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The last twenty years have seen fast-paced improvement in tire manufacturing, urged by ever-higher standards of tire consumers, regulators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Greater dependence on automation technologies and building new factories which streamline automated production are some of the means for tire manufacturers to meet growing global demand, improved environmental regulations and requirements for consumer labeling.

A market research by Smithers Rapra predicts that tire manufacturing worldwide will grow almost 4% per annum till 2022 and will be driven chiefly by growing demand, innovations in tire manufacturing, capacity expansion and lasting capital spending by tire producers.

Arthur Mayer, author of “The Future of Tire Manufacturing to 2022”, says that the tire industry is now in its middle of the boom cycle, taking into consideration net addition of new capacities and capital spending. Developments which influence tire factories and production processes comprise new powertrains uptake, burdens of logistics, new emerging markets, acquisitions and mergers, scarcity and growing prices for real estate. Also, there are some market drivers which directly influence manufacturing and they include environmental regulations, tire regulations, changing material and product design, market demand for tires.

All the factors combined exert pressure on tire producers to innovate from some individual steps in production chain (e.g. mixing and curing) to tire manufacturing as a whole. Changes in tire manufacturing are now accelerating and there are growing trends towards outsourcing, minimization of material use, plant specialization and so on. Meanwhile, some other innovations take part in reshaping the industry, too. Among them are: ubiquitous automation and innovation in equipment, dissemination of smart factories using Radio-frequency identification (RFID), improved tire modeling and testing.

Mayer adds that the aggregate capacity of the industry reaches some 2.4 billion units and this number on the net basis grows at the rate of some 3% per annum which is less than the rate of capital spending, growth of demand and growth of production.

Technical innovation

Experts say there are five major fields in tire manufacturing process and each of them has its own dynamics and capacity to evolve over the next five years. All-encompassing trends imply automation and outsourcing of some (one or even more) of the processes before tires are made.

1. Compounding and mixing

In this field, the major trends are outsourcing, automation, new processes and materials science. The field bears the biggest potential to enhance efficiency. Experts predict that by 2022 it can be entirely outsourced.

2. Preparation of components

Key issues to prepare components are quality control and automation, because producers aim to enhance their efficiency.

3. Building tires

As the majority of industries adopt automation in developed countries, tire manufacturing is expected to evolve towards becoming a fully automated industry with a highly advanced manufacturing environment.

4. Curing

This step is referred to as the most critical one, as curing remains the major bottleneck in nearly every plant. Tire industry aims to improve in mold release and cleaning. Also, it is crucially important to devise advanced tread and use soft rubbers. It is expected that advancing materials and equipment will enhance quality of tires and diminish cycle time over the next five years.

5. Finishing and Testing

In this field, key role is played by automated data analysis technologies which can supplement traditional inspection. This will enable to reduce errors and increase cost efficiency.

Other technological innovations regard to the very fundamentals of plant operation and design of tires. Smart or advanced manufacturing initiatives are commonly referred to as industry 4.0. Digital modeling of products is expected to make tire development faster and balance rolling resistance, wear life, wet grip.

Activity of suppliers

Tire companies throughout the world manage to sustain and grow capital spending due to advances in machinery and developments in efficiency. Also, there is a need to get closer to the key markets and customers. The entire tire industry spent some $13.4 billion on equipment in 2016. This figure is expected to grow over the next five years to keep pace with challenges and changes. This is expected to happen in production technologies and in terms of growth in regional demand.

In recent years, the top tier of tire producers proved to be relatively stable. However, mergers and acquisitions contributed to standardization and advances in production technologies. Experts say that mergers and acquisitions are to continue.

Regional perspectives

For reasons of logistics, tire producers usually open local factories in the key sales areas. All over the world, price for raw materials is very similar and what varies greatly are labor and energy costs. Producers tend to get closer to their major customers: e.g. vehicle OEMs or replacement tire purchasers.

In terms of large capacities, demand, production, exports and growth opportunities, Asia-Pacific region remains to be the most attractive one. This is mainly due to the growing Chinese market and technology advances (e.g. liquid phase mixing) which yield significant competitive advantages. Artificial intelligence also becomes ever-more used in tire production. For instance, Bridgestone in Japan is the pioneer in this field.

Europe remains the second-largest region where tires are produced. It continues to be an advancing manufacturing leader. It is expected to further lead the way on regulation and manufacturing standards.

Another mature market is North America. It became attractive for foreign investment in local production capacities. A good example is an automated plant in Georgia.

As regards Central and South America, they are mainly consuming areas, however they still attract new investments in manufacturing. The same applies for Middle East and Africa.

Article source: Tire Review