HANGZHOU, China — Zhongce Rubber Group Co. Ltd. (ZC Rubber), China's largest tire maker and No. 9 globally, has inaugurated production at its newest factory, a "5G digital" facility in Hangzhou dedicated to the production of premium tires.
Built in Hangzhou's northern Qiantang District, the plant is focused on high-performance products such as tires for electric vehicles and tires for both domestic and international original equipment customers, the company said.
Citing confidentiality related to an ongoing initial public offering (IPO), ZC Rubber declined to comment on the plant's size, capacity, employment and investment value.
The commissioning of the factory — ZC Rubber's fifth in China and sixth overall — marks a "new opportunity and starting point" for the company as it seeks to drive the digital transformation of the tire industry.
The company, which reported fiscal 2022 sales of $4.18 billion, held a ceremony Dec. 15 to mark the start of production at the plant. ZC Rubber Chair Shen Jinrong and other top management attended the ceremony.
The company broke ground in May on the factory — which it refers to as "Future Factory v2.0" — and expects the first phase of the project to be completed by mid-2024. This new factory is an is an "upgraded version" in terms of production technology, automation level and efficiency of a smaller existing "Future Factory v1.0" in Qiantang based on 5G technologies.
"The successful construction and operation of this new 5G factory will further solidify our position in the market and enhances our brand presence, supporting our globalization efforts," the company said.
"We are committed to enhancing product competitiveness, safety and added value, leading the company towards becoming a world-leading tire company with higher standards."
ZC Rubber did not elaborate at this time on its interpretation of a 5G factory, but in 2021 company officials told European Rubber Journal that its 5G smart factory will employ "data network platform innovation and data-driven production process reengineering" to achieve the efficiencies.
At that time, ZC estimated the data-driven technology would cut the product development cycle time in half, to three months, while increasing production efficiency 15%.
ZC Rubber said the new factory is designed in part to meet growing demand in China for EVs, sales of which are growing 20% annually, as well as a steadily growing domestic car parc.
The company — which goes to market with the Arisun, Chaoyang, Goodride, Trazano and Westlake brands — operates one plant outside of China, in Rayong, Thailand, and has floated the idea of building plants in Europe and in the U.S. in recent years.
According to company data, ZC Rubber generates 64% of its global revenue from sales activities in Asia/Pacific (including China), with North America — where it's represented by ZC Rubber Americas Inc. in Walnut, Calif. — accounting for 15%.
Other recent moves ZC Rubber has made to upgrade its activities include:
- relocating truck tire production at a factory in Jiande City, Zhejiang Province, to another facility located nearby.
- acquired off-highway tire maker Tianjin United Tire & Rubber International Co (TUTRIC), based in port city of Tianjin, in northeastern China.