In an attempt to meet demand, Bridgestone Corp.’s factories are operating at maximum capacity and the company has revised its production capacity forecasts. It had planned to increase earthmover tyre production by 80% between 2004 and 2008, but this schedule is being accelerated.
The effects of the tyre shortage are neatly encapsulated in what is happening to the U.K. coal mining industry. The opencast mining industry in the U.K. is Western Europe’s largest and accounts for around 18,500 tyres a year. Bridgestone has been the market leader in this sector for over 10 years.
One customer that decided three years ago to run its vehicles exclusively on Bridgestone tyres is Scottish Coal, whose fleet consists of 38 prime movers, 19 150-tonne dump trucks and more than 125 100-tonne dump trucks, working on eight sites across Scotland. And when we say ‘working,’ we mean it, as a typical week is 110 hours continuous work and this is for 47 weeks a year, in all weathers.
Large earthmover tyres are very expensive and so Bridgestone works closely with its customers to do everything possible to maximise tyre life, especially with the current supply situation. This includes a programme of preventative maintenance vital in an industry where downtime can cost thousands of pounds.
The key to this is Bridgestone’s specially-developed computer software program TMS (Tyre Management System), which is used with a hand-held computer. Barry Coleman, Bridgestone UK’s marketing manager, explains that the company makes TMS available to customers free of charge so that they can enter their own data and verify Bridgestone’s figures on cost per hour of the tyres.
TMS also records the tyre’s history, its projected life, projected replacement date and performance details such as working hours per millimetre of tread.
This close relationship begins even before a new machine starts work on site, as Bridgestone will inspect the tyres and check the pressures, as well as the tracking of the machine. And this care continues throughout the life of the tyre. For example, says Coleman, new tyres are usually fitted to rear axles and Bridgestone monitors their performance and recommends the optimum time to switch them to the front.
Attention to detail
Every month, a specialist from Bridgestone and Scottish Coal’s tyre manager carry out a three-day tyre inspection, covering every tyre on every machine. Pressure and tread depth is checked, as is the general condition of the tyre. Information is recorded on the TMS system, which forms the basis of a monthly status report. This might sound a lot of trouble, but it’s worth it Bridgestone says that a tyre that is under-inflated (or over-inflated) by 10% could experience a reduction in its working life by up to 13% and, for tyres costing thousands of pounds, that is a lot of money to throw away. As it is, at any given moment, Scottish Coal knows where all its tyres are and the tread depth and condition of each individual tyre.
This painstaking attention to detail means that it is possible to predict when replacement tyres will be needed, which in turn helps with scheduling tyre production at Bridgestone’s factories.
The relationship works both ways, with Scottish Coal feeding back data to Bridgestone to enable them to refine and improve their tyres, for example by adapting the compounds.
Having such a close relationship has another benefit for Scottish Coal; despite Bridgestone’s planned production capacity increases, there will continue to be a shortage of earthmover tyres in the short term. Bridgestone says that it is striving to support those customers who have demonstrated long-term commitment to the tyre manufacturer and priority is being given to these customers.