There is no doubt that like most other continents, Europe is a consistent hive of productive activity. However, every now and then a really important technological advancement takes place with the potential to provide groundbreaking advantages for the worldwide tire market.
I was fortunate enough to recently be invited to attend the unveiling of such a significant occasion when Continental AG opened the doors of its unique new ContiLifeCycle truck tire production plant in Hanover, Germany.
The plant not only offers cutting-edge truck and bus tire retreading facilities, but also incorporates a proprietary industry scale recycling unit, making it the very first operation of its kind anywhere in the world. The dual-functioned factory has already been recognized as a future environmental innovation by the German Federal Ministry of Environment, and on personally inspecting the plant it is very clear that Continental has taken a very important step forward for its ContiLifeCycle concept and, of course, the truck tire sector as a whole.
Pushing the boundaries
I was informed that it has taken almost two years for Continental to progress from the initial project planning stage to the opening of the plant, with the objective of pushing its ContiLifeCycle solution even closer to new tire production and therefore pushing the boundaries of future technological achievements to an even higher level.
One part of the new operation has been dedicated to the tire recycling process and includes the totally unique development of a special process for the tread powder produced during truck tire retreading. The previously cured tread powder is subjected to a series of varying steps of processing in order to reverse the curing cycle which results in the recycled material having such a high quality that it can be confidentially used for tire compounding.
At the same time, tread buffings from the retreading facility can be exclusively used in the recycling facility, therefore reducing waste by over 80% and creating significant CO2 savings, as well. This enterprising new development has ensured that Continental can provide a very cost-conscious product portfolio that is both ecologically and economically sustainable courtesy of a unique combination of hot and cold truck tire retreading and high quality rubber recycling.
I was informed that this modular tire life cycle concept is guaranteed to further extend a tire’s life while also reducing costs and ensuring a much greater “value for money” awareness. The success of Continental’s ContiLifeCycle concept is based around four equally important aspects — the procurement of new tires, professional regrooving after a tire’s first life, retreading and professional casing management which all contribute toward ensuring all truck tires have a second and third life to fully maximize their overall efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Running hot and cold
It was also explained that in the hot retreading process, fresh rubber is applied to the whole casing which becomes securely vulcanized to create a premium retreaded truck tire that can be fitted on both regional and long distance haulage trucks, construction site vehicles and buses. Whereas for cold retreading, the process is identical to that of an original tire. In Europe, it seems that both hot and cold processes are used almost equally, although most Western European countries prefer the hot method while the cold method is more popular in Eastern Europe.
The plant will reach full production levels in due course with an anticipated annual capacity of 180,000 retreaded tires. Continental also has announced that it has opened a ContiLifeCycle Academy in order to offer valuable on-site training courses that will cover all areas concerning the retreading and recycling process.
I came away from what I considered to be a very impressive industry-changing dual production facility and feel it will serve as a perfect center of excellence for Continental’s global ContiLifeCycle business as well as setting a new precedence for the future direction of innovative truck retreading and rubber recycling.
John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own company, Sapphire Media Services, as a business media consultant with clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia. ■
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