Two years ago, Rhein Chemie Rheinau GmbH wasn't in the tire curing bladder business.
But following a 2011 acquisition in Argentina, a purchase earlier this year in the U.S. and a soon-to-be expansion in Brazil, the subsidiary of Germany's Lanxess A.G. is looking to be the top non-captive tire curing bladder manufacturer in the world, according to company executives.
“We were not in that business at all before last year,” said Frank Lueckgen, executive vice president of Rhein Chemie's Rubber Division. “Basically we got this new product group into our portfolio and we see a good opportunity to develop that on a global basis.”
Lueckgen and Boudewijn Van Lent, president of U.S. unit Rhein Chemie Corp., discussed plans for the tire curing bladder business—along with how it fits in with the rest of the firm's offerings—during the ACS Rubber Division's International Rubber Expo, held Oct. 9-11 in Cincinnati.
Rhein Chemie entered the tire curing bladder business in early 2011 with its purchase of Argentina's Darmex S.A. and followed that up this past March by buying Tire Curing Bladders L.L.C., which is based in Little Rock, Ark., and has the capacity to make 400,000 curing bladders a year.
By the end of the year, Lueckgen said the company will begin production at a new plant in Porto Feliz, Brazil, that will have the capability to produce 170,000 of its Rhenoshape-brand bladders along with 2,000 metric tons of rubber additives. The project will cost “several million dollars,” he said.
With these moves, Van Lent said Rhein Chemie is now positioned as “one of the largest” non-captive tire curing bladder makers and ready to move up in the market. It also is looking to convince tire manufacturers with in-house capabilities to buy their bladders from Rhein Chemie and focus their own resources on other tire manufacturing equipment.
“We think Rhein Chemie has developed a bladder technology that is extremely competitive in the marketplace and provides the tire companies with a very cost-effective way to cure their tires,” he said.
In combination with its release agent portfolio, Van Lent said that makes Rhein Chemie an all-around supplier that can supply the bladder/release agent combination for each customer's specific production needs.
“One of the benefits for most tire companies is they don't focus on developing that technology because it's really for them to support their production,” he said. “We can really develop this technology and in the end bring bladders with better performance, which means they last longer and you have less scrap from your tires. In the end what it does is improve the whole productivity of the curing side of the tire production.”
Besides making bladders for the production of car and truck tires, Rhein Chemie also can make bladders for the manufacture of large specialty tires such as for earth movers and for small-size tires like for go-carts.
In addition, Rhein Chemie can apply coatings to the bladders according to customer needs. It also supplies the tire industry with a broad range of predispersed polymer-bound chemicals, processing promoters, vulcanization and filler activators, anti-sun check waxes, release agents and tire marking inks.
“We are certainly in a unique position because we are the only supplier offering release agents and curing bladders,” Lueckgen said. “There is no other supplier in the world with a global approach.”
Van Lent said that's why it was so attractive to enter the bladder business because of that complete expertise. “We offer a lot of support at the local level at the plants where we have our local people working together with the technical people in the tire curing plants to bring these sites forward.”
Rhein Chemie is investing heavily into its latest acquisition in Little Rock to bring in new presses, he said. The plant uses both injection and compression molding technology.
“When we tell that to our customer base they appreciate that we are trying to bring in the best technology possible for what they need,” Van Lent said.
The top tire makers that operate globally also are looking for suppliers with production facilities around the world that can provide a quality product from a local production facility, Lueckgen said.
With bladder production in good stead for the Western Hemisphere, the executives said Rhein Chemie has production and sales forces around the world for its specialty additives.
“All these organizations can work with our customers on a local basis for both the additive business as well as for the bladder business because we have that extensive network of operations,” Van Lent said. “That's our model in the end, to have a global presence but being able to supply our customers from a local source.”
Sales for Rhein Chemie's Rubber Division are split roughly evenly between the Americas, Asia and Europe/Middle East, including India. Lueckgen said he sees growth opportunities in all three regions, especially in growth areas like China and Brazil.