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Sales of industrial tires pick up as ports and construction sites get busier

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Sales of industrial tires pick up as ports and construction sites get busier

When the mining industry slumped, OTR retreader Noah Hickman of H&H Industries Inc. looked elsewhere for business. “We’ve branched out into markets such as ports, construction, and other areas to combat the slowdown of the coal market,” says Hickman, whose Oak Hill, Ohio-based company holds the No. 25 spot on Modern Tire Dealer’s2015 Top 100 retreaders” list.

The type of tire being retreaded has not changed. “Most of these tires we’re capping are the same: 1800-33,18.00-25 for ports, 25-inch for construction, and all sizes for material handling,” says Hickman.

More activity at the nation’s ports and on construction sites is boosting sales of industrial tires, too. “Economic recovery and a strong dollar encourage consumer spending,” says Bruce Besancon, vice president of marketing for Alliance Tire Americas Inc.

“Fourth-quarter spending in 2014 was the best it’s been in eight years, and forecasts indicate that trend is likely to continue. That means warehouses and ports will be busy. Construction is recovering, too, so we’ll see demand for tires at both the OEM and the replacement levels.”

Tom Van Ormer, director of pricing for East Bay Tire Co., a wholesaler, exporter and commercial dealer with nine locations in California and Hawaii, says a rebound in business at rental and construction companies is boosting demand for forklift and material handling tires.

Continental Tire the Americas LLC also sees more demand for forklift tires and tires for harbor and port operations. “We are expecting to grow another 30% in 2015 as we continue to prove the lowest cost of ownership,” says Gary Sass, U.S. sales manager for commercial specialty tires.

Rovince International Corp. believes demand for forklift and material handling tires will steadily increase in 2015 thanks to more transit and a general increase in commerce, according to Troy Rudnick, who heads up marketing for the California-based industrial tire distributor.

“We also believe that the commercial truck tire industry is a good indicator for the demand for forklift tires. The more loading and unloading of these trucks, the more demand there will be for forklift tires.”

Jim Enyart, technical service manager at BKT Tires USA Inc., a subsidiary of Balkrishna Industries Ltd., says the prospects for 2015 are definitely improving. “We are optimistic with the improving economy and expect this market to improve as the year develops.”

Fleets are becoming more cost conscious and more aware of driver comfort benefits, according to Justin MacLanders of Michelin North America Inc. As a result, the company is seeing more demand for radial tires and growth in the industrial market. MacLanders is the original equipment key account manager for the company’s industrial and earthmover product line.

Camoplast Solideal Inc. expects the steady growth in the materials handling segment to continue throughout 2015 in Europe and in North America.

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“We’re seeing a definite resurgence of different industries particularly in the manufacturing segments where they’ve been a little dormant for a number of years. So we anticipate some growth across the board,” says Darren Stratton, product manager for material handling.

Some regions are growing more than others. “Obviously the Northeast and the Rust Belt are seeing a lot of their manufacturing coming back. We’re also seeing quite a significant amount of growth in the southern states,” says Stratton.

So what does a strengthening economy mean for forklift and material handling tires? MTD asked several manufacturers and distributors for their perspectives on technologies and products.

MTD: What are the technological or market trends in forklift and material handling tires?

Besancon, Alliance: There are tens of thousands of forklifts running on smooth concrete floors in warehouses and on loading docks, but there are also many that are being used in equipment yards, outdoor environments, construction sites, and military bases.

Material handling equipment regularly faces the same challenges. If you look at container terminals in ports, for instance, you can see the challenges that a container handling machine faces every day: steaming hot asphalt in many places, UV radiation all day long, shifting center of gravity, heavy loads, and 24-hour-a-day operation.

When we design a tire like the Galaxy PortStar, we have to take all those factors into account in its construction and formulate a special compound that will meet these harsh demands. We do the same thing with forklift and telehandler tires. Telehandlers are one of the types of machines we see growing in popularity due to their versatility.

Enyart, BKT: The trend is increased radial offerings that are more economical and efficient over the long haul. There are more low profile and larger diameter offerings to increase stability of the forklifts when in the lift mode. End user purchasing decisions appear more short term due to the past weakness in the construction industry.

Stratton, Camoplast Solideal: We see a big trend toward solid tires taking up 85% of the material handling market in westernized markets. But in North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa we are also seeing a very strong presence of solid tires. With regards to technology, forklifts have evolved. For the same size of machine they’re able to do more work, travel faster and lift higher loads. They have stability systems and technologies to allow operators to be much more productive.

Advancements in OEM forklift technology are putting a much greater demand on tires. We’re at the peak of technology to ensure our tires our capable of handling the loads, the speeds and the demands of a modern forklift fleet. That’s everything from its ability to resist heat to its overall life and now a big push towards rolling resistance. Finding a good balance of all these performance criteria is critical.

Sass, Continental: Specialized rubber compounds that will deliver the lowest rolling resistance in the industry; remanufactured products to help reuse steel bands and solid tire cores.

Van Ormer, East Bay Tire: We do not see a lot of technical advances in the industrial tire segment. In the pneumatic section it seems to still be dominated by quality bias products, even though there is an influx of cheap or mediocre imports hitting the market.

We are seeing a slight increase in radial forklift products, but not in any portion comparable to other segments of our industry like ag or OTR tires. There is an increase in Solid Dawg solid pneumatic and press-on tires in appropriate applications, and we think this will continue. Our own Tuff Dawg and premium Bad Dawg lines continue to grow market share in the pneumatic field.

MacLanders, Michelin: Today’s industrial machines are capable of more power, torque, and load capacity than ever before. To maximize productivity, machines and tires are often pushed to their limits. High torque, overload, and rotation on the rim lead to deterioration of the bead sole.

The B2 technology, offered exclusively by Michelin, enhances the robustness of the bead zone and extends tire life through key factors in reducing operating costs, optimizing machine performance, and improving productivity.

The Michelin Stabil’x XZM radial tire reduces damage due to heat generation and eliminates all tube-related problems through the innovation of our tubeless bead seal which replaced the need of a tube and flap. This radial tire also improves resistance to road hazards and punctures.

Rudnick, Rovince: The development of more versatile and longer lasting compounds.

Ydo Doornbos, managing director, Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas Inc.: Trelleborg’s Pit Stop Line feature is the latest innovation for the materials handling industry. Pit Stop Line tires feature a highly visible orange line. This indictor is designed to reveal itself across the surface of the tire when it reaches the point where it should be replaced. Replacing tires too early costs you money, replacing too late can have profound safety implications.

With the Pit Stop Line appearing 100 hours or five to 15 working days before the tire needs replacing, operators are able to plan their tire changes, avoiding unplanned downtime.

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MTD: Are you seeing more radialization in forklift tires and material handling tires? If yes, what is driving the demand?

Besancon, Alliance: The need for stability and stiff sidewalls means we probably won’t see a tremendous shift to radials in material handling tires. The key to any tire, be it bias or radial, is that the tire must deliver not only a cost-per-hour advantage, but also address all of the operational needs of the application. Radial tires can typically deliver a very good cost per hour in many applications, but we must never forget the overall need for stability in a material handling operation.

We are always making sure we develop purpose-built tires for an application so we won’t rule out any type of construction as long as it stands up to the challenges of the machine and the environment. Where we may see a shift to radials is in material handling, if the radial tires can deliver more cost-efficiency over the life of the tires. But I don’t think they’re a factor yet.

Enyart, BKT: Radialization of this market has been promoted primarily by the manufacturers as they know the long-term benefits and decreased costs of radials in this application.

The construction business has had several years with a depressed demand, and it appears that upgrading to premium tires is difficult at this point. As the industry and economy recovers, buyers will be more inclined to invest in long-term solutions to their tire needs.

Stratton, Camoplast Solideal: We don’t see any radialization at all. There are a number of reasons. Generally a forklift is traveling around 12 miles per hour at top speed. So it doesn’t require the ability to travel at higher speeds that a radial tire would provide. You also have the drawback of radials in that they do not have the stability that you would get out of the solid tire. You don’t have the puncture resistance and as much tread life with radials either.

Radials have their place, specifically in the port markets on large container handlers where you are running 25-inch tires. But in the mass forklift fleets there is no need or trend toward radialization.

Sass, Continental: Only in larger applications to replace bias ply construction. Sidewall durability continues to plague the radial market. Press on bands and solid tires will still be the dominant players.

MacLanders, Michelin: Because there is a push for radialization for longevity, the Michelin XZM radial product offers exceptionally long life time: 2.0 to 7.5 times versus bias and 2.0 to 3.0 times versus pneumatic shaped solids. The Michelin XZM offers comfort without suspension. This equates to better shock absorption, protection of the operator, possibility to carry fragile goods, and protection of the machine.

Rudnick, Rovince: No, we have not seen a push for radials at all in the Southern California market. Bias pneumatics and solid tires are, hands down, still the most sought after types of forklift tires.   ■

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