Bridgestone's MasterCore line of giant tires for large, ultraclass surface mining applications is one of the main reason's behind the company's "material movement."
The line, introduced last summer starting with 63-inch rim-diameter tires, is engineered for extended durability and can be customized to each mine site and operation. Bridgestone cites the use of proprietary technologies, including an anti-rust steel cord that resists moisture, along with a metal surface-coating technology, for the improved rubber/steel-cord adhesion and durability.
Seibert said the MasterCore product, which can be optimized for faster speeds, increased payload and maximized uptime, features a new casing design and new tread patterns. It is being manufactured at Bridgestone plants in Shimonoseki and Kitakyushu, Japan, as well as at the firm's 7-year-old OTR tire plant in Aiken, S.C.
Later this year, the tire maker will unveil a MasterCore line for three underground hard-rock tires and two port tires, according to Seibert, as Bridgestone's plant in Bloomington, Ill., ramps up capacity to produce large radial tires.
"We are developing technology to support it and our dealer network," Seibert told Tire Business. "There are always opportunities. We have to keep innovating, looking for new products, evaluating capacity and technologies."
The COVID-19 pandemic created its share of difficulty for most every aspect of the tire industry, especially OTR.
Bridgestone reported in its third-quarter financial results that it expects fiscal 2020 sales of OTR tire to drop 16 percent to 20 percent from 2019. OTR tires are part of Bridgestone's specialty business, which also includes agricultural, aircraft and two-wheeler products.
The specialty business accounts for roughly 15 percent of the tire maker's annual sales, estimated at $24.3 billion in 2019.
"The pandemic has presented challenges, but it has presented opportunities, too," Seibert said. "We're trying to focus on both of those."
While business ground to a halt across North America, Seibert said he reminds his team of its accomplishments—such as a mastery of video conferencing with customers as well as planning, forecasting and introducing new technologies—while navigating safety protocols new to all industries.
"In general it was a successful 2020," he said. "It was unique to be able to solve challenges from a remote environment and do it as effectively as we would have in person and with higher frequency."
As the businesses grouped under OTR, deemed an essential service in the U.S. and Canada, resume normalcy, so has business for the tire maker.
Travel has resumed, although Seibert noted his staff adheres to strict COVID protocols, including social distancing, masks and any additional local regulations. Ontario and Quebec are in lockdown, for example..
"We have the advantage that the majority of work we need to do can be done outdoors, safely and social-distanced," Seibert said. "So as customers operate 24/7, they still need that essential support. And we're there to support them the safest way possible to make sure we do everything and use every technological means possible."
While some of the challenges from 2020 remain—such as a slowdown in permitting, due to processes and governmental agencies—Seibert said prospects for OTR sales are improving, citing record commodity prices for copper and gold.
"We continue to see strength on the mining side and opportunity in the market," he said.
That extends to construction and to quarries. Housing starts have increased 8 percent, he said, as residential construction and large-scale subdivision spending has increased
The global supply chain, he said, remains steady, thanks to Bridgestone's OTR plants in Japan that remained open, even as the U.S. plants incurred brief shutdowns.
Initiatives in the new year
Seibert said he has three key initiatives entering the new year. The first is safety.
While safety always has been a priority, the pandemic has created a renewed emphasis, particularly on the quarries, mines and construction sites where Bridgestone operates.
"COVID has presented another level of safety emphasis and a different level of training and protocols of our customers and our own team that we need to continue to focus on, evolve and make sure we can support essential services," he said. "...We have to make sure we can operate safely and effectively."
The second initiative is strategic partnerships.
"That is a two-pronged approach: Making sure our relationships with the end-user customer, our strategic accounts, are getting the support they need from us, and we understand where they are going long-term from an application and technology standpoint," he said.
He said it's important for the tire maker to continue to understand the challenges and needs of its dealer network.
"We serve a large, diverse market, ... and they are the boots on ground that touch every one of those customers and can help us understand ... what's happening in the market, what are the customer needs, and then help our drive our strategies.
"Our technology efforts are not just directed at end-users, but how we can make the dealer network service more efficient over time."
The final initiative, he said, is to continue to advance Bridgestone's OTR mobility solutions.
That includes tire tracking, as well as remote health monitoring of tires used in large, surface mines, a technology the company is looking to replicate in quarry, construction, underground and port applications.
"I feel fortunate that the off-the-road team has been on that innovation journey for many years," Seibert said. "We have been remotely monitoring tires in the mining industry for several years, and we are continuing to look for opportunities to expand that."
He identified one industry trend that dovetails with mobility solutions: Customers are coming to understand and appreciate the importance of the evolution of tires and how tire technology plays a key role in productivity.
"As customers become more and more technology focused, more and more data focused, they are continuing to realize in certain cases it's just not a tire," Seibert said. "It is something that keeps their operations running."
And it keeps the material moving.