Bridgestone Tyres-owned Bandag was showing off its environmental credentials during a tour of the Brisbane Bandag facility for Diesel Workshop. However, the company was keen to show that modern technology has improved the process markedly and – provided the correct air pressures and axle weights are maintained – there’s simply no valid reason why retreads won’t give similar or even better mileage as cleanskins, while saving the operator considerable dollars.
The company is working very hard towards two main goals – zero waste to landfill, and being self-sufficient in water usage. Big strides have been made in both areas – waste has been slashed, while water tanks have been installed around the facility. What is traditionally thought of as a ‘dirty’ industry is in fact operating in a clean, sustainable fashion in line with Bridgestone’s global commitment.
The company’s waste product is nearing zero, for example, with a third-party negotiation currently under way to create a facility to take the last of Bandag’s rubber off-cuts and grind them down into a fine powder that can be included as an ingredient in new tread. And this is but one of the initiatives Bandag has undertaken to reduce its environmental footprint.
“Over the last six years, we’ve been working hard to reduce our town water consumption, as we use about 30,000 litres a day,” says Greg Nielsen, General Manager – Retread Business, Bandag. “We now have about 1.5 million litres of rainwater-storage capacity and we harvest off as much roof area as we can.”
Similarly, an array of solar panels amounting to 200kW has been installed, although this supplies less than one per cent of the electricity requirement.
“It’s a very power-hungry operation – our power bill is about $110,000 a month,” Greg explains. “We plan to install a solar farm using the available space to further reduce our manufacturing costs and impact on the environment.”
An Australian manufacturing success story
The Bandag factory at Wacol in Brisbane’s west is definitely state of the art in its field. By utilising the latest technology, and adhering to stringent procedures and quality control to produce a superior quality product, the company has defied the trend of manufacturing closure in Australia.
Since 2016, in fact, the company has been supplying retread materials to the Asian region and it expects significant export growth in the years to come. Bandag maintains it has been able to remain competitive by offering a superior-quality, cost-effective business solution, keeping jobs and industry alive and well in Australia.
The company currently has 94 employees, down from 106 five years ago. It’s a very modest decrease, which Greg Nielsen says was necessary to ensure its viability.
“In the drive to future-proof the business we had to look at automation, working harder and being more productive,” he explains.
Another vital key to the successful expansion is having sufficient warehouse space to hold the rubber prior to export. The warehouse holds about one million kilograms of rubber, which is around two months’ supply.
“There are 38 tread designs and 130 different sizes so we have quite a complex inventory management process,” Greg Nielsen continues. “We supply tread Australia wide, as well as to New Guinea, New Zealand, Fiji, and we recently started supplying the Asia region, including South Korea, China and Japan.”
Ironically, this expansion came about because a Bandag factory in Thailand couldn’t produce the tread as cost effectively as the Australian operation and is therefore being closed down, Greg explains. As a result, around one million kilograms of rubber will be exported to the Asia region in 2018. This really flies in the face of the recent trend that’s seen many Australian businesses forced into extinction due to an inability to compete with Asian counterparts.
“We’ve worked really hard over the last six years to improve our productivity and lower our costs,” Greg concludes. “This extra million kilograms will help us stay in business.”
After seeing first-hand the sophisticated processes that combine to create a Bandag retread and hearing about the push to reduce the company’s environmental impact, it was logical to conclude that this is an Australian operation well positioned to meet the needs of the trucking industry, both here and abroad, well into the future.
Put simply, by providing a top-quality product that inherently reduces waste at an affordable price, it’s a win-win for both the truck operator and the environment.