CHANG-NYEONG, South Korea—Running with the big dogs, or bigger dogs, for Nexen Tire Corp. means continuing to expand capacity at its plants to supply its dealer network more effectively, company executives said this week during a plant tour and subsequent interviews.
How the Tier 3 South Korean tire maker plans to accomplish those production goals is through a concerted effort to bring its newest plant, a $1.1 billion project in Zatec, Czech Republic, on stream by 2018
while expanding its already mammoth factory in Chang-nyeong, a two-plus-hour bullet train ride south of Seoul.
Nexen officials called that plant, measuring 5.3 million square feet (about the size of about 86 football fields), the “forward base” for distribution of replacement passenger and CUV tires—no light truck tires—to South Korea as well as OE supply to that country and beyond to global destinations including the U.S.
The fully automated plant, opened in 2012, employs a little more than 1,200 workers who labor 351 days per year in four shifts, 909 of them on the factory floor. However, on a recent tour by Tire Business they were difficult to see—dwarfed by equipment that moved tires from calendering to final destination via an integrated web of conveyors controlled by the touch of a button in a work station.
Want that typical whiff of rubber so much a part of many tire manufacturing facilities? You'll be out of luck at Chang-nyeong—a sophisticated filtering system in the ceiling sniffs out the odors almost completely, leaving a practically odor-free environment punctuated by the low hum of tire-making machinery culled from manufacturers worldwide.
Nexen's self-proclaimed “green factory,” which it called the world's largest passenger tire plant, had been the subject of a three-pronged expansion plan, officials said, that has taken it to 11 million units a year, nearly double that from when it opened. The company's goal is to have the plant cranking out 21 million units by 2018 and, beyond that, 35 million units.
A solar system mounted to the plant's roof churns out a chunk of the electricity needed to power the plant, and LED lighting—even in street lights on the grounds—also saves more power, making the factory eco-friendly, Nexen execs said. The facility includes an education facility, a healthcare/workout area, cooperative store, nearby employee apartments, and workers get free lunches of traditional multi-course Korean food.