Hutchinson to Focus on ‘Production in Europe’
PARIS, France – ‘Production in Europe’ is one of the key elements tyre manufacturer Hutchinson points to for its bicycle products. The made-in-France tyres come from the town of Châlette-sur-Loing, just 100 kilometres south of Paris, where one of Hutchinson’s main production and R&D locations is based.
The Châlette-sur-Loing facility is just one of many operated by the Hutchinson Group throughout the world. However all mid to high end road race as well as MTB tyres, including all tubeless ready models are made in Châlette-sur-Loing. Until recently the brand name Hutchinson was only used for the bicycle tyres, but four years ago the Hutchinson Group decided to leave the long list of 30 brand names behind and to concentrate on Hutchinson. All of the Group’s entities are now together under this single brand. The goal is to raise the company’s profile among its customers and create unity among its diverse teams.
Hutchinson’s identity has been redesigned and this will certainly benefit the market position of the bicycles tyres and improve the brand awareness among distributors and consumers. The company is looking back on some tough years with few OEM customers and having to concentrate on after-market distribution only. For 2017 the Hutchinson tyres are specified once again by four OEMs among them BH from Spain and Sunn from France. The company’s growth strategy for the next years is aimed at growing its OEM market share again. The Fusion 5 is one of Hutchinson’s main products to reach the goal.
In Châlette-sur-Loing Hutchinson is keeping control over all production stages from raw material handling to the final product ready for delivery. The only exception is the purification of the rubber as this is done at the plantations, which are mainly located in Malaysia and Ivory Coast. Stacks of rubber, synthetic rubbers, silica, and carbon black are piled up in the rubber production hall awaiting the compound mixing process, which looks very simpey but is actually quite exacting. The composition of the synthetic rubber or poly elastomer varies, depending on the specification of the compound used for the final product. The compound produced at this location is used for bicycles and scooter tyres, sealant for tubeless ready systems, car hoses, and lids for jars and bottles.
The proximity of Hutchinson’s global research and development centre, which is literally around the corner, allows for maximum control of this process. Although the bicycle tyre division is only marginal compared with Hutchinson’s other business activities in the automotive and heavy trucks industry as well as railroad, aviation, and aerospace – it can benefit from its research and development. The Hutchinson Group annually invests more than €170 million in R&D, mainly in its speciality, elastomeric materials research. The test centre in Châlette-sur-Loing is obviously more than the usual mechanical and physical test set-ups including the aging test. Unfortunately no photography is allowed in any of the R&D premises. For example the x-ray tomography allows for an analysis of the design, the production and the level of quality control. Of course, not only for Hutchinson products but also for products from its competitors!
The chemical analysis department goes even one step further in its support of product development in analysing competing products and developing new ones. Hutchinson not only tests new products itself, but also its own tooling. The R&D department even has its own ‘mini’ compound mixing facility in order to produce small quantities in fully-controlled conditions. In the end it all comes down to the ability to develop a reproducible product, regardless of whether it is a bicycle tyre or components for aerospace rockets.
How this works out is clear when going next door to the huge facility in Châlette-sur-Loing housing bicycle tyre production. In an efficiently arranged production line nearly all stages in the production of the bicycles tyres are done in one big hall. This includes Hutchinson’s in-house developed weaving machine allowing them to make any mixture of nylon and aramid for the carcass, as well as the bead, which fits in the production planning. Besides the production of complete tyres, Hutchinson also supplies the tread only for a number of smaller tyre brands.
One company, one brand
Hutchinson’s decision in 2013 to focus on only one brand was supported by the renovation of an old paper mill, where Hutchinson started in 1863 and which is still centrally located on the Châlette-sur-Loing facility. Reopened in June 2016, the so called ‘Fab House 507’ is now used to welcome guests as well as for staff meetings as it includes an auditorium, creativity rooms and high tech communication facilities to set up (on-line) meetings with Hutchinson staff all over the world. The beautifully renovated building also serves as an museum as gives and overview of the wide range of products Hutchinson developed.
Founded in 1853 as a shoe manufacturer Hutchinson entered the bicycle tyre market in 1890. Today the Hutchinson Group employees 38,000 people in 23 countries. The four main Hutchinson business lines include: vibration insulation, acoustic and thermal; sealing; transfer fluids; and transmission and mobility. Today the company is a specialist in elastomer applications for industry and the automotive sector. Since 1974 it has been part of the oil company Total S.A.