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Smithers expands testing site in China

Smithers Rapra is building on its presence in China with a new product testing facility, opened in the same site as its tire and wheel testing lab in Suzhou.

The new 4,000-sq.-ft. facility is part of the company's effort to grow and evolve with its clients in the changing local automotive market, said Derek Read, vice president, global development, Asia region. Financial details of the investment were not disclosed.

The laboratory provides for air leak and burst, cleanliness, material properties, salt spray, and pressure, vibration and temperature testing, Smithers said. It will work alongside the company's existing product testing labs in Akron; Lansing, Mich.; and Shawbury, England, for validation testing for original equipment manufacturer fluid transfer systems.

It can test products such as brake lines and coolant hoses to international and OEM standards as well as custom benchmarking programs to support research and development. The lab, which employs 23 split about 70-30 across tire testing and product testing, is ISO 17025-certified.

The product testing laboratory will share resources with the wheel and tire testing laboratory, including several senior engineers and some equipment, Read said.

"For example, our salt spray chamber is commonly used as part of our wheel testing services, and now will also be used to conduct corrosion testing on various automotive components, such as metal hose fittings and clamps," Read said. "Equipment such as our tensile tester, which has been used to test physical properties on rubber tire components, will now be used to test the resilience of hoses and their components."

Within the past year, Smithers has hired engineers that come from the automotive fluid transfer space, bringing that experience to the testing laboratory as well, he said.

Smithers installed new environmental chambers into the Suzhou facility, along with equipment with pressure, temperature and vibration capabilities, and testers for leaks and cleanliness in hoses, Read said.

"In addition, we have acquired a wide variety of test fixture components that can customize test setups based on unique requirements," he said.

One reason for the expansion is the potential of electric vehicles in the Chinese marketplace, Read said.

"For many reasons, China's electric vehicle market is expanding rapidly, even though overall auto sales volume in 2018 declined," he said. "This transition changes the types of components used in vehicle manufacturing as well as the performance expectations for those components."

For example, tire noise will be an even more significant consideration once engine noise is eliminated, he said."Battery components need to remain cool during operation. This will be accomplished via coolant hose assemblies, requiring slightly different operating parameters from today's fuel hoses," Read said. "These types of engineering challenges will help drive research and development as well as testing requirements going forward."

Read said the Chinese market has seen high single- to double-digit growth over the last 10 years. Despite a general slowdown over the last few years, Smithers still sees a lot of local investment in R&D activities as manufacturers make improvements to product lines and look for lucrative export markets.

The Suzhou facility has been Smithers' base of operations since 2011, located near many tire and automotive suppliers in China, Read said.

"It continues to be a great location to grow and evolve with our clients," he said. "The support we have seen in Asia for Smithers' services has been amazing."

While Smithers isn't announcing any other expansions of capabilities or services at the Suzhou plants for the near future, the company has several projects in the works for 2019, he said. The addition of the product testing laboratory makes the 22,000-sq.-ft. facility "nearly full." About 2,000 square feet of the space is dedicated to offices, with the remaining 16,000 square feet making up the tire and wheel lab. Smithers anticipates continued growth in testing requirements over the next several years, and is looking into expansion. The company is looking to hire up to eight more employees at the location in 2019.

Smithers also has been investing in expanding its capabilities in other locations, Read said. The company added analytical instrumentation and scientists to its material chemistry labs in the U.S. and England; new facilities and equipment at its Ravenna, Ohio, tire and wheel testing facility; and additional track space and buildings at its proving grounds in Brimley, Mich.

Smithers has laboratories in North America, Europe and Asia, and cover testing services such as material chemistry, product durability testing, tire testing and winter testing.

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