Big Brother treads a new path

Big Brother treads a new path

What’s in a name? Plenty if your business has a half-century-old global world leader behind it, and plenty more on the dawning of its own 45th anniversary. Bandag Southern Africa has a reputation in which the trucking industry seemingly has absolute faith. Not only does Bandag continue to excite with the latest worldwide technological advances in truck tyre retreading, but is also, suggests KERRY DIMMER, the Big Brother of solutions.

For instance, in addressing the tough economic climate, Bandag has breathed new life into its philosophy of encouraging transporters to optimise their tyre performance and supplier relationships, urging them to think more of “cost” than “price” when considering tyre expenses.

“This is an extremely pertinent point at the moment,” says John Laskarides, managing director of Bandag SA. “As transporters cut back, the tendency is to find a cheaper product or fit an incompatible design because it is more affordable. Skimming at the cost of performance can be fatal, not just on the road but on the bottom line of a company. Adopting a comprehensive tyre program that is based on a number of basic principles and disciplines will prove critical to the survival of many fleets.”

Surviving is not what Bandag Southern Africa has done, however. It has endured and maintained steady growth and now boasts 35 retread manufacturing franchisees and 24 Bandag Truck Service (BTS) franchisees across Southern Africa. The remarkable progress it sustains is largely owing to technological innovations. From the earliest beginnings of the international brand, with the discovery of a tread that was moulded separately from the casing during manufacture instead of the conventional hot retreading process that was favoured up to 1957, Bandag was on a path to change retreading practices the world over.

Flexible curing envelopes were introduced in 1961, followed in 1963 with the creation of a single-ply cushion gum to provide a stronger bond for tread to casing. In 1979, the tyre industry was revolutionised when Bandag unveiled its NDI (non-destructive inspection) unit, altering forever the way retreads were inspected, which up to then had been dependent on the human eye. The NDI offers ultrasonic accuracy when it comes to inspecting casings prior to retreading, with its ability to “see” inside the tyre.

During the ’80s and ’90s, Bandag focused on delivering value to its ever-growing fleet of customers and improving its franchise facilities but its South African branch had other ideas. Realising that the unique peculiarities of the region could not be addressed by the parent company, the 2004 management team boldly, and successfully, initiated a buyout. Maintaining a technological licensing agreement and tri-annual audit relationship with the international brand allowed the local company to address home-grown issues.

The bond between the two companies remains exceptionally strong. Bandag Southern Africa continues to apply the same quality of standards that are used worldwide and is able to import all the latest Bandag innovations, plus introduce a few of its own. An example of this was the introduction of a 24/7 roadside emergency tyre assistance (ETA) programme, which features, among other things, a dedicated call centre, monthly tyre breakdown reports, daily alerts as tyre breakdowns occur and a national pricing consistency module.

More recently, Bandag Southern Africa has adopted, and adapted for local requirements, the latest O’TRead (off-the-road) products and services. O’TRead uses a cold, pre-cured retread system that benefits the life of casings and allows for easier tread application as the need to cut, splice or scrap tread is eliminated. Instead, the tread rubber, available in pre-determined sizes, fits in a puzzle-like manner around the tyre. It is specifically geared for tyres with rim sizes of more than 25” and has the all-important benefit of minimising downtime.

Over the past four decades, Bandag Southern Africa has also focused on fine-tuning its tyre-management software solutions. Today it is more involved than ever in the tyre decisions of many of the major fleets in this country. Its innovative, on-site programmes continue to enhance performance and endurance of tyre life, thereby gaining a reputation as the custodian of tyre management.

On-site auditing of tyre management procedures happens either monthly or quarterly with immediate feedback, helping to improve individual organisations’ key performance areas. As this service grows in popularity, Bandag SA senses the need for a more comprehensive analysis of tyre activity and has turned its sights to even higher levels of tyre operation.

As Laurent Colrat, marketing director of Bandag SA, puts it:  “Our product development is at its peak and we will not compromise on the reliability and consistency of our quality of manufacture. But what is vitally important now, and has been our focus since 2000, is the development of our customer and fleet solution packages. This is why, I believe, we have been nominated for a Focus on Excellence Award. Bandag SA wants to augment its product beyond ‘just the manufacture of tread rubber’. We intend to position the business as a hub of solutions to the trucking and fleet industry in Southern Africa.”

With that in mind, Bandag SA is expanding its footprint to include sub-Saharan countries, in particular the DRC. The intent is to push two franchise concepts: one being the development of the Bandag retreading factories; and, more importantly, the reach of the truck tyre specialist service – BTS (Bandag Truck Services).

BTS and its specialists concentrate and identify tyre mileage thieves, such as tyre pressures, tread selection and matching, wheel alignment and balancing problems. “This breed of service moves Bandag SA away from being purely a commodity-driven business to a customer orientated one, which in turn has a significant impact on the way transporters manage their fleets,” confirms Laskarides.

Outsourcing tyre concerns means customers can now concentrate on other critical aspects of their business operations. From large blue-chip companies to the smaller transporters, all are finding that the tailored tyre policies implemented by Bandag have innumerable benefits. Bandag hits at the vein of a company – its profit margins – by providing measurable and unbiased proof of performance and service delivery.

Research and development may be driven by the international brand, but Bandag SA realises that what may work in Latin America does not necessarily apply on the African continent. Colrat explains that his company needs, however, to push the imported advances in rubber manufacture and compounding to suit local conditions. “We have to validate all new technology in-house, tuning it to suit the varied requirements of our client base. We proactively address and listen to the requirements in the industry, seeking new levels of excellence proving over and over why we continue to be a leading supplier of services and products.”

And if you required any further evidence, the company also maintains consistency of quality, as is evidenced by ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 26000 and OHSAS 18001 certifications, and indeed is the only Bandag factory in the world to have all four certifications. It further provides warranties and guarantees on all its retreaded tyres against faulty workmanship or defective materials.

The honour of the Focus on Excellence nomination is, for Bandag SA, rather special. Colrat says: “Not only does it lift the Bandag brand; it is an acknowledgement of what we have done in the past and our ongoing commitment to tread new paths, proof of our reliability and quality ad infinitum.”

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