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OTR Conference: Celebrating the Past, Looking Forward

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The Tire Industry Association’s 60th annual Off-the-Road Tire Conference allowed attendees to reflect on the OTR industry’s past while understanding its present and looking to where it’s headed in the future.

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The OTR Tire Conference hosted more than 500 attendees from around the world in Tucson on Feb. 18-21. Attendees heard presentations from industry professionals and enjoyed plenty of networking opportunities and leisure activities.

Presentations from TIA included a legislative update, training program announcement, and a look at OTR production numbers. Presentations from industry professionals outlined safety, recycling, retreading, industry outlook, and more.

The conference also hosted three panel presentations: a tire manufacturers panel, an OTR Tire Conference 60th anniversary panel and a panel on advances in retread technology.

ETS Program

During the conference TIA introduced an all-new certified Earthmover Tire Service (ETS) training program.

The program will follow the same “train the trainer” model that has been successfully employed in TIA’s commercial and automotive tire service programs, according to Kevin Rohlwing, TIA senior vice president of training. Designed for instructors and technicians, the program will be taught by TIA staff and industry professionals and the classes will consist of extensive hands-on demonstrations and a written examination, he said.

Tim Easter

Tim Easter

Additionally, the new ETS program have two levels of certifications; a “Type 51” for handling tires up to 51 inches in wheel diameter and a “Type 63” for handling larger tires.

The certified ETS program will have minimum qualifications for both the certified instructor and technician courses. Part of the program pre-requisites are both the basic/certified CTS class and the basic ETS class. If the CTS course is completed, attendees will not have to complete the OSHA training part of the certified ETS class, Rohlwing shared.

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Classroom content will include tire, wheel and component out-of-service requirements, ballast removal and installation, as well as TPMS identification and service. TIA is also exploring on-going education opportunities associated with the certification, Rohlwing said.

The certified ETS course is set to roll out late in the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter this year.

Industry Outlook

In a separate presentation, TIA’s Rohlwing also shared OTR production numbers with attendees.

According to research firm IBIS World, OTR tire industry sales reached $3 billion in 2014. Of that total, small OTR tires (24-25-inch wheel diameter) made up 69% of sales. Large OTR tires (29-49-inch wheel diameter) were 15%, and giant OTR (those tires 51 inches and larger) were 10%. Another 6% of sales was allocated to repair materials, Rohlwing shared.

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When broken down by industry segment, Rohlwing said IBIS numbers found that 43.1% of the total was spent on construction equipment tires, 24.2% on mining, 22.8% on exports, and 3.9% on “Others.”

Based on various sources, Rohlwing also predicted moderate to steady growth in construction sizes during the next few years. Large OTR tires used in aggregate applications should continue to grow at slower rates unless something happens with the Highway Trust fund to spur increased activity. In giant OTR tires for mining, there should be little to no growth, he guessed.

Concluding his presentation, Rohl-wing shared wild cards that could influence the OTR tire industry. Rohlwing questioned whether construction forecasts would live up to expectations unless the federal government could pass a workable long-term solution to the highway improvement funding, and how long the stronger U.S. dollar can cushion the blow of lower commodity prices.

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Tim Easter, director of OTR sales at Yokohama Tire Corp., also discussed the future of the OTR industry in his presentation “Future Seismic Shift in OTR.”

Easter said the on-going development of new technologies will likely cause a “huge seismic shift” in the way the OTR industry does business. The machines tires are mounted to will be “smarter and more connected” and the people who purchase the tires come to expect greater use of technology in business.

“The old model of selling and servicing off-the-road tires won’t work much longer,” he shared. “It won’t work much longer because it just can’t deliver smarter, more connected value the end-user wants needs and may demand to keep their business profitable.”

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Easter said the future OTR tire purchaser won’t tolerate guessing for risk. Tire dealers will need to use technology to help OTR tire users yield greater performance, predictability from their tires to help drive greater operating profits.

In order to address the upcoming seismic shifts in the industry, Easter encourages those in the industry to commit to transparency and collaboration; commit to explore new business models that are smarter and more connected; commit to self-disruption; and commit to make shift happen now.

Easter also discussed other smaller shifts happening in the OTR industry.

He noted that coal mining declines and alternative energies continue to grow. But where there are oil and gas pipelines or drilling extraction and refinement there will continue to be earthmoving equipment, he said.

Easter said it’s predicted that the construction market will grow 9.8% year over year and the business offer opportunities to dealers. The Panama Canal expansion will also affect business at some ports around the country as ships will be larger, he said.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Conference Panels

In addition to presentations, the OTR conference hosted three panels.

During the tire manufacturers panel, representatives from China Manufacturers Alliance, Yokohama, Bridgestone Americas, and BKT Tire Inc. shared their views on various topics, including commodity pricing, the availability of tires, the port slowdown, TPMS technology and upcoming challenges.

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Shawn Rasey, president of BTK Tires, said that for businesses as a whole everything operates more globally. Because of this, he pointed to currency fluctuation as being a major challenge facing BKT and other producers in the coming year.

Aaron Murphy, vice president of CMA, said commodity pricing is restricting the demand for large and giant OTR tires as many machines are sitting unused. He also noted that government protection and tariffs are also affecting his company’s business.

John Boysen, industrial products manager for Yokohama, said one of the biggest challenges facing the tiremaker is the speed at which the market operates. He said Yokohama is working on responding more quickly to market changes.

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One challenge for the coming year for Bridgestone is to maximize opportunity at its new facility in Aiken, S.C., according to Taylor Cole, recently appointed as Bridgestone’s OTR tire unit president. Cole noted that the industry as a whole – manufacturers and tire dealers – face the challenge of better educating buyers about the total cost of tire ownership. Cole said purchasers of larger tires understand this, but buyers of smaller tires aren’t always as sophisticated.

A 60th OTR Conference anniversary panel featured Al Phillips, manager of OTR tire sales for Goodyear; Bob Purcell, chairman of Purcell Tire & Rubber Co.; and Brad Ragan Jr., CEO of BR Retreading. The men, who have been attending the OTR conference for between 40 and 50 years, discussed the many changes they’ve seen in the OTR industry over their careers.

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The last panel featured several manufacturers and marketers discussing the latest technology used in OTR retreading.

During the panel presentations, the audience was able to participate through TIA’s brand new OTR Conference app. Not only could attendee post questions for the panels, the app also offered information about attendees and speakers, a schedule of events and surveys.

Presentations concluded with a motivational speech from former astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, who spoke of his time as a Navy fighter pilot, his years with NASA, and the assassination attempt on his wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in 2011.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While Giffords wasn’t slated to appear, she wanted to come when she discovered the audience was made up of tire professionals, Kelly said. Giffords took over her family’s tire business, El Campo Tire & Service Centers Inc., at the age of 25.

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The former congresswoman received a standing ovation as she slowly made her way to the podium. Giffords shared with the audience that she’s doing better and urged them to “Get engaged. Be involved. Make a difference.”

TIA announced that its 2016 OTR Tire Conference will be held Feb. 17-20, 2016, at the Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif. The association also confirmed rumors that 2017’s conference will be hosted in Hawaii. No exact dates are set yet, but it could be over Valentine’s Day, TIA said.

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