Radial-ply tyres offer a distinct advantage over bias-ply tyres. They may cost more, but they offer better productivity, higher cost savings, and comfort, writes Bhushan Mhapralkar.
Earthmoving and construction equipment operate in a different environment from that of an automobile. Even a lorry or a bus for that matter, spends almost 99 per cent of its time plying on the road. For equipment life is tough. Life for equipment tyres is tougher. Enabling equipment as diverse as a tractor, harvester, excavator, backhoe loader, wheel loader or a (truck) tipper to perform their tasks in a smooth and efficient manner, it is the tyres that form the vital contact with the ground underneath. It is the tyres that help to effectively transmit torque the turning force. Ensure the movement of equipment in an environment that is rigorous as much as it is less predictable. If this translates into a need for tyres to work their gut out, yet last long, there's a growing shift towards radial tyre technology for the right reasons.
The equipment industry is slowly but certainly taking to radial tyres. It is coming to acknowledge the advantages, the way the commercial vehicle industry came to acknowledge the advantages of radial tyres over bias-ply tyres - moving over at a pace much slower than cars, and definitively.
Highlighting on the potential of radial tyres in the construction and mining equipment sector Harkesh Jaggi, Commercial Director Earthmover and Industrial Tyres, Michelin India has this to say. "India is expected to bring focus back on infrastructure and agriculture sector. During the next five years, we expect that rising farm income will generate moderate demand for agricultural machinery and therefore corresponding purchases of radial OTR tyres."
Says Rajiv Poddar, Joint Managing Director, BKT, "Agri-equipment sector is a very huge market and is getting radialised gradually. With more and more multi-national players coming in, I think in the next 3-5 years, radials will play a bigger role in agri-equipment sector. Currently, the market is just 4 per cent, but going forward this can go up as more and more mechanisation is happening in agriculture sector. The harvesters being used in India are small as the farms are not very big. Once the farm size goes big, there will be requirement of bigger machines and radial tyres of bigger sizes." Jaggi opines, "Among the construction market, stronger construction activity will encourage companies to invest in new machinery and equipment and OTR tyres. Customers in the mining, oil and gas sectors will resume spending on machinery and equipment and radial OTR replacement tyres." He further adds, "In mining applications, radial tyres already fit large dumpers (with 51"and 57"tyre size) and large wheel loaders. This technology is also gaining market shares on smaller sizes (49", 35", etc.) as it is more beneficial when compared to the conventional bias tyres.
Companies involved in underground mining have long understood the numerous advantages of using radial tyres, which is summarised by reduced operating cost."According to him, on smaller machines used in construction, quarries and ports, the interest levels of radial tyre end users is picking up. Jaggi says, "We have experienced several fleets switching to our radial tyres after they comprehensively evaluated and compared the benefits of Michelin radial tyres versus bias tyres. Our radial tyres allow our customers to reduce fuel consumption - on an average - by 5-6 per cent."
According to S Sengupta, Head OTR Business, JK Tyre & Industries, complete switchover to radials cannot happen immediately in the OTR segment. He adds, "It requires development of complete service infrastructure including repair facilities at the job site and retreading. This service infrastructure is a must for obtaining full benefits of æexpensive' radial OTR tyres. Moreover, gross improvements in the standards of maintenance of application like open cast projects' haul roads, loading and dump areas are another necessary aspect before a customer moves in for radialisation. All these require huge investments including initial purchase of radial OTR tyres, which are more expensive as compared to their bias counterparts."
When it comes to the retreading of radials Tyresoles chips in. The company has set up a new factory in Belgaum (Karnataka) for retreading OTR tyres about three years ago. Says Karun Sanghi, Managing Director, Tyresoles, "To get the best value from radial tyres, they must be retreaded. However, many users do not realise that retreading radial tyres requires specialised equipment. We installed six segmented moulds specifically designed for radial tyres. We also expanded our repair facilities to cater to these large tyres."
Over bias-ply tyres, radial-ply tyres offer distinct benefits. According to sources at Michelin, a leading manufacturer of tyres in the world, radial-ply tyres do not transmit the sidewall flex to the tread. Bias-ply tyres transmit sidewall flex. If the footprint lengthens in case of a radial-ply tyre, in case of a bias-ply tyre the foot print does not lengthen. This relays pressure, causing the overlapped plies that form a thick layer to be more sensitive to overheating and therefore failure. It may be necessary to understand at this point in time that the crown and sidewalls of a bias-ply tyre are interdependent. Since there is little transversal slip, a radial tyre allows the machine to transfer more power to the ground. The outcome is lower fuel consumption; less ground compaction and damage; greater productivity due to effective transmission of torque, and reduction in tyre replacement. The biggest advantage of switching over to a radial tyre is perhaps the longer service life a radial tyre offers. A factor that assumes importance on commercial activity machines that are expected to record maximum uptime. To be precise, radial-ply equipment tyres are almost 80 percent more resistant to cuts and penetrations in the tread area than bias-ply tyres. Poddar is of the opinion that radial tyres have 50-60 per cent more life compared to bias tyre. "Sometimes it is more also as we have seen even 80 per cent more life for radials compared with bias tyre in certain cases,"he adds. To understand how radial-ply tyres are more resistant to cuts and penetration, it is essential to understand that an earth moving equipment radial tyre is a composite product. It is made up of rubber compounds and steel, textile or synthetic reinforcements. The major components are steel carcass and belt tyre (called Unisteel). A typical earth mover radial-ply tyre will have the following maximum load and speed combination: 169 = 5800 Kg at A2 = 10 kmph or 152 = 3550 Kg at B = 50 kmph.
Considering the load and speed combination of an earth mover tyre, it is important to consider the factor of comfort, and its effect on safety and greater productivity. A radial-ply tyre excels over a bias-ply tyre when it comes to comfort. It also elevates safety by ensuring that the operator does feel fatigued as quickly. The flexibility and strength of a radial-ply tyre helps it to absorb shocks, impact and bumps more effectively than a bias-ply tyre could. This results in a better ride and comfort. Radial-ply tyres in equipment not only offer greater comfort for users, they also reduce the machine maintenance costs. Ensure less compaction and better traction. In case of farm equipment like tractors, radial-ply tyres ensure higher crop yields and more profit.
Like the American equipment market, the move to radial-ply tyres in India may be slow. It is however advantageous. Advantageous in terms of total cost of ownership even though radial-ply tyres may cost more than bias-ply tyres to purchase. According to Burad, which is into distribution of earth moving and construction equipment parts and BKT brand of tyres, the price difference between a bias-ply tyre and a radial-ply tyre is 30-40 per cent. For example, a 23.5 x 25-inch bias-ply wheel loader tyre costs Rs 50,000. A radial tyre, at the other end, costs in the range of Rs 90,000 and Rs 95,000. The difference in price may look substantial. It is however important to consider the fact that a lower-priced bias-ply tyre may not offer the same life as the more expensive radial-ply tyre.
It is, in fact, not uncommon to see a radial-ply tyre outlast a bias-ply tyre two times, or up to six and seven times, depending upon the application and usage. It is the same story with tyres that find use in tippers. Commercial vehicle operators, of which the tippers are a part, are coming to acknowledge the advantages of radials over bias-ply tyres for certain. Drawing attention towards the shift, RK Agarwal, Director, Sales & Marketing, Continental India, opines that the consumer is looking for good quality, advanced technology products.
A well known manufacturer of tyres the world over, Continental in India, competes with other tyre manufacturers like Goodyear, JK Tyres, Apollo Tyres, Ceat Tyres, MRF Tyres, BKT, Continental, Michelin, etc. The German company also competes with smaller players that operate in the commercial vehicle and OTR tyre space. After passenger vehicle tyre market, which accounts for deep penetration of radials at 89 per cent, comes the commercial vehicle and OTR tyre market. Radialisation of OTR tyres lags that of the commercial vehicle market. Both are however shifting towards radials as manufacturers of tyres continue to invest in new technologies and capacities. With radial tyre technology resting with the bigger tyre manufacturers, the tyre industry is expected to invest close to Rs 80 billion over the next two years, of which more than Rs 1 billion will go towards plant and machinery upgradation. Some of the major projects which are likely to witness completion in the near term are Falcon's Rs 5.7-billion plant at Haridwar, Yokohama's Rs 9.7-billion plant at Bahadurgarh, and ATC Tyres' Rs 6-billion plant at Jhagadia in Gujarat. Characterised by its raw material intensity û the largest being natural rubber followed by synthetic rubber and other raw material including silica, the Indian tyre industry is slowly shifting towards radial tyres.
Apart from new radial tyres, which account for the OEM and replacement market, retreading market for truck (tipper) tyres is expected to grow at a healthy pace, especially when 75 per cent to 80 per cent of the manufacturing cost of a radial tyre is incurred by the tyre body and the rest by the tread. Retreading promises operational savings in trucks, but may not be of much use in the other equipment segments.
Equipment tyres will take time to derive the benefits of radialisation. Like other market sectors, this sector too is sensitive to price and market dynamics. Even though margins are high, especially in the OTR tyre space, the numbers are low. This ensures a certain dynamic ability, which may not reflect the benefits of radialisation at the manufacturing level, or the user level, as quickly. However, looking at the benefits derived by the European equipment industry, which was the first to take to radialisation on a big scale, it is clear that the Indian equipment space will continue to turn radial. Add to this the benefits that the European equipment industry is already enjoying.
Says Jaggi, "The potential of development for OTR radial tyres in India is enormous as this market is still predominantly a bias market. In the coming days, we expect the benefits of the radial technology to generate an increasing demand for radial tyres in OTR applications. Increasing awareness about environment conservation (lesser carbon footprint) is expected to further push radialisation in the OTR segment."
Jaggi sums up on a positive note. "We strongly believe this positive trend for radial will accelerate in the coming years, as more and more end users will shift from a short term purchasing approach (lowest purchasing price) to a value-based purchasing approach (lowest total cost of ownership/cost per hour), including improved productivity and fuel saving. Fuel saving becomes a significant issue in the current Indian context, where increasing fuel bill has adversely affected the profitability of operators."
RADIALS HELP SAVE FUEL
A very energy efficient technology, radial tyres are in line with environment-friendly initiatives. Several studies have indicated a significant decrease in fuel consumption when moving from a cross-ply to a radial tyre. A CRISIL Research points out that radialisation could annually save Rs 4,000 crore of which Rs 2,900 crore come from fuel saving alone.
The price difference between a bias-ply tyre and a radial-ply tyre is 30-40 per cent. For example, a 23.5 x 25-inch bias-ply wheel loader tyre costs Rs 50,000 whereas the cost of a radial tyre is in the range of Rs 90,000 and Rs 95,000, according to Anish Burad of Indore-based ES Infraserve. Is this difference in cost still a deterrent for the growth of the radials?
Jaggi says, There are two ways of looking at the costs when it comes to radial adoption upfront cost and total cost over time. The initial cost of a radial tyre can be an obstacle for end users who have not yet experienced all the benefits of the Michelin radial technology. This is why Michelin has developed a special programmeùthe First Michelin Experienceùto propose to Indian companies to try Michelin radial tyres and then compare the overall cost through a close follow up of the performance. In our view, the cost per hour (CPH) is the right indicator to gauge performance."
Says Poddar, "Definitely, the upfront cost of radials will be higher as compared to bias tyres. But we can do the costing in a different way. If you look at total cost of ownershipùcost per hour or cost per kmùthe cost of radial tyre will score way better. For radials [though paid more] the cost has come down drastically because of higher mileage and longer life."Poddar adds, "Also in a mining site, the downtime cost is very high. So if we calculate the downtime cost, changing time cost, inventory cost for holding that many extra tyres and the mileage, one can easily find that radial tyre is much cheaper as compared to bias tyre."