Mark Prisk MP autographs first Michelin Durable Technologies tyres in Stoke
Business minister Mark Prisk MP visited Michelin’s Campbell Road, Stoke-on-Trent Remix truck tyre retread plant today (23 May) and acknowledged its modernisation and the completion of the introduction of the first phase of Michelin Durable Technologies retreading there. The minister literally signed-off the first four tyres to roll off the new production line after they passed the inspection process. Prisk was there to see how £20 million of investment has been used to upgrade machinery and equipment.
Part of the funding for the modernisation came via a government Grant for Business Investment, which is said to have tipped the balance in favour of the long-term viability of the project. According to Michelin, the project has been developed as part of a plan to sustain manufacturing in the North Staffordshire region.
Welcoming the good news, Eric Le Corre Michelin UK’s managing director said: “I am delighted to announce that the first phase of this project has been completed and we are ready to see the first tyres come off the new production line.
“With Michelin’s investment and the grant from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, we have been able to upgrade the factory to re-manufacture the latest generation of truck and bus tyres incorporating Michelin Durable Technologies. This will offer our customers products with even greater performance and economy in use.
“The project has seen an exciting and challenging technological advance for the site. The investment will help build on the manufacturing skills base in North Staffordshire and help take the factory into the future.”
Mark Prisk, business minister, said: “I am delighted that Michelin is investing in the Stoke plant and making it into a world-leading modern manufacturing facility. Supported by Government, this investment is helping to protect over 400 skilled jobs.” Roughly 1,000 people work in a range of functions across Michelin’s Campbell Road campus.
£20 million investment makes way for Michelin Durable Technologies retreading
The project represents a significant development of the existing Michelin’s UK retread manufacturing operation and means Campbell Road will now be equipped to produce the latest Michelin Durable Technologies (MDT) truck and bus tyres in retreaded form. One of this range’s key technologies – zig-zag sipes – was visible on the first four 275/70 R22.5 tyres validated during the visit. Other first phase upgrades include the installation of an overhead conveyer system and significant upgrades to the both the ergonomics and efficiency of the factory.
Now that this initial phase of construction is complete, the focus of attention for Michelin management will switch to completion of the next stage. The ongoing nature of the project is evident from the fact that cranes and diggers are still at work on the Campbell Road site digging what appear to be foundations for an extended production space. Upon further investigation it is clear that the added work being done here represents phase two of the MDT upgrade programme. What the construction team are doing is building a new underground basement level upon which to erect a new tyre moulding room.
According to executives responsible for the project, this work was necessitated by the fact that another of the MDT technologies – raindrop sipes – require much greater mould opening forces than traditional procedures. This in turn calls for upgraded moulds and significantly more space. The new moulds, which have yet to be installed, will measure six metres in height and weigh in at 30 tonnes each. They are expected to be in place at some point towards the end of 2012 ready for 2013 production of these particular products. Work could have been finished sooner had it not been for construction challenges posed by the high water table on site.
Safeguarding Campbell Road’s long term future
Michelin sees the investment as a key part of enabling the plant to respond to the need for the latest generation tyre technology in the UK, producing more durable and environmentally friendly solutions for truck, coach and bus operators. As well as offering skills development opportunities to employees, increased productivity and improved working conditions, the investment is also designed to significantly reduce solvent emissions. Michelin representatives even go as far as suggesting the plant is becoming “a benchmark facility for the retreading industry worldwide”.
But how does this fit into a wider economic environment that has seen the UK (in general) enter a double dip recession this year and Michelin announce that its Dundee plant is idling production during the middle of this year?
Speaking to Tyres & Accessories Eric Le Corre pointed out that this investment helps safeguard the jobs of those currently working in Stoke with a view to enhancing the competiveness of the facility in the longer term. He conceded that – like the operation’s passenger car tyre production colleagues in Dundee – the wavering demand for truck and bus tyres (and therefore retreads) is likely to cause some production adjustments in the months to come. However, he made it clear that these will be “very marginal” compared to those made in Dundee and Ballymena. As it stands Campbell Road has been operating at roughly 50 per cent for the last year or so, which is said to have insulated the operation from over production problems. 50 per cent production at the site is expected to run for another year or so until demand calls for it to be ramped up again.
Highlighting the fact that Michelin is investing over £50 million across its three manufacturing locations across the UK over the next five to six years, Eric la Corre described this latest investment programme as indicative of the company’s long-term mindset. Likewise Mark Prisk MP told T&A that Michelin’s “commitment to quality, attention to detail and managing this change” exemplifies the government’s efforts to rebuild the automotive manufacturer supply chain in the UK. Pointing to the recent developments at Ellsemere Port (where Opel/Vauxhall recently announced £125 million was being invested in the construction of the latest Astra model) Prisk lauded Michelin’s efforts and suggested that companies offering professional service and support contracts like Michelin can sometimes be victims of their own success, with customers and consumers overlooking the efforts that go into attaining high levels of quality.