The Tire Industry Association’s annual Off-the-Road Tire Conference has become an established part of the North American tyre industry conference and exhibition programme. Not surprisingly, it is also a significant draw for the international OTR tyre sector.
Location Announced for 69th Conference
This year’s conference, held Feb 22-25 at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, Arizona, was the 68th annual event, and attracted 500 registrants from 13 countries, which according to TIA’s CEO Dick Gust, was very close to the highest attendance ever. This year Retreading Business made its first ever visit to the event to find out more about why the event is held in such esteem within the industry.
The answer to that question, in fact, is not difficult to ascertain. The OTR Tire Conference is actually a truly unique event based on a concept that focuses largely on networking, with lots of business being done in the bars and lounges on the periphery of the event. The busy table-top supplier display sessions are a key part of this – With over 70 company stalls, and with free food and beer supplied, these are vibrant networking sessions. Lasting between 2-3 hours only, these sessions give the impression of being almost like corporate speed-dating, but they are very impressive and full of energy. Among the various stalls were most of the key US-based suppliers of retreading equipment such as Central Marketing, Shamrock Marketing and Tesco-Italmatic, as well as key rubber suppliers to the independent sector such as Pre-Q Galgo and Vipal, but it also included tyre repair specialists, tools and tyre service equipment suppliers, tyre wholesalers and Included many suppliers to the retread sector but also a number of key OTR retreaders such as Kal Tire, Community Tire, H&H, Purcell Tire and several others.
The event, put together by LaKisha Pindell, TIA’s Vice President of Meetings and Events, and Kevin Rohlwing, Chief Technical Officer, features three days’ worth of clearly different conference presentations. The first day traditional features technical and training presentations, the second day economic forecasts and a business round table session, and the third day a series special interest sessions – this year it featured a keynote presentation on electric and automated technologies by Doug Kershaw, President of BKT USA, and three presentations by motivational speakers.
The conference programme also traditionally includes a busy social event including a golf tournament, a Sporting Clay Contest and a session at the hotel’s spa facility. The fact that the OTR Tire Conference attracted nearly 60 sponsors is a testament to the esteem in which this event is held.
We asked TIA’s CEO Dick Gust why he thought the conference had achieved such support from the OTR tyre sector.
“I think the success of the event over the years is primarily down to the fact that it targets a specialised group that needs access to information on how to handle these large tyres. Combined with the fact that the conference offers an opportunity to manufacturers and other suppliers, over time more and more people have gravitated towards it,” explained Gust.
“The technical and training side to what TIA does is key, and this has been a main focus for TIA over many years,” he added. “Our ATS (Automotive Tire Service) programme is vital, but this year we are also investing significant amounts in developing our OTR Tire Service Programme.”
During the conference, TIA’s training programmes for the OTR sector was highlighted in two sessions moderated by Kevin Rohlwing, an OTR Service Live Demo session plus a session outlining the changes made to TIA’s Earthmover Tire Service (ETS) Programme.
“Additionally,” said Gust, “Covid has meant that we have been able to develop our online university and send out modules to dealers. This has really broadened our base.”
The other main focus for TIA currently is Government Affairs, which is now being handled by the Association’s new Vice President of Government Affairs – Roy Littlefield IV. This was also dealt with on day 1 of the conference.
“Our focus is on how to get people to understand the importance of this role,” said Gust. “TIA is the main representative in front of Federal and State Government.”
In his presentation, Littlefield talked about bipartisan opportunities in the 118th Congress and TIA’s aims to pass significant legislation for the OTR industry in 2023. The major focus this year is on the Right to Repair legislation, in regards to which TIA is now getting good support.
Littlefield also highlighted TIA’s support of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs act, which impacts opportunities in areas such as rubberised asphalt, and on the Association’s involvement in state level projects such as California’s consideration of a new replacement tyre efficiency programme and addressing threats in various states to the crumb rubber and synthetic turf sectors.
Another area which came into focus during the conference was sustainability. “There are certainly opportunities for retreading with the increased focus on sustainability,” commented Dick Gust, “especially considering the increased attention of the tyre manufacturers to this topic.”
This trend was highlighted by the fact that one of the key speakers on Day 1 of the conference was Ana M Arce, Senior Manager Corporate Sustainability and Governance at Bridgestone Americas Inc, who talked in depth about Bridgestone’s E8 Commitment, which emphasises the importance of sustainability to everything that does. A key goal, said Arce, making a call to attendees to consider a purpose beyond increasing revenue, was for Bridgestone to be “a company that adds value to society and to customers.”
A regular part of the TIA OTR Tire Conference is the Economic Forecasts provided by the Association on Day 2 of the event. The US Forecast this year was presented by Kevin Rohlwing and the Canadian one by Carol Hochu from TRAC.
A key point of Rohlwing’s presentation was that most OTR markets are currently exhibiting flat growth. However, there are currently forecasts of a big decline in coal mining, offset by growth in the construction sector, particularly in multi-family housing construction and road and bridge construction.
Overall, said Rohlwing, there are enough markets exhibiting positive growth to offset the negative impact from those expected to contract. As such however, Rohlwing pointed out that dealers and retreaders with diversified customer bases would be best positioned to deal with these variations.
Last, but not least, another hot topic at the moment is automation in both retreading factories and in terms of tyre service. This topics was dealt with in one of the breakout sessions on Day 3, in which Daniel Zeledon, President of Tesco-Italmatic LLC, gave a fascinating insight into some of the technological developments being made in robotics by Italmatic’s subsidiary company Go Energy Srl (now renamed Italmatic Robotics Srl). Zeledon highlighted the huge savings that can be made in terms of the resources employed in the tyre repair process by using the latest automated equipment. In the OTR sector, preparation work, agreed Zeledon, probably makes up of in excess of the processing cost of retreading and repairing an OTR tyres. The latest robotics equipment, he said, can cut hours off preparation times, whilst also eliminating pain points for operators in order to increase safety, efficiency, productivity and profits.
“Automation will certainly play an increasing role in retreading going forward, and will help towards the difficulties currently being experienced in getting labour,” said Dick Gust. “This is a natural evolution, but it will be interesting to see how small retreaders will handle the challenge.”
The 69th TIA Off-Road Tire Conference, will take place next February at the Red Rock Casino Resort Spa in Las Vegas, Nevada.