Interview: Tom Williams, Kenda Tires

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Kenda Tires only made its first vehicle tires around 15 years ago, having previously focused on bicycle tires and tubes. But via its passenger car, truck and other vehicle offerings, the mid-market tire producer has been rapidly growing. To accelerate its sales in key regions, particularly the USA, and add to its portfolio of OE equipment deals – which currently comprises fitments in China with some spare tire deals in North America – Kenda has established a tech center in North Canton, Ohio, in the US Midwest.

The operation is being led by Tom Williams (above right), VP of engineering, who was hired in March 2014 and brings to the role his experience working in the R&D departments at Firestone, General Tire and, most recently, Hankook.

Above: Investment has totaled around US$2m with ongoing investments planned for the future

Williams has been setting up infrastructure for the center, which was officially opened in November 2015. He’s recruited the first members of his team, which now numbers 18, however that total could rise to 70 people depending on market growth.

“The majority were hired from the local area. From an experience point of view there are many tire experts based in Akron. We also have Akron University close by,” Williams notes.

The facility’s location is said to offer other advantages, too: “We’re in close proximity to the Akron-Canton airport and there are lots of hotels, restaurants and other amenities in the area.”

Above: The facility has a combined total floor space of 50,000ft² and provides room for future expansion

A significant revamp of the North Canton-based building was required, during which time, Williams was based out of a partner company’s facility in Tallmadge. “We completely rearranged walls and remodeled the inside area to make an office with new furnaces, air conditioning and mechanicals,” he says.

Staff here will work in collaboration with experts from Kenda’s two other R&D centers in Yuanlin, Taiwan and Kunshan, China, with cross-fertilization of ideas, technologies and experiences.

“We’ve had lots of meetings into how we can improve the overall global R&D process and we are cross-training people; I’ve had employees over from Taiwan,” says Williams. “In my 19 months with the company, I’ve spent around eight months of that time working in Taiwan. Otherwise, I talk to my counterpart there, multiple times a month.”

Above: Three departments have been established at the tech center comprising research, development and testing

The procurement of equipment, which is still underway, will include a typical array of tire test equipment as well as all the necessary CAD tools. Future investments could include a force and moment tester and an indoor wear machine. Kenda is also reportedly developing its own modeling software.

December 1, 2015

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Rachel's career in journalism began around five years ago when she started working for UKi Media & Events, having recently graduated from Coventry University where she studied the subject. Her favourite aspect of the job is interviewing industry experts, including researchers, scientists, engineers and technicians, and learning more about the ground-breaking technologies and innovations that are shaping the future of the automotive and tire industries.

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