North Canton, Ohio – Among the reasons that American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd cites for opening a North American technical centre, establishing credibility with potential OE customers ranks at or near the top.
That assessment comes from American Kenda President Jimmy Yang, who called the still-new tech centre in North Canton “very vital to our future growth.
“Kenda has a very aggressive growth strategy, and we will continue to push our company to the next level,” he said during a recent open house at the 50,000-sq.-ft. facility.
The firm has invested about $2.5 million in outfitting the centre with the necessary equipment and laboratories needed to develop tires catered to the local market. Staffing has grown by seven to 25 in the seven months since the facility opened.
Tom Williams, vice president of engineering at Kenda, said there are plans to hire at least one more person in 2016 with more jobs projected to be added beyond this year.
Kenda is hiring local engineers, most from the University of Akron, the executives said. At least three employees during the tour introduced themselves as UA graduates – not counting Williams, also a University of Akron alumni. He added the firm has a strong relationship with the university.
He said the city always has had a reputation for some of the best polymer science technology and that he is pleased with the quality of employees that Kenda’s bringing in, especially how quickly some of the newer ones have learned and adapted to the tire industry.
“I am very pleased with the Akron University candidates that come in here,” Williams said. “We have no trouble filling the jobs we need from that pool of people. We do talk to other universities as well and do have some candidates from other universities.
“We had one person start this year from Mount Union (University), for instance. So it’s not solely Akron U. But there’s a reason we’re in Akron, Ohio, as a company. It’s got the right supply base for people and technology.”
Williams added that the technical centre will allow Kenda to bring regionally catered products to market in a quicker fashion. Aiding that is the company’s investment in custom catered software, which is proprietary but also necessary to help gear development toward North American requirements.
With the vast size of the continent, there are many different kinds of climates and driving patterns/speed limits that need to be taken into account, ranging from cold zones, deserts, mountain regions and a population that tends to drive faster than most other countries.
“There’s a lot of software available on the market you can buy. The problem is very little of it is truly geared to handle the development of tires,” Williams said. “Usually it’s the beginning point, not the endpoint. Because of that, we have to create our own in-house software that modifies and adds to that capability of the existing software.”
Yuanlin, Taiwan-based parent Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. reported tire sales of about $1.17 billion in 2014, good for 28th place on Tire Business’ Top 75 global tire rankings.
North America represents about a quarter of Kenda’s global sales.
Europe is also part of Kenda’s global growth strategy as it recently announced its intention to open a technical centre in the region. Kenda has hired an engineer Frits van der Steegen, to oversee establishing the centre.
As for US manufacturing, Yang hasn’t ruled it out, but said it is not in Kenda’s immediate future.
“We took this opportunity to showcase Kenda’s commitments and technical abilities,” he said. “With this technical centre, we’re telling our distributors we can design products that meet the requirements of the local market much, much quicker with engineers who are locally located.”
Kenda Rubber has manufacturing in Taiwan, China, Indonesia and Vietnam and broke ground last fall on a second facility in Vietnam.
It focuses on bicycle, industrial product, wheelchair and motorcycle tires. It has been branching out into the passenger car radial, light truck radial and truck and bus radial tire markets in the last few years, which is the primary reason for the company’s added investment in research and development.