AKRONAmerican Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. plans to expand and develop research and development (R&D) centers in Akron and Taiwan, which the firm said will assist with testing and product development across all categories.
Overseeing this development will be Tom Williams, who the firm recently selected as its vice president of engineering. He will ultimately be responsible for the North American market.
Mr. Williams said he already has hired a new employee at Kenda's current technical center run by its Akron-based subsidiary Martin Wheel.
More growth is on the horizon for Akron and Taiwan through people, equipment and capabilities, he said.
Kenda is not building a new center in Akron right at the moment, Mr. Williams said, but either expansion at Martin Wheel or a new facility for Kenda is likely on the horizon.
For now, the growth in Akron will be through Martin Wheel.
We're not going to stay small in Akron, we're going to put more capability in place, Mr. Williams said. The only question is whether we want to do it jointly with Martin Wheel or independently.
We don't really at this time have anything cast in stone.
The tire maker is following a similar roadmap in Taiwan, though Mr. Williams said the growth there is occurring much quicker. While he will be splitting time between Taiwan and Akron, initially he estimated he'll be spending about 70 percent of his time in Asia for the first three years.
Once the initial growth period in Asia is complete, he will return to the U.S. to focus more on developing the Akron center.
In Taiwan we're moving a little faster, he said. We're growing a little more aggressively over here. We're looking at potentially new facilities, expanding the facilities we already have, adding people and equipment.
American Kenda is a subsidiary of Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. and focuses on bicycle, industrial product, wheel chair and motorcycle tires. Mr. Williams said the firm has branched out into the passenger car radial, light truck radial, and truck and bus radial tire markets in the last few years, which is the primary reason for the company's added investment in R&D.
Since passenger car radials and light truck radials are a little different of a product mix than bicycles or industrial tires, Mr. Williams said, it takes an investment in technology to be up in the top for PCR, LTR and those types of products. They realize this and want to back their advancements with the needed investment to make sure they become a top company in this market as well.
Mr. Williams has spent 30 years in the tire industry, getting his start out of college at the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in 1984.
After six years there, he moved on to General Tire & Rubber Co. for three years before joining Hankook Tire USA Inc.where he remained for the last 21 years before coming to Kenda.
Kenda recruited Mr. Williams through its current vice president of sales, Bob Phoenix, who was with another company at the time and worked together with Mr. Williams on a project for Hankook about 10 years ago.
It really is a very unique and interesting opportunity for me, Mr. Williams said. I've been in the industry many years, it's not often you get to come in at the very beginning of redesigning and reinventing a research and development effort like we're trying to do.
Chris Sweeney is a reporter with Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business.