The HPTC was set up with a €45 million investment
Back when Continental’s facility in Korbach, Germany celebrated its centenary in 2007, most people assumed the site’s best days were already behind it. At the time, the company aimed to relocate a greater proportion of its production to lower cost countries, and the onset of the financial crisis a year or so later did nothing to increase the attractiveness of locations such as Korbach. Therefore it came as a surprise when Continental announced a €45 million investment to set up a “factory within a factory” at the Korbach plant. On 7 June this facility, the High Performance Technology Center (HPTC), entered operation.
The plant was jointly inaugurated by Nikolai Setzer, head of Continental’s Tire business, Korbach plant manager Lothar Salokat, HPTC project manager Georg Reichert, and Jörg Schönfelder, chairman of the Korbach Works Council. The first tyre produced at the HPTC was a SportContact 6. The manufacture of 19- to 24-inch ultra-high performance tyres such as the Continental SportContact 6 – products that, as Lothar Salokat puts it, “meet the exacting requirements of high-powered sports cars” – will account for around two-thirds of the facility’s 350,000 units per annum capacity. The remaining third will be set aside for something that is arguably far more interesting.
As its name suggests, the High Performance Technology Center is not your run of the mill tyre factory. In addition to its production capabilities, the site also contains what Continental calls a “research department on the shop floor,” a facility designed to trial new tyre production processes and techniques. This effectively means Korbach will act as the extended workbench of Continental’s central R&D unit in Hanover-Stöcken, and any new techniques developed there will be rolled out to Continental’s tyre factories around the world.
In a first for Continental, all machinery in the HPTC is completely networked via sensor systems and software. This reliance upon ‘Industry 4.0’ data exchange enables the full documentation of every step in the process and how materials behave during processing.
“As a result, our tyre building experts, chemists and physicists are able to design cutting-edge processes and monitor every detail of their suitability for industrial-scale tyre production,” explains Georg Reichert, HPTC project manager in charge of construction in Korbach. “This means that from now on we can carry out even ultra-short production run testing on the conventional tyre making machinery used across Continental. Changes to individual materials and production steps and to vulcanisation temperatures and times can be simulated, and then their impact on the finished tyre can be investigated in vehicle tests.”
Continental says its “research department on the shop floor” includes everything usually found in plant that produces tyres, yet while all the tyre building machinery in the HPTC meets Continental’s usual standards, individual segments of the green tyre can be cured at different temperatures. This kind of “multi-zone” heating can be used for test series, for example, to enable detailed monitoring of the chemical reactions that take place during vulcanisation.
According to Nikolai Setzer, The HTPC “emphatically underlines Continental’s tight focus on technology and commitment to further development.” The head of the Tire division adds: “Reaching this technological milestone marks the completion of another major step in implementing our Vision 2025, which includes the ongoing expansion of our global tyre manufacturing capacity, not only in Germany and Europe but also in The Americas and the APAC region. In pursuit of this vision, since 2011 we have invested over €2 billion worldwide in production, R&D, job creation and new products.”