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Kenda focuses on expanding R&D in Akron, Taiwan

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Tom Williams, vice president of engineering, Kenda.
Tom Williams, vice president of engineering, Kenda.

AKRON—American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. plans to expand and develop research and development centers in Akron and Taiwan, which the firm said will assist with testing and product development across all categories.

Overseeing the project will be Tom Williams, whom the firm recently selected as its vice president of engineering. Williams ultimately will be responsible for the North American market.

He said he has already hired a new employee at its current technical center run by its Akron subsidiary Martin Wheel. More growth is on the horizon for Akron and Taiwan through people, equipment and capabilities, he said.

Williams said Kenda is not building a new center in Akron at the moment, but that 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,” 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.”

Kenda is following a similar map in Taiwan, though Williams said growth there is occurring 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 on developing the Akron center.

“In Taiwan, we're moving a little faster,” Williams 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. Williams said the firm is branching 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 research and development.

“What they've noticed is PCR and LTR is a little different of a product mix than bicycles or industrial tires,” he 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.”

Williams has spent 30 years in the tire industry, starting his career at Firestone tire in 1984 fresh out of college.

After six years with Firestone, he moved on to General Tire for three years before going to Hankook Tire—where he remained for the last 21 years before taking the job with Kenda.

Kenda recruited Williams through its current vice president of sales, Bob Phoenix.

Phoenix was with another company at the time and worked with Williams on a project for Hankook about 10 years ago.

“It really is a very unique and interesting opportunity for me,” 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.”