AKRON—Demand for industrial tires—especially for forklifts and small construction vehicles—is improving this year, according to Ydo Doornbos, managing director for Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas Inc., which specializes in solid tires for the industrial, OTR and agricultural markets.
The tire market for the Class 2 and 3 forklift trucks “remains very solid,” Doornbos said. “We do see, because of the recovering economy over the last months, a stronger Class 1, 4 and 5.”
In North America “the forklift industry is really, really solid,” he said, based on shipment data.
Sales of new forklift trucks surged about a year ago, and now those vehicles are requiring replacement tires, he noted. “So the aftermarket is very healthy going forward as well.”
“Trelleborg believes the forklift is one of the most important vehicles on earth,” said Jessica Aubley, marketing communications manager for Akron-based Trelle-borg Wheel Systems Americas. “Just about everything around you right now has probably been moved in some format with a forklift, whether it's been brought over from a different country and moved off of a pallet somewhere, or if it was in a warehouse.”
Trelleborg's industrial tire division manufactures tires, rubber tracks and wheel assemblies for industrial equipment, including forklifts, boom lifts, container loaders, passenger boarding bridges and skid steers.
Trelleborg recently launched its Pit Stop Line wear indicator feature for its premium range industrial tires.
An orange line embedded in the tire becomes visible across the tire surface when the rubber has reached the end of its lifetime, the company said.
“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 in advance, totally eradicating unplanned downtime,” the company said. Trelleborg said the wear indicator also helps reduce waste from premature tire replacement.
The company also recently launched an Interfit USA website to enable consumers to buy forklift tires and find local dealers to service them.
Canada will be included in the Interfit network next year once the search engine is developed, Doornbos said, and then eventually it will be expanded to Mexico.
He said Trelleborg is working on phasing Pit Stop Line tires into the Americas. The product “really helps the user to understand when it is the right time to replace the tires. Because what we found in our studies through Interfit is that users are replacing tires too soon—with about 20 percent wear left on their tires—which means they're spending unnecessary down time and expense.
“Whereas the Pit Stop Line is providing them the indication, clear indication with the orange script that becomes visible about 100 hours before the tire really wears out, so they can anticipate and plan when it's the right time for them to replace the tire.”
The tire maker is analyzing how to also incorporate the wear indicator into its construction tires, Doornbos added.
“The business we're in, the smaller construction markets, you see a lot of new startups of housing construction—so that's where we focus on,” Doornbos said. “The waste management side is back on track, and that will continue. When the economy is recovering, those are the areas and locations where we see positive growth.”
Trelleborg's acquisition of Maine Industrial Tire L.L.C. in 2013 helped the company increase its share of the construction tire market, he said.
“It was very apparent during the recession that people were under budget to spend, so they looked at the upfront cost much more than now, where finally they are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel if you will, that it's better to invest rather than just taking that cheaper product up front,” Aubley said, “because in the end, it won't cost you more money. It's a general trend in both the industrial and construction industry.”
She also noted that solid tires are becoming a growing trend in the construction market and Trelleborg is working with OEMs to equip their new vehicles with solid tires.
“A lot of environments for construction are getting more demanding,” she added. “As they get more demanding, we're focusing on educating the end-user on the right product for the right application. You can get a budget line tire, which is fine, but if you're in a rocky environment, your sidewall is probably not going to last as long as a premium product.
“We brought in a premium line and educated the people why it's important to be choosing that versus the tire that's $20 cheaper. We educate on the whole value, whether it's the amount of time your machine is down because you're changing tires and whether you're paying your employees (during down time), because now they've popped another tire, and they have to get it changed.”
Doornbos said “there will always be applications where pneumatic tires—be they air- or foam-filled—are the preferred choice, so with our range we can accommodate and anticipate trends.” He gave the example of Bobcat tractors that traditionally use pneumatic tires and now also are being fitted with rubber tracks.
“Where we can, we are looking at avenues of converting pneumatics to solids. The industrial pneumatics and the OTR pneumatics and skid steer pneumatics are an add-on to our range that we have developed, so it's still the same high quality that people are used to from Trelleborg, but it's not the core of our business. The core of our business is the solid tires.”
Doornbos said the company will “always look at ways of converting” to a solid, “but if it's not possible, at least we have another solution for that particular application or customer.”
The ag tire market, both OE and replacement, has been soft this year because of low commodity prices, causing farmers to be more conservative about spending, according to Andrea Masella, Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas' marketing manager.
However, he predicted the fourth quarter will see some recovery.
Meanwhile, Trelleborg is investing $50 million to convert its coated fabrics plant in Spartanburg, S.C., into a farm tire factory. The company's agricultural and forestry division produces tires and wheel systems for tractors, trailers and agricultural machinery for the U.S. and Canada.
Masella said the plant conversion and expansion is on schedule and production is projected to start near the end of 2015.
Similar to its other markets, Trelle-borg is doing some conversions of farm equipment to rubber tracks.
“Farmers are looking for better flotation and wide footprint,” he said, noting that some OEMs are pushing tracks more than others, all driven by the farming industry.
Trelleborg Wheel, which reported $148 million in tire- and wheel-related sales in North America last year, relocated its North American headquarters early this past summer to Akron.