The market for rubber and tire machinery is in a state of flux, driven partly by developments in China, where many locally based equipment manufacturers have reported a steep drop in sales in 2015 compared to the previous year.
The trend included significant year-on-year sales declines at three of the largest Chinese manufacturers: Yiyang Rubber & Plastics (down 16 percent); Dalian R&P Machines (down 18 percent); and Safe-run Machinery (down 14.4 percent). Based on figures from the China Rubber Manufacturers Association, these declines largely are related to U.S. antidumping and countervailing duties on Chinese tire imports.
Even China's largest tire machinery maker and smart factory pioneer Mesnac reported a 20 percent sales drop in its preliminary results for 2015.
As little as a year ago, Mesnac was aiming to increase overseas business from around 40 percent to 50 percent of sales overall. This year, the company likely will get close to the goal—though not as it had intended.
The percentage of Mesnac's sales outside of China “is rising more quickly than we expected, but not the way we wanted,” Karol Vanko, Mesnac vice president, said at the recent Tire Technology Expo in Hanover, Germany.
“Sales in China are in a very bad situation,” Vanko said. “It is not a secret that, generally, the tire market in China is (experiencing) decreases, very deep decreases, because of (the loss of sales in) the U.S., and because of (declines in) Russian and European markets.”
The Chinese proportion of business has dropped significantly for all equipment suppliers, including overseas players with customers in China, he also pointed out.
In response, Mesnac now is focusing more on developing new projects in overseas countries including the U.S., Brazil and Mexico. Another target is Iran, now that sanctions have been lifted.
“We have customers all over the world, and this number is increasing,” Vanko said. “What is different is we have more important strategic customers, from the top 10. This is not time to get bigger and bigger; it is time for providing some very precise machines and fulfilling the requirements of the top customers.”
The Mesnac executive identified some helpful trends in the market, including a shift by tire makers from making their own tire-building equipment to purchasing it from outside manufacturers.
Another positive, he said, is the tire industry's current drive to use more silica in its rubber compounds: “This new trend in the construction of the tire helps us to be more active in the mixing area. Companies are starting to invest more in the mixing area and looking at modernization.”
Vanko emphasized that the smart factory project remained Mesnac's top priority. The company, he said, is continuing to develop integrated automation technology for every stage of tire manufacturing, from mixing and testing to handling and storage.
The concept, he said, is starting to interest “even the most conservative customers in the tire sector, who never talked about it before.” This is, in part, because the company projects that savings can be made in terms of people, operating costs and footprint on the factory floor.
Another Chinese machinery maker, Tianjin Saixiang Technology Co. Ltd., pegged its 2015 annual sales at $56 million, down 58 percent from 2014. The company had a $14.6 million net loss last year compared to $7.85 million net profit in 2014, according to its February financials.