HOUSTON—Zeppelin Systems GmbH has what it claims is the most complete range of technology for those needing turnkey mixing systems in the tire and rubber product industries, and that breadth of offerings has helped the group increase growth during the last decade in the U.S. and abroad.
The Zeppelin Systems business is part of Germany's Zeppelin GmbH, and is part of the Plant Engineering Group, said Christian Tittensor, director of sales and marketing for plastics and rubber plants at Houston-based Zeppelin Systems USA Inc.
Likewise, the Plant Engineering Group comprises three different units: polyolefins, where it works with companies in petrochemicals turning them into polymers; the food business, where it works with material handling; and the tire and rubber business.
Tittensor said at last fall's International Tire Exhibition & Conference that Zeppelin is the market leader in tire and rubber applications, with more than a 50 percent global market share and closer to 75 percent in the U.S. It supplies material handling equipment and mixer feeding equipment to both manufacturers of tire and non-tire rubber goods.
"All the raw ingredients have to be handled and stored and proportioned, and then mixed to make the uncured rubber," he said.
Zeppelin specializes in turnkey plants, he added, especially for foreign investors of customers without a lot of technical resources. "In the U.S., we facilitate the whole mixing room," Tittensor said. "We do all the layout of the mixing room. We work with the architects and we help design a totally integrated mixing room to handle all the raw ingredients until we have the rubber compound."
In doing this, Zeppelin not only specifies the equipment and ensures it meets the needs of the customer's final throughput goals, but it also helps integrate the whole process. This includes using not only standard engineering tools but extensive use of 3D modeling. "Through 3D modeling, we're able to interface with the architect and the building contractors and make sure all the equipment fits perfectly in the buildings without any clashes with such things as utilities and duct work," he said.
In recent years, the U.S. operation has done a good amount of work with foreign tire manufacturers that have constructed a number of new tire factories in the U.S. But Zeppelin also has done a lot of work with expansions at existing factories, according to Tittensor, who declined to name specific customers.
On the non-tire rubber product side of the business, he said Zeppelin has built complete mixing facilities for numerous customers. He said the mixing technology is similar to those for tire plants, but the feeding equipment is quite different and needs tailored for each customer.
Since about 2007, Tittensor said business in the tire and rubber sector has been strong for Zeppelin's Plant Engineering Group, in large part because of foreign investment in the U.S., but also through its global contacts. The firm has offices in about 18 countries, and he said the firm can serve those global customers with a consistent product around the world.
The business has a central design center in Germany that ensures that product consistency. "That being said, we have a widespread supply chain, so we can supply locally so we're not shipping everything from around the world," he said. "It gives us the best of both worlds. We maintain the technology but we use the supply chain to get the best value for the customer."
Zeppelin designs all the equipment, but the components—which can number in the tens of thousands of parts for the mixing systems—are supplied from a mix of in-house manufactured goods and those procured from suppliers. For a system being supplied in the U.S., Tittensor said the firm is bringing in parts from China, Brazil, Europe and some locally.
"It can be quite complex," he said. "But with the size of our company and how we're put together in a matrix allows us to be able to really do a very complex supply chain that gives value."
Tittensor works out of Pennsylvania, near Allentown, which he said is central to the tire and rubber business, while those focusing on the plastics business are based in Houston. He has been with Zeppelin and its predecessor firms for 26 years, noting that the company's presence in the tire and rubber industry can be traced back to the purchases of Chronos Richardson and Motam Material Handling.
"By purchasing those two companies they brought hundreds of years of tire and rubber experience into the Zeppelin portfolio," he said. "Before that it was pretty much a polyolefin company that worked predominantly in plastics, but they wanted to diversify its markets."
The food sector was brought in subsequently, giving the group three different markets on different cycles that he said helped even out the year-to-year business fluctuations.
Zeppelin also looks to lead the way with new technology, Tittensor said. In its dense phase conveying systems for carbon black and silicas, the firm has gone to a wear-resistant pipe material, where all pipes are being done in stainless steel. It also has a new air control system that uses intelligent technology, so every booster valve that injects air into the conveying lines and allow the product to flow smoothly are all on a loop that's controlled by back pressure in the system.
"They work perfectly in conjunction with how that particular product is conveying in that particular time," he said. "So there's no mechanical adjustments anymore. It's a totally intelligent system that's 100 percent mechanical."
Zeppelin also is boasting a new liquid dosing system that he said virtually eliminates any kind of cross contamination of product loss in the system. "It guarantees basically that everything you weigh will 100 percent be injected into the mixer."
And in the final phase of development is a fully automatic chemical weighing system for handling of pigments, cure packs and similar materials.
These developments have helped to lead to seven consecutive years of record sales in the U.S., he said. "We're one of the only companies in material handling that develops products specifically for the tire and rubber business," Tittensor said. "It's not a conveying system that can be used for X, Y or Z. All of our products are developed specifically for the tire and rubber business, or the market they are intended for."