Electromobility is changing tire production

20.02.2018
from Joachim Göres | Schwäbische Zeitung

Whatever the diesel scandal might mean, there’s no doubt that the number of vehicles on the road worldwide is growing – and tire manufacturers are reaping the benefits. At the international Tire Technology Expo 2018, which is currently running in Hanover until this Thursday, many exhibitors were optimistic about the future.

“Since the diesel scandal emerged, demand for our rolling resistance test systems has actually grown stronger, because they make it possible to determine more accurately the actual effect the tires have on vehicle fuel consumption or emissions,” says Markus Kramer. Kramer is responsible for tire testing system sales at the ZF Friedrichshafen AG Group, which employs around 140,000 people worldwide.

New test technology

According to Kramer, there are also other reasons for the Passau-built systems’ sales to be increasing: “E-vehicles are significantly quieter than conventional vehicles, which means that tire and gear noise seem louder. We have developed our own test machines that can be used to analyze gear and tire noise.” In future, there will be an entirely new type of test technology used for autonomous driving. “Revenue from our test systems is increasing yearly, and I expect to also see a slight increase for 2018,” says Kramer.

Beckhoff Automation GmbH & Co. KG, which has a branch in Ravensburg, provides automation solutions that are built on PC-based control technology. This technology is seeing growing demand due to more stringent requirements in the area of tire production. “Winter tires now need to withstand speeds of 210 km/h in tests, and load capacities are constantly on the increase, for example with SUVs – this is also leading to more processing steps in tire production. Our control components ensure that, in spite of this, production time is not extended,” says Ralf Eulig, who is responsible for wholesale business. Eulig is also expecting future growth in demand for control technology in the areas of tire production and testing, as a result of stricter occupational safety regulations, among other things. A total of 3,350 employees worldwide generated revenue of EUR 680 million last year, and the tendency is continuing upward.

“The market is booming, people are investing all over the world. Asian tire manufacturers are building new factories in the USA and in Europe, which is a wonderful opportunity for us because we are familiar with the local standards, giving us an advantage over Asian suppliers,” says Rochus Hofmann, Managing Director of Zeppelin Systems GmbH, Friedrichshafen. The company supplies plant technology to tire factories for the production of rubber blends, with the technology developed and, in some cases, produced in Friedrichshafen. The company also produces in Asia for the local market there. “We are seeing the strongest growth in China and India, where orders are increasing sharply. That growth also protects jobs in Germany,” says Hofmann. Around 500 of the company’s 1,400 worldwide employees work in Friedrichshafen, and the plant there recently generated revenue of almost EUR 330 million. Hofmann expects the increase in e-mobility to transform tire production, as manufacturing in the industry is currently geared entirely towards conventional vehicles.

Figures for 2016 recently published by the German Rubber Manufacturers Association (WDK) show that 74,800 people are currently working in the sector, of which 24,300 are involved in the tire industry – a slight decrease on the previous year in each case. While a number of jobs have been cut in the areas of production and logistics, we are seeing a shortage of skilled workers and engineers. Revenue was EUR 11.3 billion last year, of which almost EUR 5 billion was generated in the tire industry. According to the WDK, the introduction in 2012 of the EU tire label – which indicates how well a tire responds to braking on a wet road, what the fuel consumption is and how loud it is in use – has increased the production of tires with high rolling resistance, as these offer better mileage and a longer service life.

However, the information on the label may not always be trustworthy: Efficiency class testing performed by the Rhineland-Palatinate State Office of Metrology and Verifications and the State Calibration Office of Saxony-Anhalt has shown that the efficiency class for nine out of 31 tires was actually poorer than indicated by the manufacturers. The WDK points out that the tires in question were unanimously produced by companies that are not members of its association. Corrective measures were initiated against these manufacturers, and they were asked to amend the incorrect details.

Zeppelin is buying

Munich construction machinery retailer Zeppelin – which is owned by the Zeppelin Foundation that the City of Friedrichshafen manages – plans to acquire Italian plant designer Nuova Ciba. The Group employs around 7,700 people and achieved revenue of EUR 2.36 billion in 2016, and with this acquisition it will expand its plant engineering division based in Friedrichshafen. The purchase will “further strengthen our market position in the rubber and tire production sector,” the company announced on Wednesday. “Business success for companies in the rubber and tire industry depends on a precise mix of raw materials. This acquisition is a further step towards strengthening our solutions capability for the long term,” says Zeppelin Systems Managing Director Rochus Hofmann. (sz)

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