Rome – Trelleborg Wheel Systems SpA, like its parent Trelleborg AB, always has taken great pride in its innovation and its ability to develop solutions to the most difficult problems.
It has been able to do that because technology is a key area of focus within the Trelleborg business model, according to Paolo Pompei, president of agricultural and forestry tires at Trelleborg Wheel Systems, which is headquartered globally near Rome.
Customers benefit from the technology advances, as does Trelleborg, which has expanded regularly because of the breakthroughs its research and development team has made, he said. The company has expanded that end of its operation regularly over the years.
In fact, its R&D operations in the US – located at its Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Charles City, Iowa, plants – soon will grow significantly. Pompei said the company will:
Add personnel to its US R&D staff;
Invest in a chemical laboratory at its Spartanburg site; and
Invest in a testing room at the firm's Charles City facility.
A timetable has not been released on when the additions will be made.
Stockholm-headquartered Trelleborg AB has been expanding in North America – primarily in the US – in the last several years, particularly its Trelleborg Wheel Systems and Trelleborg Sealing Solutions businesses.
Supporting Trelleborg Wheel Systems' plants and expansion moves in North America, Europe and Asia is its worldwide research and development operation. It features centralized research centres in Italy and the Czech Republic along with dedicated local units at factories that focus on the development of tires and rims for local markets.
Pompei said the integration of Mitas as – purchased by Trelleborg 31 May as part of a €1.17 billion acquisition of CGS Holding a.s. – into Trelleborg's operation “will create a new leader in the agricultural and forestry tires industry when we talk about innovation.”
Adding Mitas to the fold gave the company two manufacturing plants in the US, the Mitas 263,700-sq.-ft. factory in Charles City and Trelleborg's 215,300-sq.-ft. facility in Spartanburg, where the company converted a former coated fabrics site to radial agricultural tire production.
“Though we are in the start-up phase (at the sites), the two facilities can count on a state-of-the-art laboratory and teams fully dedicated to product development,” Pompei said. When the firm adds a new testing area at the Charles City factory, he anticipates it will support even faster development of the company's products.
“We develop products and solutions with the clear target of increasing the productivity and the efficiency of our customers and also to reduce the environment impact in terms of CO2 emissions,” Pompei said when discussing the firm's R&D setup.
In a very competitive market environment, he noted that Trelleborg's aim is to lower the working time for its customers and, more importantly, cut fuel consumption. “This is particularly important in North America where there is, in my opinion, still a lot to gain when we talk about efficiency in tires.”
He views the U.S. agricultural market as the biggest in the world and maintained the company's R&D capabilities in the country will play an important role in delivering products fully dedicated to the market.
Because of that, Trelleborg has put its plan in place to bolster and expand the capabilities of the R&D units at the Spartanburg and Charles City factories.
Further training of technicians at the sites is also a target in 2016 and 2017, Pompei noted. That will be achieved through a team of technicians traveling from Trelleborg's service centre in Italy to the company's US operations. “At least two expert trainers will be present continuously,” he said.
Key focus areas
“Our R&D organisation is based on five technical centres that perform product development activities in Europe, Asia and America,” Pompei said. “All in all, more than 140 technicians are organised to provide quick responses thanks to our local presence.
“They also ensure consistency and standardisation of product performance from whatever product is produced. This is due to a central approval on concept design and final release.”
Trelleborg has people fully dedicated to long-term projects and strategic investments, Pompei said, “along with colleagues working on continuous improvement and product development.”
The two teams are connected under the R&D banner. However, he said, they work in parallel. “You need to separate the two teams if you want to focus on long-term projects and innovative ideas.”
Pompei said the firm's product development team ties in with its commercial development strategy, setting targets in cooperation with the company's marketing and sales team.
“The advanced engineering team is focused on medium-term developments based on our trend analysis as well as joint development with premium tractor makers,” he said.
Trelleborg tests all incoming materials in addition to products at the plants, because it is an important part of the firm's quality control, he added.