SMS Tire Processing
John Simpson • 606-355-7524
About 10 years ago, John Simpson and his father saw an opportunity in the stockpiles of used tires in his area of Kentucky. “They had a tire problem and they had no solution to it,” John said.
The solution was SMS Tire Processing, the Simpson family company that picks up, shreds, and sells the tire material, wires, inner tubes and rims from used tires. One thing the company doesn’t do is sort out useable tires, and Simpson thinks that’s one reason his company has survived while he’s seen many competitors go out of business.
Simpson explained that the time and labor required to sort tires to reclaim the still-usable ones can be expensive. With the economy the way it is, people are hanging on to their tires much longer before they purchase new ones.
Rather than try to make money from selling usable tires, SMS decided to maximize profits by reducing the cost of handling and transporting the tires. Instead of picking up tires in labor-intensive box trucks that required manual loading and unloading, SMS now uses garbage trucks that require less labor. The other benefit is that the garbage trucks compact the tires, which means they can “run double the tires with half the amount of people.”
While many of the tires SMS processes are automotive, there are a lot of farm, construction and mining vehicles in the area that use tires with inner tubes, and SMS collects those tubes as well. Since there are enough tubes to make collection worthwhile, they’re usually shredded and often end up as o-rings for automotive use.
Much of the shredded rubber goes to paper mills where it is burned in kilns for energy, but some goes to what Simpson described as “microwave systems with humungous conveyor systems” where the rubber is converted to a biodiesel product.
Some of the rubber finds its way into lightweight concrete, and some is turned into white mulch that is sold locally. Simpson said that the mulch market is one potential area for company growth, and he is considering expanding to sell colored mulch products.
“We’d have to change our process to get exactly what they’re looking for,” since the mulch would require more grinding as well as coloring.
That colored mulch product is just part of Simpson’s plans for the future. “I actually plan on doubling in size – expanding and going as big as we can,” he said. “Most of us are all young – mid-20’s to 40’s – so it’s a long time before we retire.”
The “we” he’s talking about are the family members that work for the company. Out of seven employees, “just about everybody except for two are family,” Simpson said. Among other family members, Simpson’s brother-in-law, Zac Banks, runs the shredding operation. His cousin Brad Brown, runs the machine shop that existed for seven years before the tire business was born.
Simpson’s father, Johnny Simpson, is the company president and was the co-founder of the tire operation along with Simpson. “Me and my dad, we started this right after 9/11,” Simpson said. “We started it basically with nothing – no help, no financial backing. We worked night shift jobs and ran this during the day. It’s been hard.” They purchased shredders, but built their own conveyors in their machine shop. What made it even harder for SMS was that the business is located in what Simpson described as a “far-out part of the county” where political clout doesn’t exist. “We’ve jumped through a lot of hurdles.”
The company was powered by generators for five years before they ran – and paid for – their own electrical lines. Before the electricity was hooked up, Simpson said, “the fuel man stayed here more than we did.”
With the electricity connected, the company was able to install another shredder to increase capacity. Another improvement was the move from “manual cutting machines to automated and computerized shredding,” which increased production from 50 tires per hour to 1,200 per hour.
Simpson said one of the best things about his job is that he’s “got a lot of job security,” and he added, “we’ve got a great crew to work with.” On a similar note, he said that the business has introduced him to “a lot of good people,” and he said that he’s made “a lot of friends – a lot of long-term friends.”