Bridgestone Bulldog in Bourne has invested £5 million in tyre retread machinery and jobs
For anyone who wonders where thousands of worn out tyres go, a team close to home has the answer.
The Bulldog factory in Bourne operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, turning balding rubber rings into fresh tyres that can be reused on vehicles travelling across the UK and further afield.
Now part of the international tyre firm Bridgestone, Bulldog, which is located near the council tip in South Fen Road, is about to turn 50 years old and has just invested £5 million in new machinery.
As a result its team of 60 employees seems destined to grow, with a dozen more jobs likely to be created as demand increases for the firm’s retreads.
Andrea Manenti, Bridgestone’s north region vice president, said: “While the investment has also been targeted at continuing to improve productivity in the plant to ensure our products can deliver best value to our customers, it also demonstrates Bridgestone’s long-term commitment to the factory in Bourne.
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“We are proud to have a dedicated, highly skilled and long-serving workforce in the plant and this investment safeguards their jobs.
“With our planned sales growth over the mid-term we are anticipating our team will grow by a further 20%.”
Bourne has been the home of Bulldog since 1974 and it is now the biggest retread plant operated by Bridgestone in Europe
Andrea added: “This is testament to the people we are fortunate to have had in our team. Many of the staff have grown up with us, and many have had different family members work for us over the years.”
Retread tyres haven’t always commanded the best reputation but improved production techniques and a drive for sustainability mean they are now seen as cost-effective and safe for firms operating lorries, buses - or even aeroplanes.
“Tyres carry lives,” said Andrea, who was keen to highlight the firm’s stringent checks of each tyre on the factory floor.
“We support the movement of people and goods and only a few metres of braking distance can mean life or death.”
Around the factory are signs for staff that say: “Remember you are all inspectors”.
Bridgestone’s Bulldog factory serves several vehicle fleets, including those for food retailer Greggs, Royal Mail, and Stagecoach.
The Bourne team processes about 200,000 old tyres a year. If stacked, the pile would be about 40 miles tall.
Fortunately, old tyres arrive and new ones leave each week, meaning relatively few are stored at the site.
Once processed, they are despatched under the new ‘Bandag Hotread’ name, which features on the tyre walls.
Meanwhile, the Bulldog factory recycles about 520 tonnes of rubber dust annually, and 4,400 tonnes of scrap tyres. This equated to savings of 4 million litres of oil and 2,000 tonnes of rubber.
In a year, the CO₂ emissions are 4,000 tonnes lower than if the factory manufactured the same number of new tyres.
The retreading process…
Each incoming tyre is manually inspected to make sure it is suitable to be reused. A machine then identifies defects the human eye cannot.
Two new buffing machines take the old tread off old tyres, collecting rubber waste and dust. Some is recycled for playground surfaces, roads and paths. The new buffers use less energy and are quicker than those previously on site.
Once stripped down, any repairable damage is dealt with.
This process looks for any deeper damage, such as nail holes, which are then repaired.
The Black Dragon is a new machine that ‘builds’ the new tyre onto a stripped back casing. Thin rubber is fed onto the tyre walls and thicker rubber onto the parts under the tread. New tread is attached.
The curing presses bond the rubber. The tyre can be ‘cold’ cured at about 115C or ‘hot’ cured at about 155C. Bulldog has invested in eight new hot cure presses. Hair-like strands of rubber seen on new tyres arise because the presses have thin tubular holes to allow air pockets to be squeezed out of the rubber.
The finished retread tyre is inspected again.