DORAL, Fla.—Borrachas Vipal S/A, the Brazilian company known for supplying materials to the U.S. retread market, is making a push to gain a foothold in the North American retread equipment business as well.
While Vipal traditionally has been a supplier of precured tread rubber, rubber compounds, cushion gum, envelopes and cements—the company claims an 11 percent share of the global market for such products—the firm has expanded in recent years into the machinery side of the business.
Sister company Vipal Machinery is looking to make a larger impact on the U.S. and North American market, and made sales last year despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gabriel Fuma, commercial manager for Vipal Rubber Corp.'s office in Doral, spoke recently with Rubber & Plastics News about the company's machinery sales efforts in North America.
Vipal Machinery started making retreading equipment in 2015 in Brazil, initially for the domestic market. The company then expanded sales elsewhere and started focusing on the U.S. not long before the pandemic hit.
"The United States is the biggest market of ours in the retread industry, also the most demanding for specialized products," Fuma said. "This is a market that adapts really well to our machinery, so it's a great opportunity to expand to other retreaders other than our own dealers.
"The first idea is to provide our dealers with really good quality, really competitive equipment so we can make our dealers more competitive. But, also, there are so many retreaders in North America, it's super effective for us. This equipment adapts really well to the demands that are in the North American market," Fuma said.
While Vipal Machinery handles all manufacturing in Brazil, Fuma said the company relies on the best components from around the world in building the products. Typical lead time for a machinery order is about three months.
Vipal makes each piece of equipment to order in Brazil and ships the finished products around the world. The company expects one day to open a showroom in Florida for machinery display, Fuma said, but strong demand sees Vipal selling everything to customers at this point.
"Our dreams are to keep growing here, get recognized and build a really good brand of machinery as we are (known for) in the retread sector."
Vipal Machinery is seeing some early success in the U.S., with the sale of pieces of equipment last year to four retreaders, despite the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
"It was a really difficult year," Fuma said about the overall economy. "I think our industry was less affected than other industries, in general, so we're lucky for that."
Vipal Machinery initially began selling in its home market to gain experience in that side of the business before expanding elsewhere, according to Fuma.
"The first step was to provide the Brazilian market and gain some experience, some feedback. And then when everything was really, really, really good, expand to markets with a product completely proven and tested already."
Along with the office in Doral, the company operates a warehouse near Miami, as well as storage locations in Los Angeles and Norfolk, Va., to supply retread products to customers around the country.
Since the inception of the machinery business, Vipal has sold more than 50 pieces of machinery in markets including Argentina, Brazil and Europe, in addition to the U.S.
While retreaded tires and retreading equipment are obviously joined at the hip, the expertise needed to conduct business in each space is not the same.
"The technology of rubber is completely different than the technology of the equipment but share the same market and actually they can provide very good synergies," he said.
In the U.S., retreads are gaining share due to elevated import duties being placed on tires imported from China, Fuma said. With tire prices being pushed higher, certain customers are looking more to the retread market to help control their costs.
One of Vipal Machinery's first U.S. customers last year was Pete's Road Service, which installed a buffer at its retread plant in Corona, Calif.
"We have already had a very good experience with Vipal in the supply of precured treads and now we are also betting on their equipment, which should give us significant quality gains to be seen by what this machine we have acquired provides us," said Noe Lara, Pete's operational manager.
Pete's Road Service owner Kyle Fletcher pointed to the cost-benefit of the equipment as well as service and technical support from Vipal as reasons to purchase the machine, Vipal said on its website.
Equipment being offered by Vipal Machinery includes VR01 Smart Uno and Duo buffers, which remove old tread from tire casings.
The Duo version, which can handle two tires at once, can buff up to 35 tires an hour. The Uno handles one tire at a time and has capacity of 18 tires an hour.
Also available is the VOC760 machine that extrudes and applies cushion gum strip to the casing. This cushion gum ultimately serves to bond new tread to the casing during the curing process.
The VOT2200 Heavy Duty machine, meanwhile, "expedites the strip rubber" onto agricultural and off-the-road tires, the company said.
Other first-time customers last year were Retread Solutions in Mebane, N.C.; Jewell Tire Center in Oxford, Maine; and Purcell Tire & Service Center in Portland, Ore.