FAIRLAWN, Ohio—Kumho Tire recently announced it has elevated its R&D technical centers around the globe as the company puts a focus on new original equipment supply.
Kumho's Ohio R&D center playing bigger role as EV, OE fitment focus intensifies
"Kumho is showing the importance of research and development and ownership of doing the development work within each region, and specifically with Kumho America Technical Center for North America," KATC Managing Director Rick Cunat said.
Kumho R&D Technical Centers now report directly to MS Cho, chief technology officer at Kumho Tire.
"KATC has established a direction for development of OE and RE tires directly reflecting requirements and constantly changing U.S. market trends," said Cho. "As the center of Kumho Tire technology, it is participating in research/development/production by determining spec for mass production of Kumho Tire Plant Georgia."
Outside of North America, Kumho's other R&D Centers also have been elevated to support their markets.
"R&D Centers in Frankfurt, Germany, and Tianjin, China, have been established to take part in local-specialized development," Cho said.
KATC plays a key role for the Gwangju, South Korean-based tire producer and there has been a substantial focus on improvements.
"In order to respond quickly to the rapidly changing car market and tire industry in terms of infrastructure, KATC actively makes a difference in the organization," said Cho.
Over the past two years, significant investments were made to the facility and testing equipment at KATC, according to Cunat.
"Some of the items include converting our facility to 100 percent LED lighting, general office improvements, technology upgrades, equipment in our compound/materials lab, and we purchased a new, state of the art Multifunction Load Deflection Machine, replacing our old one," he said.
The technology upgrades include adding noise vehicle harmonics and finite element analysis to KATC's capabilities.
"Those are two new resources that are key in getting new OE business in North America," Cunat said.
"That's a huge resource that's enabled us to do what we call 'virtual modeling development.' Right now in the industry, the vehicle manufacturers, as well as the tire manufacturers, we're doing a lot in the virtual world upfront, which significantly reduces the development time for both tire and vehicle development to launch new products in the market. That's been a huge transformation here at our technical center to have that capability."
Cho shared a similar sentiment.
"The virtual tire development and NVH test capabilities have been strengthened especially for the EV market, and Kumho tire will respond quickly to changes in the North American market," Cho said.
Along with Cho, this investment and transformation at KATC have been fully supported by Kumho Tire CEO IT Jung and SM Na, global R&D HR manager, Cunat said.
"As we continue to grow in North America, our investments will grow with our business, ensuring alignment with our current and future business goals," Cunat added. "Potential future investments currently planned are in people, technology, strategic R&D partnerships, and upgrading/expanding our testing capability at KATC."
Cunat said KATC currently is focused on targeting new OEM business, specifically electric vehicles and autonomous technology.
KATC recently was named one of Rubber News' Best Places to Work. It was recognized for its investment not just in office and technology upgrades, but also its focus on personnel.
"There have been many changes at all levels of the organization at KATC over the past four years," Cunat said.
KATC has hired eight new team members since 2019, he added, which has led to a significant change in operations and has yielded positive results in a timely manner. The technical center also works to ensure its new employees understand their specific roles at the facility and Kumho at large.
"Onboard training for new hires is specifically tailored to each person, their experience level, their role, and (it is) focused on assimilating being an active contributor," Cunat said. "Since we are a smaller organization, this facilitates and accelerates the cross-functional training that is required to be an effective contributor in a timely manner."
Additionally, a major part of KATC's on-boarding process is having the new engineers meet with leadership and their peers at the Kumho Research & Development Center in South Korea.
"It provides them an opportunity to personally meet the chief technology officer (and) the executive leadership team, and engage with the experienced engineers they will collaborate with daily at KRDC," Cunat said.
The elevation of the KATC organization is just another example of Kumho's commitment to North America moving forward, he added.
"It solidifies the investment here in Akron," he said. "They also understand the importance of Kumho having an R&D Center in Akron, Ohio, because this is the Rubber Capital of the World. There are lots of resources, like the University of Akron.
Cunat said there is just a lot of support for the company in Akron, from the university to the City of Fairlawn.
"Everyone supports Kumho here," he added.
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