Based on report published in ERJ’s November/December issue:
New materials and processing technologies offer the way ahead for Chinese tire and rubber machinery maker, officials tell ERJ correspondent Jane Ho
The world’s second largest rubber machinery maker Mesnac is turning itself into a comprehensive supplier to tire makers, expanding its business in smart logistics and planning to add new rubber material to its portfolio.
The company plans to launch semi-finished tire components made from wet-mixed compounds using liquid synthetic rubber developed jointly by its subsidiaries EVE Rubber and Ecombine as well as Versalis, the petrochemicals arm of Italian oil and gas giant Eni.
“Mixing is the most costly, energy-consuming, space-taking process in a tire plant and is the hardest to automate,” said Long Jinjun, Mesnac’s CFO and vice president in charge of overseas sales on the sidelines of a Chinese tire smart manufacturing forum held this September in Qingdao, the company’s headquarters.
Long avers: “With the new material, future tire plants could be called satellite plants with much less investment required – we’ll supply the semi-finished components based on their flexible demand and they could start with the afterwards process. Each [automated] plant will only need a few dozen employees.”
The wet-mixed new material will also significantly improve tire performances, added Long. Tire tests both in-lab and on the road have demonstrated advantages in various aspects of tire performance, such as rolling resistance, wet skid resistance and especially wear resistance.
Mesnac pulled out from traditional mixers a few years ago. “You won’t need them in the future,” the Mesnac executive said.
On the smart logistics and automation front, Mesnac has a number of ongoing factory upgrading projects for domestic tire makers. “Last year was the worst time for us with nearly all tire sector investment frozen,” said Long. “This year the [tariff] situation cleared up and China’s tire makers will have to improve their efficiency. Now we are having almost more than we could handle.”
As part of its smart manufacturing solution, Mesnac provides RFID chips as well as a complete package of services such as installation – both after the product is made and during production, tailored as a process integrated into the tire plant’s automation system – and testing. The company has tested over 10,000 tires under different weather and road conditions across China, and conducted special impact tests on the chip’s location.
RFID chips track various data that could help tire makers optimise their business. “Where are the tires sold to, which province is doing well in sales, in what conditions are the tires used and what are the problems, how to improve the production processes and customise – such information are extremely important,” said general manager of Mesnac’s smart manufacturing division Jiao Qingguo at the forum. “It will generate new paradigms for the sector’s manufacturing and sales.”
China’s national RFID standard regarding its function, performance, installation and coding method was drafted by Mesnac and put into effect this July. An international standard, Mesnac being one of the drafters, is scheduled to come out by 2018.
“All China’s buses will be using RFID in a few years,” said general manager of Mesnac’s Internet of Things division Chen Haijun at the forum. “Buses in Guangzhou are already running with Michelin tires carrying RFID chips, and the public traffic [bureau] of Chongqing city is requiring RFID-embedded tires in its public tender.”
Currently used mostly on truck and bus tires, RFID chips are expected to become more popular for passenger car tires with the development of smart cars and the Internet of Vehicles. “It is important for tire makers but not for consumers at this stage,” said vice president Long. “A mere smart tire wouldn’t make much of difference for them.”
An industry leader with cutting-edge own technology, Mesnac still needs improvement in its machinery products, Long admits. “Our machinery has similar performance compared with European and US suppliers but cannot deliver as stable quality,” he said. “This involves the country’s overall industrial foundation – supply chain, experienced labour force and the likes – and is not something Mesnac can work out on its own over a short period.”
Pushing forward its global expansion, Mesnac has set up support centers across the world with local employees, and just inaugurated a new rubber machinery plant in Slovakia in early October.
The company’s overseas sales accounted for a third of its rubber machinery orders last year, and is expected to take up half this year. Growth has been great except in European, according to Long, where Mesnac’s top competitors are located and the clients are more conservative.
“Overseas clients have more predictable demands and the top [tire makers] hold the reins on the sector’s future development. Working with them helps us make matching strategies and avoid possible detours,” said Long. “Mesnac has basically completed its own upgrading.”