of customers think new is always best, so we have evidence that our product compared to Bridgestone tyres is like for like.

"So in millimetres per 1,000km wear, it’s the same, there’s no difference.

"But what you do is retread a tyre for a bit over $200 depending on the pattern and you get equal wear to a premium new tyre.

"When we’re comparing to a cheap Chinese tyre, some of those tyres wouldn’t last 50 per cent of the life of a retread. You get what you pay for."

Nielsen says tyre resellers can earn a higher margin on cheap new tyres compared with retreads, so they tend to push the new ones.

He says retreads have often had a bad rap and get falsely blamed for the tyre debris you see on the side of the road, which he says is usually a case of punctures causing a tyre — whether new or retread — to go flat, then overheat and burst.

ON A ROLL

Throw Bandag’s low rolling resistance (LRR) retreads into the mix and Nielsen reckons you can’t go wrong when it comes to CPK savings.

Bandag has been trialling its LRR retread tyre — the BRL3 — with Greyhound, and the results so far are looking good.

One bus is projected to achieve 157,000km on the BRL3s. That’s several thousand k’s more than another bus on the standard retread R4200s, at the same time as saving more than 2 per cent in fuel.

A separate test on five buses operated by an urban fleet, also showed an average fuel saving of more than 2 per cent. That fuel saving figure is much higher in early feedback on two buses run by a regional operator, who says "The tyre wear appears to be good on both vehicles".

The good LRR tyre wear is despite these tyres costing the same as standard retreads — not more — so that it’s all upside with fuel savings, Bandag says.

Saving fuel also obviously benefits the environment in terms of reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

In fact retreads in general — which are basically recycled tyres — have major environmental benefits.

Compared with using new tyres once and chucking them out, the recycled tyres save massive amounts on transport fuel, electricity, carbon dioxide, oil, water, steel and landfill space.

Here’s a startling example. According to Bandag there are about 80 litres of oil in a new bus tyre, versus 16 litres in a retread.

 

SUBHEAD: On the case

Nielsen says Bandag will retread anyone’s tyres, but it’s the premium brands’ casings which have a much lower rejection rate.

"Sometimes we get accused of ‘Oh you’re not retreading my tyres because you’re now owned by Bridgestone,’" Nielsen says.

"But our business doesn’t judge casings, we just retread tyres, so whether it’s Bridgestone or Michelin or another brand of tyre we just want to retread it, because when we get it into our factory it’s already cost us probably $10, $15 just to process it.

"The last thing we want to do is return it not retreaded, because we miss out on the sale and we can’t give the customer a bill for our freight and our labour."

THE FACTORY FLOOR

Greg Nielsen took ABC magazine on a very interesting tour of the Bandag complex in Brisbane.

First the tread plant. All the machinery looks huge, as it needs to be to mix about 30 tonnes of rubber a day.

Into two giant heated mixing machines called Banburys goes mostly yellow synthetic rubber made from oil, which wears better and runs cooler than natural rubber, then carbon black made from oil, then the oil and a chemical cure pack.

The rubber is then immediately cooled, which happens several times throughout the whole process to prevent curing.

A "cracker mill" heats the rubber up again, and an extruder cuts it into 9m lengths of precise width and thickness. Then it’s into a press heated to 185C which forms the desired tread pattern and cures it.

The whole process is constantly monitored by the internal laboratory and audited by Bandag HQ in the US.

Most of the tread is then trucked off to the 30-odd Bandag retread factories in Australia and New Zealand, most of them owned by independent franchises, and most of them aligned with Bridgestone.

However 200 tyres a day are retreaded in a different part of the Brisbane complex — which is the biggest Bandag retread factory in Australia, and one of seven company-owned retreading units located strategically around Australia.

Here most of the tyres are retreaded for Bridgestone customers, who get the same tyres back, so they know their efforts in looking after the cases are rewarded.

The cases are first checked bead-to-bead for defects and nail holes using cameras, lasers and electricity in a "shearography" machine worth $150,000. It’s one of seven operated by the company-owned retreading factories. The rest use a different machine which checks shoulder-to-shoulder.

Then the remaining tread is buffed off by an automatic machine which ensures that final tyre circumferences are uniform. Glue is applied, and the tread stretched around the case by another machine and temporarily stapled.

The final step is bonding the tread to the case in one of five curing chambers, operating under high pressure and a relatively "cold" heating process up to 100C, for up to four hours.

Sure, Nielsen says, the more heat you have the quicker the process and the less chambers you need. But he says heat destroys tyres "and if you choose high temperatures you’re taking the tyre to the point where you damage it, and you get less retreads".

"Retreads don’t fall off when they’re done right. It’s physically impossible," Nielsen adds. 

Greg Nielsen took ABC magazine on a very interesting tour of the Bandag complex in Brisbane.

First the tread plant. All the machinery looks huge, as it needs to be to mix about 30 tonnes of rubber a day.

Into two giant heated mixing machines called Banburys goes mostly yellow synthetic rubber made from oil, which wears better and runs cooler than natural rubber, then carbon black made from oil, then the oil and a chemical cure pack.

The rubber is then immediately cooled, which happens several times throughout the whole process to prevent curing.

A "cracker mill" heats the rubber up again, and an extruder cuts it into 9m lengths of precise width and thickness. Then it’s into a press heated to 185C which forms the desired tread pattern and cures it.

The whole process is constantly monitored by the internal laboratory and audited by Bandag HQ in the US.

Most of the tread is then trucked off to the 30-odd Bandag retread factories in Australia and New Zealand, most of them owned by independent franchises, and most of them aligned with Bridgestone.

However 200 tyres a day are retreaded in a different part of the Brisbane complex — which is the biggest Bandag retread factory in Australia, and one of seven company-owned retreading units located strategically around Australia.

Here most of the tyres are retreaded for Bridgestone customers, who get the same tyres back, so they know their efforts in looking after the cases are rewarded.

The cases are first checked bead-to-bead for defects and nail holes using cameras, lasers and electricity in a "shearography" machine worth $150,000. It’s one of seven operated by the company-owned retreading factories. The rest use a different machine which checks shoulder-to-shoulder.

Then the remaining tread is buffed off by an automatic machine which ensures that final tyre circumferences are uniform. Glue is applied, and the tread stretched around the case by another machine and temporarily stapled.

The final step is bonding the tread to the case in one of five curing chambers, operating under high pressure and a relatively "cold" heating process up to 100C, for up to four hours.

Sure, Nielsen says, the more heat you have the quicker the process and the less chambers you need. But he says heat destroys tyres "and if you choose high temperatures you’re taking the tyre to the point where you damage it, and you get less retreads".

"Retreads don’t fall off when they’re done right. It’s physically impossible," Nielsen adds. 

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