As Chairman of Sentury Tire, the rapidly expanding Chinese manufacturer, Qin Long is a tire industry tycoon. He could also be described, with equal accuracy, as a typhoon. This is a man of immense confidence, acumen and conviction who makes an unforgettable impression. Paula Ovaskainen interviewed him at the recent Tire Technology Expo.
When Qin Long established his first tire plant in Qingdao in 2008, it was a totally manual operation. In the factory’s second phase of development during 2012-2013, however, Cimcorp’s green tire handling was considered, resulting in an enormous efficiency boost.
Based on this positive experience in China, Qin Long decided to automate Sentury’s second plant – the Rayong plant in Thailand – from the beginning and on a bigger scale. Here, it is not only the handling of PCR (passenger car radial) green tires from the tire-building machines to the curing presses that is automated – so is the sorting, palletizing, warehousing and shipping of finished tires.
Qin Long explains:
“After I had seen the efficiency increase in Qingdao, I immediately decided to use Cimcorp equipment in Thailand. Only the first line had been installed and was operational in Qingdao at that stage but, based on the trust I had in Cimcorp and the benefits I was witnessing, I decided to go ahead as soon as possible.”
Cimcorp was able to build, install and commission the automation in Qingdao in record time. But Qin Long wants implementation to proceed at an ever-faster pace. Why?
“I have orders and I will lose the customers if I cannot deliver the tires,” he says.
The installation, commissioning and start-up of the Sentury plant in Thailand – located about 100 miles outside of Bangkok – has therefore proceeded at breakneck speed. Cimcorp’s solution features six independent automation lines, each consisting of monorail systems for the unloading of the tire-building machines and transfer of green tires to the curing buffers; green tire buffer storage; spotting stations; and monorail transfers for press delivery. It also includes finished tire buffers and palletizing stations, rail guided vehicle loops, stacker cranes in a high-bay warehouse and shipping buffers in the dispatch area. The material flow is controlled by Cimcorp Warehouse Control Software (WCS), which integrates the various technologies into a seamless system. The first three green tire automation lines are already operational and the next three will be taken into production this spring, along with the finished tire systems.
Qin Long is a now a champion of automation, having witnessed its effect on overall plant utilization, up from 72 percent to 96.5 percent in the Qingdao plant. Although the manufacturing execution system (MES) and modern process equipment also contribute to improved efficiency, Qin Long believes that Cimcorp’s systems play the major role: “Dream Factory is the driving force,” he says. Quality has also improved through automation at Qingdao; 99.67 percent of tires can now be released immediately to the next process step, whereas in the manual system the figure was 92 percent.
In the beginning, Qin Long was alone in his way of thinking; no one else at management level believed in the idea of an automated factory, seeing the risk of failure as too high. As the largest owner of the company, however, Qin Long had great influence. “I forced my people to accept the Cimcorp concept,” he smiles. In his opinion, it was not such a big risk:
“It is not a huge investment compared to those we have to make in process machinery and the use of labor. I can see only benefits.”
Under the direction of Qin Long, Sentury Tire has grown very rapidly and has plans for yet more expansion. It will construct a new plant in the US with planned capacity of more than 12 million tires per year; groundbreaking is scheduled for early in 2017. One of the key factors behind the success of Sentury Tire is replication; the US plant will be a carbon copy of the Thai one, enabling installation and start-up to be extremely fast.
There is no doubt that Qin Long has established some of the world’s most advanced tire plants. For him, it has also been a chance to change the traditional management style. Not surprising, then, that this compelling character was recently recognized with an entrepreneurship award in the city of Qingdao.
TEXT: PAULA OVASKAINEN, HEIDI SCOTT PHOTOS: DAVID RICHARDS, SUVI TALVITIE