CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio—The North American mining tire industry is rebounding after being impacted negatively by the pandemic last year as mines cut back on operations.
"Overall, the decline was not as steep as expected. However there were certainly regional and commodity-based differences. OE demand suffered more significantly than replacement demand as most end-customers were not ordering new machines," said Shawn Rasey, director of global business development for earthmover tires for Continental Commercial Specialty Tires.
"In the pre-pandemic months, (tire) sales were relatively brisk for most markets. From March through May, there were some wide variations, with most dealerships and end-users working off of their existing inventories as much as possible, thus ordering just what they needed at any particular time," he said.
"During COVID-year 2020, there was a reduction in tire usage as mines adjusted their schedules and dealt with taking care of their employees' safety," said Chris Rhoades, senior product engineer of technology solutions for BKT USA Inc.
"There was also a tightening up of supply as various tire manufacturers idled plants and kept their sales and engineers from traveling."
The coal mining sector appeared to have taken the biggest hit, but all around mining activities appear to be "stable," according to Bruce Besancon, vice president of OTR sales for Yokohama Tire Corp.
"We're not in the boom-bust cycles that we had back in the early 2000s through 2013, so to speak, so it's been fairly stable. Obviously, there were issues with COVID. A lot of mines had reduced hours or had to shut down for periods of time due to personnel concerns."
Generally, the strong mining enterprises remained strong but smaller mines, especially in the eastern U.S., are struggling financially, Besancon said.
"Hard rock mining and aggregates could return to pre-pandemic levels, assuming no other major market disruptions or health-related lockdowns," Rasey said.
"I would expect both steam and coking coal demand to wane. All mines will probably be cautious on aggressive expansion pending obvious dramatic shifts upward in demand as they can likely expect tougher regulatory oversights."
Besancon noted that underground mining is growing across the western U.S. and in Canada.
"With the new administration, everyone is trying to figure out what real impacts this may have on mining in the U.S. We are expecting it to be somewhat similar to last year with a potential to be even stronger. But again, there are many who are anxious about what impacts there may be on coal and exploration," Besancon said.
"Analysts are predicting a bull market for most metals mining, even approaching a new above-trend supercycle, which could translate to another tire shortage on the horizon. This is a result of an emphasis on a green industrial revolution and a policy focus on decarbonization. Gold and copper are predicting a strong showing," Rhoades said.
Rasey noted that the OE tire market has started to rebound, and replacement tire sales started to climb over the fourth quarter of 2020, with demand growing in 2021.
He said that since most mining companies are global entities, they tend to move production to mining locations where they can optimize productivity and profit, and where they can logistically meet customer demands best.
"At Continental, we have been on an aggressive five-year journey to create application-specific solutions for mining markets, both in underground applications along with open-pit mining. This ranges from adding new tire lines with advanced construction and compounding technologies and the latest in active tire monitoring through our leading edge tire pressure monitoring systems to a new factory in Lousado, Portugal," Rasey said.
BKT also is in a growth phase for mining tires, according to Rhoades.
"We are continuously developing new tire sizes and continuing to grow our distribution network and focusing on brand recognition. We are looking for double-digit growth this year. ...
"BKT has launched 33.00R51 tires to support the trend towards larger trucks in the aggregates sector and smaller mines. We have also announced the development of a 40.00R57 tire expansion and invested heavily in our OTR manufacturing plant in Bhuj (India). BKT is now actively making carbon black at our Bhuj plant to better control sourcing and quality for this much-needed raw material," Rhoades said.
Besancon said Yokohama is addressing the on-going concerns of mining customers to increase productivity while reducing costs.
"We will be launching some new tires this year aimed at taking on higher speeds with longer life expectancies," he said.