The shortfall in supply of industrial tyres to opencast mining has raised concerns that some of the tyres have not been used to their full potential, HD Tyres GM Nick Alexander tells Mining Weekly. “This highlights the need for the opencast mining industry to partner with the tyre manu-facturers and service providers so as to get the most out of the tyres that the mines already have,” says Alexander.

Alexander attended the annual Tyre Industry Association conven- tion in Orlando, US, in February, and visited various suppliers in the that country, with a view to establishing how the South African tyre industry is posi-tioned in relation to the short-ages, assessing the impact on the opencast industry and investi-gating emerging trends to keep as many production vehicles as mobile as possible.

“The shortage is likely to continue to 2010 or 2011 in one form or another. The knock-on effect of increased demand for commodities on earthmoving equipment and tyres was dis-cussed. There is a greater demand for equipment to get com- modities out of the ground and this has, in turn, resulted in a higher demand for tyres in the past three years. There will be some relief in 2007 and 2008 through production expansions by two of the three major tyre manufacturers,” he says, but adds that “the problem is not going to be resolved for some time”. “Opencast miners have to be proactive about managing their inventories and making sure that they have adequate stocks of new (where possible) and matching tyres. I am not convinced that everything possible is being done to conserve,” Alexander notes. As a dedicated repairer of mining tyres, HD Tyres has, over the years, frequently come across tyres in scrap piles that could have been repaired. The crisis has led to a ‘dis-covery’ of a mountain of tyres that can be repaired. “My argument is why were these tyres not repaired in the first place and why is it only now that people are seriously considering a commitment to repairing? “The solution to the crisis does not only lie with the mines. Tyre companies and service pro-viders must actively participate in getting maximum service hours out of every tyre. My dis-cussions with senior buyers and procurement managers at the major mining houses reveal that the mining groups have been very proactive at a macro level in planning and securing inventory, but the number and complexity of stakeholders at the end of the value chain seldom result in the best solution for the mine,” says Alexander. “HD Tyres has pioneered a concept in this country called preventative maintenance, where- by, when a cut in a tyre is detected during a weekly survey, the vehicle is brought into the work-shop and that tyre swapped with a matching one, while the damaged unit is repaired. One might start with a cut of eight inches long, which is easily reparable but, because of pro-duction demand, the driver delays in bringing the truck in for a tyre change. Add to this that the vehicle may be overloaded and the tyres under-inflated – the next thing you know the tyre is destroyed.” The challenge that needs to be man-aged is the demand of production versus the requirement for mainte-nance. “We understand the pressure and the complexity of decision-making within openpit mining and the number of players invol-ved in making a high-value decision about tyres, and to what extent the individuals influence that decision. A production person will prefer to keep trucks operational as long as possible because they have targets to meet, but the maintenance engineer will report that there are no more tyres and we have to fix them.” HD Tyres uses the Rema-Tip-Top method of repair for all of its work, which consists of thorough analysis at all stages of the process to ensure that repairs are within the permissible limits stipulated by Rema-Tip-Top Germany. “Our company is assessed by Rema on an annual basis and we are one of only a few firms who are certified by them. “For a truck that takes six tyres, one new tyre can cost between R48 000 and R100 000, while a repair may only be R8 000. “If it is reparable, we involve the diesel engineer, the engineering superintendent, the tyre-bay foreman and, in certain cases, commercial specialists. “Based on the amount of tread that is remaining on the tyre, we calculate the value of the tyre and do a cost-benefit analysis on a course of action most beneficial to the mine. If it is a marginal decision, we advise the mine because, presently, most mines are prepared to repair almost any-thing to make sure that they have tyres.” However, the solution is broader than just fixing the tyre once dam-aged, Alexander notes.

“We also need to be involved in advising on road conditions such as spillage, camber and gradient, tyre pressure and the relationship between a tyre’s carrying capacity and speed.” He applauds the critical role that is being played by new tyre suppliers, as they are often the developers of new technology and there is much effort that goes into creating a tyre that is correct for the conditions.

Alexander reiterates that it is necessary to monitor the tyres without disrupting production.

“The industry needs a serious look at how the tyre resources are managed and how companies are incentivised to work with mines and bring about savings of money and time.” Alexander is involved with Wits Mining School, which is compiling research on factors contributing to tyre life and tyre destruction, as well as with the Wits Business School to research the interaction between industrial buyers in the hope that it might assist in managing the crisis better. “It is not just a matter of optimising the life of the tyre but also minimising the downtime for the mine and maximising production cycles.” He adds that there are skills shortages in the repair industry and the company is going to expand its training capacity to address the challenges. “I have been involved in the past in establishing employee-owned trusts specifically for black economic empowerment, and HD Tyres is busy with that and a critical part of its skills development will be for pre-viously-disadvantaged indivi-duals.” There is also ongoing development for tyre-pressure monitoring devices. A sensor will be mounted on either the valve or in the wheel itself, which will monitor the temperature and pressure of the tyre in real time.

“We hope to be able to establish in real time, through the GPS systems installed on mobile equipment, whether the tyre is losing pressure or if it has a heat build-up and deal with the problem before it causes damage to the tyre or, even worse, a fire on the truck. This technology is not entirely new, and the current challenge is to integrate the various facets.