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 about the first year of operation of the Hefei Wanli plant, which is said to be the world's first smart tire factory, it was noted that the Chinese truck and bus radial facility had a workforce of just 700. This compared to 2,100 employees for an equivalent conventional unit.
And, in a subsequent Q&A discussion, the presenter Karol Vanko, vice president of Mesnac, which led and supplied the automation project at the Wanli plant, suggested that this was a sign of things to come.
"I am sure that the number of the people will decrease, totally because of automatization, 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."
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 mistakes and problems that go with that.
"After one year of operation, we will see how to continue for the next projects," said Vanko. We have to find solutions for other operations [and] develop this project for more factories.
A particular driver behind automation of production and logistics is that labor costs are increasing rapidly in China, so tire makers are pushing us to reduce people for the next projects.
While agreeing that automation probably would mean less 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 the kind of profiles," said Rockwell's strategic account manager for EMEA.
"It doesn't mean because we are going to this Industry 4.0 part of the future, that we will need less people, Amamra insisted. "You will need different kinds of employees with different profiles for sure, but for us, not less people."