Peter Pritchard thinks he has the best job in the world. He’s a Rubber Technician.
He joined Bandvulc, Britain’s largest commercial tyre retreader, in 1992 as a laboratory technician at the company’s headquarters at Lee Mill, near Ivybridge.
“I was working in quality control and I was just fascinated,” he says. “I was mainly self-taught and I became interested in everything that was going on in the factory and so I worked hard to get qualifications to become a rubber technologist.”
When he takes customers on factory tours, they are often taken aback at the efforts Bandvulc go to in production.
“Rubber is a natural product – you tap it from trees all over the world – and we process it for qualities and properties. We then mix it with synthetic elements. In domestic cars tyres that would be mainly man-made but with a truck you need more natural rubber because it has to be very durable. These vehicles might need to go on building sites which are uneven with lots of debris. They need to be tough and resistant. Car tyres, by comparison, are very low impact.
“We find out what our customer needs from a tyre and we can engineer it to suit their needs. They might want a tyre for vehicles involved in waste collection from rural or urban areas, or for supermarket trucks which will travel mainly on motorways. Waste or tipper truck tyres need to be really hard-working. We can engineer the tyres for different applications – we have the ability here to create a bespoke product.”
This year Bandvulc marks 50 years since it was established in 1971. The size of the company has grown – now retreading a tyre every 3 minutes – and in 2016 were acquired by the Continental Tyre Group.
This has come with access to Continental’s expertise and facilities, but it’s not all one-way says Peter, who is very proud of the work done at Bandvulc in South Devon.
“We have our own on-site mixing facility where we can work with suppliers bringing us new types of oils, or polymers. We can do trials in the lab to start with and then move on to processing and field trials at our own test sites. Having our lab literally a mile away from the main factory is unique for a small business. We get great support from Continental’s German research and development teams, but it’s a two-way process and we share a lot of information.”
Bandvulc is always working hard to develop tyres that are better for the environment and offer what customers want, like saving fuel.
“Having tyres last longer is also good,” says Peter. “It’s very environmentally friendly. We are taking used tyres and recycling them and that’s a massive environmental saving, but they have got to perform as good as new.
“We are always thinking about new products and working with the technology. We are proud to be coming up with innovative ideas for making tyres, working on things like composition and the best tread. We are driving forward to the future and that’s exciting.”