By P. Venugopal

Mike Hinsey,International Vice President, Granutech Saturn Systems, USA, a leading industrial recycling systems manufacturer, is widely considered to be a legend in the tyre recycling industry. He has been with Granutech for 33 long years and has been instrumental in taking the company to the world’s Top 3 position. Among the awards and accolades won by him include the coveted award from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI), USA, the largest recycling association in the world, for his outstanding contribution to the recycling industry.
In an interview to Rubber Asia on the sidelines of India Rubber Expo (IRE) 2017 in Chennai, he explains the high points of his 33-year-long association with Granutech and shares his views on wide-ranging issues such as the current status and future prospects of tyre recycling industry, the problem of mounting tyre wastes, recent innovations/improvements made in tyre recycling technology etc.
He says that the new developments in processing and product applications augur well for the industry, which continues on a path to produce finer and finer powder, find opportunities to blend rubber with plastics, and expand other traditional granulate markets. He feels that India is a unique case where demand for rubber granulate exceeds supply of scrap tyres and the scrap tyres have a value where processors are paying to receive the tyres.Excerpts from the interview:

You are widely acknowledged as a living legend in the global tyre recycling industry. Please explain how you got attracted to tyre recycling as a career and what have been your major contributions to the industry.

I don’t view myself as any sort of legend, nor do I believe others do. I am fortunate to have been involved in an industry for more than three decades and have met and learned from true industry veterans. My position allows me to see and meet the best in the world, learn from what make them successful, and perhaps share an idea or two that helps them.
Having been involved in the global recycling community I place a high value on relationships and wanting to see a customer be successful. I believe that customers view my intentions as genuine and as such, they are candid and open with me about their business.
I see first-hand how supporting and contributing to an industry rewards you in many different ways, from direct machinery sales to professional growth, and innumerable friendships.

You have been with Granutech for 33 long years and has been instrumental in taking the company to the world’s Top 3 position. Please explain how you achieved this rare feat and also please give us an insight into your management philosophy that helped you to achieve outstanding corporate success.

To be candid, I joined the firm in 1983 at the age of 24 with little vision that I would get to this position, have the chance to meet the people I have, and be a part of such an emerging industry.
I don’t get too hung up on rankings and what the competition is doing. That’s not to say that you don’t want to be aware and knowledgeable of their abilities, but I have no control over their products and strategies. I can only have influence on what happens within GranutechSaturn and I am outspoken in my opinions about where the company should be going and how I think we can best get there.

Please share your views on the current status and future prospects of tyre recycling industry? What are the new and innovative products made out of recycled rubber?

It is interesting times for the tyre recycling industry at the moment. The unfounded media concern of granulated rubber’s health effects have dampened growth in the sports field market. While this movement has led to more studies from a wide variety of entities, I expect they will confirm what the decades of other studies have found, that recycled rubber is safe.
I relate this to the story in the 90’s where we were all going to get brain cancer from our mobile phones according to every media outlet. It took a strong scientific campaign to refute the baseless allegations and cost the mobile phone industry millions of dollars in the process. Unfortunately, tyre recycling processors don’t have the pockets of global phone providers so they are having to fight this in a more budget conscious manner.
The encouraging side of the industry is the new developments in processing and product applications. The industry continues on a path to produce finer and finer powder, find opportunities to blend rubber with plastics, and expand other traditional granulate markets. This was primarily the reason for the strongest year for our firm in nearly a decade.

Please explain the importance of tye recycling in terms of its benefits to people, environment etc.

While scrap tyres represent a very small percentage of the total waste stream, they are one of the most difficult products to dispose of. Our firm’s involvement from the late 1970’s drove us to build the most powerful shredders available with the knowledge that if we can design machinery to handle tyre recycling, the machinery will hold up in any other application.
You only need to look at the environmental issues of the massive tyre dumps in the Gulf region to be able to still see the impact to the environment of whole scrap tyres.
We had similar issues in North America in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s before there was a concentrated effort to clear these stockpiles and eliminate the hazards associated with them. Those hazards include massive fires, ground water run-off concerns, breeding area for insects carrying disease, and a general blight to growth and development of the land holding the tyre pile.

Tyre retreading is catching up in the PCR segment as well. What do you think of the future prospects of tyre retreading?

I am not particularly close to this part of the market though I have gained from customers that the low cost of imported tyres has virtually eliminated car tyre retreading and is making truck tyre retreading much more challenging due to low costs of new tyres.

How serious is the problem of mounting tyre wastes. How do nations tackle this growing environmental menace?

I actually see the tyre waste issue being better managed. India is a model for the market where there is demand exceeding supply and the scrap tyres have a value where processors are paying to receive the tyres. There are very few areas in the world where this is the case.
I remain puzzled how many Governments chose to do nothing to promote markets while watching their steadily growing scrap tyre stockpiles. Only recently has there been a focused effort to promote rubber modified asphalt in the Gulf region. There are processors with warehouses full of rubber with no market demand in the Gulf. Should those Governments get on board with this opportunity they could create demand exceeding supply nearly overnight.
As I said, I’m puzzled why in this era with so much knowledge of the benefits of rubber asphalt, Governments with a scrap tyre problem are not more proactive to market development for rubber granulate.

What are the recent innovations/improvements made in tyre recycling technology, such as pyrolysis, devulcanizationetc?

I continue to watch this part of the market as it has the opportunity to change the game for scrap tyre recyclers. Many of our inquiries are now associated with this market segment but it is still too early in my opinion to state there has been a clear breakthrough for the production of high-quality materials through pyrolysis, or gasification.
We have supplied machinery to prepare scrap tyres for pyrolysis and have quoted many more projects. Our ability to make a steel-free feedstock at high capacity has separated us from the competition. The elimination of the steel is significant to reduce wear, eliminate ash residual, and reduce energy since the steel only consumes heat and reduces the thermal value of tyre chips.
On the other hand, devulcanization has been effective for an extended time in the production of reclaim rubber sheet. While the process does not fully devulcanize rubber, there is adequate devulcanization achieved to allow the reclaim sheet to be applied in industries around the world. India and China are global leaders in this field.

You have been an active participant of IRE 2017. How do you look at the Indian tyre recycling market? Do you have any plans to set up a manufacturing facility in India?

The Indian market is very well-established with major processors, yet there remains a steady stream of new market firms. As I mentioned, demand for rubber granulate exceeds supply of scrap tyres and results in a need to import tyres and purchase them as feedstock. There are also challenges to compete with Asian supplied machinery suppliers and this requires us to work with our local partners to supply a mix of machinery in a system from both the US and India.
Our ability to make fine powder at high rates ultimately separates us from other suppliers. With low cost labour available, the Indian businessman frequently opts to go with less sophisticated machinery at a lower cost and then surround the process with labour. This is far different than the US or European processors who seek to automate processes and eliminate labour.

You are a recipient of an award from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI), USA, the largest recycling association in the world, for your outstanding contribution to the recycling industry. Please explain the significance of the award. Also please let us know what are the other major awards and recognitions won by you for your professional excellence.

To be candid, I was rather surprised to receive the award. It was the first time a supplier and not a tyre recycler had been honoured for “Service To The Industry”. As I shared at the time, this recognition was more about all the processors that had allowed me into their facilities, shared their successes and also their failures, and allowed me the opportunity to assist where I could. All prior recipients were industry pioneers in my view so I was honoured that an industry felt my support and contribution was worthy of being recognized.
I remain active in the ISRI trade association, serve as President of their Recycling and Research Foundation, and serve locally on the North Texas District Export Committee, a mentoring organization operated by the US Department of Commerce that serves to assist businesses in the export goals.
My most satisfying recognition is that smile from my grandsons when returning from travels!