Article from the ERJ China Tire Report 2018, published as a supplement in the July/August issue of European Rubber Journal magazine
Recently a new feature was added to Doublestar’s e-commerce and after-sales service app Starmonkey, allowing users to customise their tires in terms of pattern, framework, formula and colour.
Users first need to submit their vehicle’s make and model, frequent road conditions covering urban, off-road and all terrain, preferred tire performance including abrasion resistance, anti-puncture and impact resistance as well as favoured color. The app then generates the tire’s 3D model and price – your customised tire is just one click away.
The biggest issue in customisation is safety, as some of those features’ corresponding tread patterns and sidewalls may cause hazard if combined. Doublestar has been conducting numerous tests on the module combinations and such business is yet rather small: some of the above options still unavailable, but the company believes it is the future trend.
‘Smart manufacturing is not simply replacing people with machines,’ said Doublestar chairman Chai Yongsen. ‘Higher productivity can only lead to higher loss if a company can’t tailor its products to meet customers’ demand.’
Last year although Doublestar’s overall revenue dropped 19% to 4 billion yuan (€533 million), its tire products had 20% gross margin rate, up from 17% in 2016. Fueling Doublestar’s innovation and technology upgrade was a research team of nearly 600 people, 12% of its total employees.
Doublestar’s transformation into smart manufacturing started in 2013 when it culled out facilities it considered out-of-date, with 4 million unit annual capacity for bias tire and 2 million unit annual capacity for truck and bus tire, accounting for 60% of its total capacity at the time.
The company joined forces with Siemens to set up an Industry 4.0 innovation centre in 2015 and partnered up with ABB to open an applied industrial robotics research centre in 2016 – both at its Qingdao site.
The site also houses two of Doublestar’s smart plants. One is for truck and bus tires, inaugurated in 2016 and claimed to be the first of its kind to adopt smart manufacturing in all processes, tripling productivity while reducing below-standard products by 80%. The other is for passenger car tires and started up in mid 2017.
The truck and bus tire plant uses Doublestar’s own-developed system to coordinate the information on items, people and equipment and allows the processes involving liquid or powder feedstock to realise smart manufacturing. The plant also adopts an advanced planning and scheduling (APS) system for flexible production, making it the world’s second tire maker to have such a system in application.
Doublestar has been stronger in truck and bus tires, said the company, and the deal it inked with Kumho to become its controlling shareholder with a 45% stake will bring strength to its passenger car tire business.
Last December the company further announced a €191-million (1.5 billion yuan) investment into a relocation project in Shiyan, Hubei province and to upgrade it into a smart factory. The new plant has a planned annual capacity of 1.5 million unit truck and bus tires and 5 million unit passenger car tires.
The same month the firm also broke ground on a smart plant for scrap rubber recycling in Zhumadian, Henan province. It has €77 million investment earmarked and will be able to handle 200,000 tonnes of scrap rubber annually when in full operation.
The zero residual plant claims to be the world’s first “Industry 4.0” site for scrap rubber recycling, with smart technology used in processes such as sorting, rinsing, drying, conveyance, pyrolysis and storage. It also boasts zero emissions using Doublestar’s own waste-treatment technology.
About 80% of Doublestar’s machinery is developed and manufactured by itself. Its sales from machinery rose 29% last year to €13 million. In March, Doublestar broke ground in Qingdao on its joint venture with Hyundai for industrial robotics, especially smart logistics equipment. The new plant has €67 million investment earmarked and is expected to generate €160 million annual sales when in operation.