Goodyear Dunlop inaugurates retreading plant, further investment to come
Last year, Europe’s logistics industry began its recovery after an awful 2009 and the truck tyre aftermarket picked up long with it; replacement market truck tyre sales increased 17 per cent year-on-year while sales of retreads, which account for one-third of Europe’s replacement truck tyre market, also increased 14 per cent. Even before this upturn began, Goodyear Dunlop showed confidence in its retread product portfolio by evaluating its European operations and indentifying an area to further strengthen. Over the following year the company invested 3.7 million euros establishing its third European mould cure retreading facility; at the start of April 2011, some half a year after producing its first retreaded tyre, Goodyear Dunlop celebrated the site’s official opening.
“We have good coverage in the UK with our retreading facility in Wolverhampton and the south of Europe we are serving out of Lyon, where we have a good working operation there, but we were missing a little bit of coverage in the German area and also in Central Europe,” states Francois Dele, Goodyear Dunlop’s EMEA region director of Commercial Vehicle Tires Manufacturing, explaining the reason for going ahead with a third retreading plant. Gaps in the tyre maker’s coverage of the important German market meant this particular country was viewed from the start as a prime location for a new facility. In the end Goodyear Dunlop chose to establish the retreading plant alongside its established truck tyre factory in Wittlich, not far from the Luxembourg border.
At an event marking the Wittlich retreading plant’s official opening, Goodyear Dunlop’s EMEA vice-president of Commercial Vehicle Tires, Henry Johnson, pondered the decision: “Why Wittlich?” In answer to this, Johnson noted that “Wittlich today is a key logistic centre for Goodyear Dunlop tyre production. In our plant in Wittlich we have a European logistics centre from where we distribute the majority of our truck tyres.” Another advantage Wittlich offered was its established focus on truck tyre production – around a million new truck tyres are manufactured there every year, along with passenger car, van and earthmover tyres. The presence of existing truck tyre technologies and components at the Wittlich site facilitates their shared use, and Johnson shared that the ability to do this is “key to our retreading strategy going forward.” In summary, the Commercial Vehicle Tires unit vice-president described Wittlich as being “at the heart of the main European truck tyre market” and ideally positioned to serve its target markets.
The addition of retreading capacity to Wittlich directly led to the creation of sixty new jobs and this will later be increased to 90, bringing the total number of workers at the site to over one thousand and giving Goodyear Dunlop a significant presence in the local area. At the official opening of the plant’s retreading operation, Wittlich mayor Alexander Licht spoke of the high regard in which the tyre maker is held there: “Our district is proud to have this firm here. As one of the largest employers in this region, Goodyear Dunlop has a good name. Not just a good name for the quality of its products, also a good name for the quality of its jobs.”
50% capacity expansion planned for mid-2011
At Wittlich the focus is, as in Wolverhampton and Riom, on mould cure retreading, namely the premium Goodyear branded TreadMax and Dunlop MultiTread ranges, which are retreaded on ‘Max Technology’ casings, and the NextTread portfolio of standard Goodyear and Dunlop patterns. Initial production focuses on tyres for 22.5 and 19.5-inch rim diameters in a total of 13 dimensions. During 2011, the plant’s first full year of operation, Goodyear Dunlop anticipates producing 100,000 mould cure retreads at Wittlich, however a further. 1.2 million euro expansion planned for the site in mid-2011 will boost annual capacity to 150,000 units per annum. This, when added to Wolverhampton’s current capacity of 80-90,000 units a year and Riom’s 90-100,000, will Give Goodyear Dunlop an annual European mould cure retreading capacity of up to 340,000 pieces. Even so, room for further growth exists; according to Hubert Moquet, the company’s EMEA director of Retread Operations, the Wittlich plant has the potential to be further expanded to a capacity of 300,000 tyres a year.
“We consider premium quality retreaded tyres as an important part of our fleet tyre management programme,” Moquet adds. “The high investment and the establishment of our third hot retreading facility in Wittlich is the best proof of how important the issue is for us. Premium retreads are an essential part of our growth strategy in commercial vehicle tyres.” News of further additions to both the tyre maker’s premium ranges was also announced at the Wittlich plant inauguration; the addition of six new TreadMax patterns means that Goodyear can now offer ten patterns and twenty sizes in its premium range. Hubert Moquet comments: “The new products we are introducing and the extra capacity that our new facility in Wittlich provides, mean that we can not only produce more tyres but also cover a far wider range of applications, such as for mixed service and municipal vehicles.” Three new patterns have been added to the Dunlop MultiTread line-up, including a trailer tyre, a 19.5-inch drive tyre and a municipal drive tyre. The MultiTread range now covers five eight SP 444 sizes (five 22.5-inch and three 19.5-inch fitments) plus two SP 244 sizes. These new sizes were, as is the case for all Goodyear Dunlop’s European mould cure retreads, developed in the same Luxembourg based development centre as the company’s new commercial vehicle tyres. Goodyear Dunlop EMEA Tire Technology director Henk van Tuyl notes that future retreadabilty is taken into consideration and integrated into the design and development of all new commercial vehicle tyres.
Computer controlled precision
Anyone who has already visited the tyre maker’s retreading plant in Wolverhampton would immediately recognise many similarities in the 4,500 square metre German facility. Goodyear Dunlop has utilised the same basic layout that has already proven itself to work effectively in the two existing facilities, the only notable difference being that newly arrived casings now undergo shearography before receiving a visual inspection; the order was reversed in Wittlich to improve efficiency by eliminating unsuitable casings before the more time consuming visual inspection is performed. Incidentally, between 10 and 30 per cent (the exact proportion varies from supplier to supplier) of all casings delivered to Wittlich for retreading fail the rigorous inspection process and must be returned to the casing supplier. Following inspection, casings are buffed using automated, computer controlled equipment; in the near future the refilling of any defects in the casing rubber will also be controlled by computerised equipment that can acquire and utilise specific tyre information from the facility’s server. Following curing – also computer controlled – all tyres are visually inspected and pressure tested before receiving an engraved serial number and being dispatched to customers.
When sharing details about the new Wittlich retreading facility, Henry Johnson stated that its entry into service will not have any impact on the company’s existing plants in Wolverhampton and Riom. “One of the things that is important in retreading, and particularly in the mould cure retreading process, is the supply chain,” Henry Johnson elaborates. “So you need to have a plant that’s not too far away from the market.” The two established sites will continue to serve the respective regions while Wittlich will, in addition to meeting strong domestic demand, will look eastwards for business. And this is a reason for investing in a capacity at least 50 per cent larger than that at either Riom or Wolverhampton; while the UK and Western Europe retreading market is already predominantly mould cure, Central Europe remains a mixture of the two technologies and the further east you travel the stronger the pre-cure markets become. It is expected that the proportion of mould cure retreads will rise in Eastern Europe as the market there continues to mature. Wittlich will meet this growing demand for the time being. However it came as no surprise that, when asked if Goodyear Dunlop was considering the future possibility of setting up a fourth retreading plant in Europe, Henry Johnson replied “We might do it further east – this would be a logical thing to do.”