Gigantic Wheels Turning Titan Tire Factory Into a Hub of New Activity - Tire Review Magazine

Gigantic Wheels Turning Titan Tire Factory Into a Hub of New Activity

(Toledo Blade) Bryan, Ohio, the Williams County seat, already home to the Etch A Sketch drawing toy and Dum Dum pops, soon will have a third claim to fame: gigantic tires.

Titan Tire Co. has begun test production at its Bryan plant of a new 63-inch mega-tire that it plans to sell to the mining industry, which is booming due to high demand worldwide for gold, iron ore, coal and other minerals.

The first prototype that plant managers have unofficially dubbed the Super OTR (for off-the-road) was lifted out of its assembly area Feb. 15 and since then Titan has built a few each month, shipping then shipped them to company headquarters in Quincy, Ill., for testing.

Exactly when real production will start is a closely-guarded secret, but Titan officials are confident it will happen this summer and by year’s end the Bryan plant expects to build up to 20 of the 13,000-pound tires daily.

"It is the biggest tire in the world by far. It is very exciting," said Tom DeNoi, operations manager at the Bryan plant, which Titan bought from Continental Tire North America in August 2006 primarily to secure a site to build its giant tire so it could enter the mining tire niche.

Titan paid $53 million for the 500,000 square-foot plant, which had 325 workers. But last year it agreed to spend $80 million for a 200,000 square-foot building for the 63-inch tire project, three super tire assembly lines (at nearly $6 million per line), and the hiring of 200 more workers.

By next January, Titan expects to be Bryan’s largest employer.

Amazingly, Titan told plant officials only a year ago they would be making 63-inch tires and to prepare for equipment that had yet to be designed.

They also were told a prototype was needed by late winter.

"Everyone in the industry laughed and said it would take two years to complete this, but we were ready in 7 to 8 months," said Titan vice president of research and development Dan Steltmann said proudly. "But we exhausted practically every resource we could to get this done on time," he added.

The proprietary machine they designed to build big tires looks like it belongs more at Cedar Point than a tire factory. A giant metal wheel and conveyor belts construct the mining tires in much the same way steel-belted auto tires are made.

As the metal wheel turns, rubber and steel belts are added until a tire is formed. The tire sits in a hot mold for nearly a day as it is shaped and hardened.

"There’s been a nice learning curve for us," DeNoi said. "We thought what we currently produced was large. But when you look at (the 63-inch tire), it’s a completely different thing."

At 13 1/2 feet in diameter, prototype tires proved to be too big to move through the already-large doors connecting various section of the plant built in 1967. So doors had to be enlarged.

Moving tires weighing 6 1/2 tons isn’t easy. So nine cranes, some of which can lift 60 tons were added to the factory’s new wing.

When ready, Titan’s new 63-inch tire will compete with similar tires made by Bridgestone Corp. and Michelin Group that are used on Caterpillar’s 797 model mining trucks.

The Cat 797s, which weigh 687 tons but can carry 380 tons, are used heavily by the mining industry and use four 63-inch tires, which can cost a minimum of $40,000 each.

Titan officials said the plant could gain an advantage because Michelin makes it 63-inch tires in France, while Bridgestone makes its tires in Japan. Titan, which has said its 63-inch tires could add $240 million annually to its sales, would be well positioned to sell its tires to the North American mining industry.

Since February when Titan announced it had produced its first prototype large tire, its stock has risen $11 per share to $38 a share.

Charlie Rentschler, an analyst at Wall Street Access, said early projections by Titan suggest the company could make 6,000 tires annually once it hits full production, which would significantly boost its earnings.

"If this thing works, potentially I believe this company could earn another $6 to $7 a share," Rentschler said. (Tire Review/Akron)

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