LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—Tire manufacturing is down, and suppliers are suffering along with tire makers.
One of those vendors, Tire Curing Bladders L.L.C. of Little Rock, Ark., is at least holding its own, even if business isn't what it was a year or two ago.
“There's been a drop in volume,” admitted Vernon Almon, co-owner of the business and chief operating officer. “And the increase in raw material prices hasn't helped matters.”
Tire Curing Bladders has cut production a little, from a 24-7 schedule to a five- or six-day workweek, depending on what needs to be turned around quickly, Almon said at the International Tire Exhibition and Conference, held Sept. 16-18 in Akron and sponsored by Rubber & Plastics News.
But production remains steady for the most part “because we also have truck and rear farm business, for which we make various sizes of bladders, that's doing well,” he said.
“Some bigger (automotive) companies have cut back on orders, but we've added additional smaller customers globally. That gives us a larger customer base but not necessarily more volume,” Almon said.
The company, purchased by Almon and partner Mark Nutt four years ago, makes bladders for the tire industry and a number of specialty products, including parts for tire assembly machines, sleeves, suction cups, air bags and turn-up bladders, used in the first stage of tire production.
Bladder production dwarfs specialty goods manufacturing at the firm's Little Rock plant, according to Shakti Gauriar, who heads up the specialty end of the business.
“Right now we're looking to build that part up,” he said. “It could be very profitable. We presently have a one-shift department, but the potential to grow is there.”
In terms of tire bladders, Almon said, “we often have sizes of bladders and molds others don't have. We have a lot of different types of molds, both ours and some that belong to customers.”
When talking to potential customers, Almon stresses three things: strong technical support that can travel anywhere, prompt delivery and quality. All are extremely important to the companies Tire Curing Bladders serves, he said.
“The North American market, in particular, takes the biggest advantage of prompt delivery,” Almon said.
The company operates a 200,000-sq.-ft. plant located on about 10 acres of the 40 acres it owns in Little Rock. It employs about 100.
Tire Curing Bladders also has a good base in South America, the Middle East, Malaysia and Europe, said Allison Magann, the firm's inside sales manager and Almon's daughter. The company's presence in South America, in particular, has been strong for some time, she said, and if that changes at all it will likely be for the better.
While the bladder market is down somewhat in North America, it's starting to pick up overseas. “Our business has expanded in the Middle East,” she said. “Some companies were purchasing their products elsewhere but the quality was inconsistent. So they returned to us. They were looking for better quality, which we provide.”
Despite high raw material prices and a weakened U.S. economy, she said, “we see the future as very bright.”