COLOGNE, Germany — Two distinct lines of thought emerged regarding the impact of digitalization and automation technologies on employment in the tire industry at this year's Future Tire conference in Cologne.
In a presentation by Karol Vanko, vice president of Chinese machinery producer Mesnac Co. Ltd., about the first year of operation of Hefei Wanli Tire Co. Ltd.'s plant in Hefei — which Wanli claims is the world's first "smart" tire factory — Mr. Vanko said the Chinese TBR facility has a workforce of around 700.
This compares with 2,100 employees for an equivalent conventional unit.
In a subsequent discussion, Mr. Vanko suggested that this was a sign of things to come.
"I am sure that the number of the people will decrease, totally because of automation, because of the new solutions, mixing and so," he said.
"This means that year by year, we'll employ less and less people in our industry, for sure."
Indeed, he suggested that the influence of automation within tire plants could be much greater, given that the Wanli project was a pioneering project with all the mistakes and problems that go with that.
Mesnac engineered and supplied the automation project at the Wanli plant.
"After one year of operation, we will see how to continue for the next projects," Mr. Vanko said. "We have to find solutions for other operations (and) develop this project for more factories."
A particular driver behind automation of production and logistics, Mr. Vanko said, is that labor costs are increasing rapidly in China. That means tire makers are pushing officials at these tire plants to reduce the number of people involved in the next projects.
While agreeing that automation probably would mean fewer people in tire production, Malika Amamra of Rockwell Automation pointed to potential new roles in areas such as analytics, digital infrastructure and cybersecurity.
"Of course, you may find less people rely on production but you will need other kinds of people, other kinds of profiles," Rockwell's strategic account manager for Europe/Middle East/Africa said.
"It doesn't mean because we are going to this Industry 4.0 part of the future that we will need less people," Ms. Amamra said.
"You will need different kinds of employees with different profiles for sure, but for us, not less people."