Farnborough Air Show

Dunlop stays on growth path, despite dip

 - July 16, 2010, 11:53 PM

Having celebrated its 100th birthday last month, Dunlop Aircraft Tyres is working toward the lofty goal of doubling the size of its business, profitably, by 2013. “We made this strategy before the recession and it has become more challenging to the extent that it might push the timeline out,” acknowledged chairman and managing director Ian Edmonson. He insisted that there is still more growth to be had from the sector and that it likely will come through expansion into Asia and the Americas, as well as through an extension to its product line.

The aircraft tire business is essentially about customer support, he said. Airlines and military operators need to know that they will get the replacement tires they need in an efficient and flexible way and that they can be sure of a dependable cost-per-landing.

“Supporting the customer is the most important factor [in achieving market growth],” Edmonson told AIN. “The key is product availability and customer service, with an emphasis on responsiveness, flexibility and addressing customer concerns. We are focused on these issues and give better customer service.”

Dunlop still makes its tires at its factory in Birmingham and has no plans to move the core-manufacturing task to lower cost economies. But to support customers around the world it needs to be able to supply retread tires as economically and efficiently as possible, and it was this necessity that prompted the UK firm to build a new factory at Jinjiang in southern China. Its next step will be to establish retreading capability at a location in North America.

The Jinjiang facility, located about an hour’s drive from Hong Kong, recently secured its first order when Taiwan’s Mandarin Airlines signed a three-year deal covering bias tires for its fleet of eight Embraer E-190/195 airliners. The new subsidiary operates as Dunlop Taikoo (Jinjiang) Aircraft Tyres Co. Ltd. and is a joint venture with Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co. Ltd. (with a 28-percent stake) and Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering Co. Ltd. (9 percent).

Also this year, Dunlop acquired the aircraft tire making equipment from Japan’s Yokohama Rubber Co., which is exiting the aircraft tire sector. This equipment has been transferred back to Dunlop’s UK plant and will give it the capability to make tires for aircraft such as the Boeing 777. Included in the purchase is an additional dynamometer, which will help Dunlop to bring new products to market more quickly.

Most of the emphasis on technological development of aircraft tires is now focused on improving the cost of operation cost-per-landing, which largely comes down to how many landings each tire can make and how many times it can be retread. Manufacturers generally provide tires on a cost-per-landing basis, so they have a vested interest in achieving a high degree of product reliability and knowing as much as possible about the anticipated service life.

Like the other leading manufacturers, Dunlop makes both bias or cross-ply and radial tires. Generally speaking, bias tires are more robust and can be retread more often, giving a lower direct ownership cost. Radial tires are generally lighter (meaning lower fuel burn) and can make more landings before having to be retread, giving reduced operating and maintenance costs.

Manufacturers have been concentrating research-and-development efforts on goals such as changing the rubber compounds used for tires to make them more resistant to damage by foreign objects. They have also been trying to have more control over the ways tires do fail and more efficient ways to handle the overhaul process.

Dunlop is also concentrating its engineering efforts on the impact tires can have on an aircraft’s environmental footprint. In addition to reducing their weight, the company is looking at the use of bio-materials and ways to reduce the rolling resistance and noise generated by tires. Another initiative could see the application of radio frequency identification technology, using chips embedded in tires for counting usage cycles and suppressing temperature.

Having been owned by a family foundation since the 1980s, Dunlop Aircraft Tyres was acquired by private equity group AAC Capital Partners in May 2007, and it was this takeover that prompted the ambitious goal of doubling the size of the business in just six years. Looking beyond the current air transport down-cycle, Dunlop expects to benefit from the next rising tide. “We do expect the global market to grow and we will grow market share in growing market,” concluded Edmonson.

The company has no record of which type of aircraft first used its products at the start of the last century, but its archives show a first published price list dating from June 1910. There are also records of the company having produced tires for the Howard Wright Biplane soon after that date.

You can see more current examples of Dunlop’s tires here at the Farnborough airshow on the new Airbus A400M military transport, for which it developed new technology to protect the tires against foreign object damage.

Dunlop (Hall 4 Stand C14) has been chosen as a supplier option for Bombardier’s CRJ1000 regional jet and it is also working on achieving the same status with Boeing for the 777 family.