With a solid U.S. economy comes strength in the construction industry: Employment is at an 11-year high and 2-5% growth is forecasted for non-residential construction in 2019, according to data from the Association of General Contractors of America. Plus, an infrastructure bill is circulating through Congress, which if passed, could bring an even bigger boom in the construction industry. But as that industry and ours experiences labor shortages, consolidation and advancements in technology, independent tire dealers are tasked with adapting to an ever-changing business to continue providing quality service to their customers.
How does a tire dealer adapt to these rapid changes? What’s to come? We spoke with tire manufacturers and other industry experts to detail the trends in the construction industry and how they’ll shake out for tire dealers in the future.
Tire Size & Design
Low profile and wider tires are becoming more popular in the construction industry since they offer better traction and flotation in many cases.
“Low-profile tires can increase the benefits of radial tires in the correct application,” says Matt Hanson, Accella Tire Fill Systems’ director, global business development. “A low-profile tire at the same diameter can carry the same load as a standard tire in the same application, but at a reduced inflation pressure. This results in a softer ride, reduced shock to the vehicle and, most importantly, reduced driver fatigue. Lower inflation pressure also reduces the chances of tire damage from rock cuts and debris.”
Hanson said in a loader application, for example, wide base tires give the equipment added traction, which reduces wheel spin and increases overall production, while reducing tire costs.
John Reynolds, product line manager for construction tires with Camso, said he is seeing new construction equipment come to the North American market, which means new tires sizes being produced. Specifically, Reynolds has seen low profile and unconventional tire sizes on equipment such as wheel loaders, backhoes and telehandlers.
“In North America, you’re starting to see more and more of the predominantly metric tire sizes becoming popular. Machines previously not seen and mainly used in Europe are becoming more common in North America – like mini dumpers, small mixers, compact wheel loaders and telehandlers,” he says. “A few years ago, we started to see low-profile 28-in. tires become popular on telehandler machines. On the backhoe platform, we’re starting to see manufacturers offer large backhoe platforms that are running bigger tires than the typical 19.5-in. that you see on the rear of a backhoe. These are unconventional tire sizes that will probably be considered conventional three years from now.”
Especially in the earthmoving business, tire manufacturers are seeing increases in equipment sizes, says Ryan Lopes, Alliance Tire Americas’ national product manager – materials handling and solid tires.
“So, if 20.5-25-in. was popular in the last year, there is a good chance you will be seeing the sales for the 23.5-25-in. heading north as we go forward,” he says.
Since earthmoving equipment is getting larger and faster with higher haulage capacities, it will require larger-sized tires that can handle heavier loads, says Gray Ballard, BKT Tires’ manager of OTR sales and service. Ballard says that means we’ll keep seeing more low-profile sizes with higher load-carrying capacities come to market. For example, BKT is producing size 875/65R29 in E/L3 and E/L4 in its Earthmax line, with size 775/65R29 coming later this year.
While sizing continues to change, tire manufacturers in the earth moving and materials handling business emphasize continual improvement in existing sizes as well.
“Certainly, we will see large volumes of the tried and true usual suspect sizes like 20.5R25, 23.5R25, 23.5R25 and 29.5R25, which are the bulk of the volume,” says Shawn Rasey, director of global business development for earthmover tires at Continental Commercial Specialty Tire. “Newer emerging ‘metric sizes’ like 875/65R29, 775/65R29 and 750/65R25 are on the rise – driven by upsizing to larger buckets on loaders to deliver greater productivity in operations for users… Scraper tires are regionally important, particularly in the west – 33.25R29, 33.25R35 and 40.5/75R39 are generally the top sizes.”
Another prominent trend is tire manufacturers adding solid tires and tracks in addition to bias and radial tire offerings to the mix. Reynolds says he’s seen the switch from pneumatic to solid tires in many skid steer, telehandler and wheel loader applications.
“What we’ve seen is 10-11% of North American wheel positions in the compact construction industry have solid tires,” he says. “Based on what we’re seeing, it’ll continue to grow. An advantage that solid tire technology has over its pneumatic counterpart is the absence of an inflatable chamber that can be punctured by objects. It’s what gives solid tires their trouble-free reputation in severe service applications.”
Reynolds also said Camso has seen an increase in tracks, especially on skid steer machines.
“In 2016, 60% of skid steers sold ran on rubber tracks and 40% on rubber tires,” he says. “There are a lot of advantages rubber tracks offer. They’re able to be used in softer, muddy and sandy surfaces since they float over those surfaces, which means their traction is better… Dealers should be aware of this compact track loader with rubber tracks trend so that they can train their staff to sell it.”
Rental Industry Consolidation
Since the economic recession in the late 2000s, contractors have become more cautious about their spending. They’ve shied away from adding large capital expenses – like equipment purchases – to their bottom line for fear of not getting their money’s worth, leading to a surge in equipment rentals on job sites. For tire dealers, this shift can further complicate service.
“It affects the purchase of the tires since the customer no longer owns the machine,” says Justin Brock, marketing manager for Michelin North America’s construction and Tweel division. “This could increasingly shift the purchase decision from the end user to the rental company. So, in many cases, this shifts who the dealer is interacting with on tire purchasing.”
Plus, it brings other sets of challenges. Reynolds says finding the right person to talk to about tire service can get ambiguous since “someone at the rental counter may not know the agreement on the piece of equipment. You may have to do some digging and detective work,” with both the end user and the rental company. Another complication is that many rental locations don’t order in advance and rely on the local dealer to stock tires for just-in-time delivery.
“They may not order the tire until the machine is down on a job site,” he says. “It’s important dealers plan and purchase accordingly so that they have inventory on hand.”
Consolidation in the rental space also further complicates a tire dealer’s job. As smaller rental locations are absorbed by larger ones, a tire dealer’s relationships with local rental companies may change, as their customers become part of a national chain.
“Rental chains are getting larger and larger, and that affects dealers as smaller rental locations are absorbed by larger ones,” says Reynolds. “This can affect locally-built relationships that dealers may have enjoyed for years with local rental companies that, now all of a sudden, become part of a national chain. [The dealer] is still dealing with the same people, but it may negatively affect what they were seeing for a gross profit within that account.”
Brian Robinson, vice president of sales for Global Rubber Industries (GRI), encourages dealers to work with rental companies and adjust their business model accordingly.
“With rental yards, it’s no longer an issue of the cost per hour, it becomes an issue of how many can I buy for “x” since they’re going to get destroyed anyway. As a retailer, I may be able to focus my service on one location where I can service multiple pieces of equipment at one time, which is a plus, as opposed to going around to various job sites to fix a tire, or put a boot in, patch it or replace a tire. So, fleet maintenance on commercial equipment becomes more important.”
All About Data
Regardless of tire segment, the industry is increasingly moving toward “connected solutions” where tire and equipment performance are being linked to create a more productive, safer and efficient work environment.
“It’s all about getting the data in an easy-to-use platform,” says Michelin’s Brock. “Dealers are using these new tools to help customers maximize uptime and optimize safety and performance. This is especially evolving in the fleet evaluation process.”
A few examples include:
- Michelin’s Tire Care fleet maintenance system, which offers tire evaluation, electronic data capture, analysis and network service.
- Continental’s ContiPressureCheck, with its on-site job evaluation software system called C-Logger, which provides TMPH values based on a tire’s specific use, and detailed information on overall speeds, grades and cycles as well as GPS-enabled mapping of the site. In addition, the system includes data on the impact of lateral forces on a tire in a particular curve. “All of this allows us to advise our customers on best practices and optimal ways to not only enhance operations, but to drive down their operating costs,” Continental’s Rasey says.
- Bridgestone’s PressureStat sensor for construction tires that monitors tire pressure and heat in the field in real time to see if a site is getting maximum tread life out of its tires, according to Tim Netzel, director of marketing, off-the-road (OTR), Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO). The company also created TreeadStat, a tire management platform that provides users with predictive analytics to help dealers and end users get full use out of their products.
- BKT’s SPOTech (Satellite Performance Optimization Technology), which allows the company to map a customer’s haul roads measuring average/max speeds, cycle times, lateral/vertical/longitudinal forces and percent grade. “This is a value-added service that aids in optimizing a customer’s operation to enhance productivity, reduce maintenance issues due to road construction and troubleshoot tire issues such as irregular wear, belt edge separations and heat issues. It also provides BKT with operation-specific information which aids in performance analysis and tire design,” says BKT’s Ballard.
On construction sites, the more data you have for your customer helps them get the most out of their investment, says Netzel.
“At the end of the day, a construction customer has a lot on their mind and what they’re looking for is a proactive tire service provider,” Netzel said. “Have on-site dialogues, coaching and product recommendations for the short term and the long term. Having those up-front conversations builds relationships for the long-term.”
Check out the rest of the May digital edition of Tire Review here.