Mak wheels "round and light" by nature
Dynamic and engaging contours: from the side, the silhouette of a car can be exciting thanks also to its wheels, and Mak knows it well: a global leader in the production of alloy wheels for the aftermarket with tire dealers viewed as a business partners
As unnoticed as they may often be, wheels do perform an absolutely necessary and delicate job. They form a “bridge” between the tires and the rest of the vehicle transmitting and receiving all the mechanical strain that comes with driving. Hence a wheel with the right degree of resistance would still do the job, but at times looks matter, and this is precisely where MakWheels comes into the picture.
A force to be reckoned with
The company has two production plants, in Carpenedolo and Gussago, near Brescia, a territory known for its long tradition in metalworking. Figures are clear: the company’s turnover exceeded 50 million euro, a 24% increase over 2016, and sales amounted to almost 600 thousand wheels. As far as 2018 is concerned, investments equal to 8% of the turnover are expected while distribution reached 42 countries worldwide with exports making up almost two thirds of the pie.
MakWheels, founded in 1991, follows the tradition of medium-sized Italian companies in its flexible approach to doing business: for example, supplying importers with wheels specifically designed for a variety of car models and forging up to a minimum of 150 wheels using an economy of scale approach; furthermore Mak can process up to 50 previously forged wheels with reduced additional costs.
The MakWheels website is also noteworthy: the online configurator, for example, showcases different vehicles with the chosen wheels. Besides changing the colour of the wheels, even the vehicle’s paint job can be changed at will and the configurator goes as far as simulating a lowered suspension car. At this point all is left to do is change the background image and download the picture.
Thus far all we have is a "picture" of the company, but we are also interested in its vision of the future and for this reason we have addressed a few questions to MakWheels Commercial Manager, Guglielmo Bertolinelli.
What can you tell us about MakWheel’s production sites?
"Our production is organized as follows: two thirds of our products are made in Italy while the remaining third is produced, based on our design, quality and material specifications, in Asia, specifically in Thailand, Taiwan and China. In the latter we produce exclusively with Flow Forming technique, which consists in applying pressure to the inner barrel of the wheel, while spinning and after it has been casted. This process is used on wheels designed for low profile tires since the inner barrel although thinner and lighter, has greater shock resistance and this is beneficial because low profiles tend to strain the wheel a lot more than other tires. In our catalogue, these wheels are marked Mff, Mak Flow Formed".
How come Flow Forming wheels are produced only in China?
"The reason is the production process: in Italy we traditionally use gravity casting while in China Flow Forming techniques have been used for quite some time, also on Oem wheels".
Besides production issues, why have you outsourced some of the production?
"Actually, the Asian production plants are not ours, they are suppliers who work for us. Our foreign and domestic productions are complementary which makes MakWheels a flexible global player able to meet every type of market requests. We have been focusing on our Italian plant, which is currently being renewed through investments in the region of 9 million euro allocated for the next 3 years, and will be dedicated to producing large wheels only. In Italy our workforce is made up of 130 employees including our sales network and satellite industries".
Going back to modernization, I read that your new factory will be 4.0.
"Absolutely, and I can also say that thanks to Government incentives, we have invested more than we had previously budgeted. We renewed our 2 production "islands", the first one is actually ready while the second will be by end of the year. The production will thus reach about 360 thousand items per year. This upgrade will allow us to produce 8 22” wheels at the same time while the previous configuration forced us to forge small and large wheels together. Production in Italy is currently focusing on larger wheels, since we are consistently looking at the medium-high segment".
Industry 4.0 systems make it possible to have a leaner factory, with connected machines able to generate a large amount of data, the “black gold” of the digital era: how did these premises come true?
"I must say that the Government's plan worked, allowing us to make an important technological leap and, above all, to collect a lot of information, even from remote. For example, our foundry manager could, in theory, monitor from home how many items, and what type, were produced and how many of them were discarded. Additionally we are now able to combine sales data, already accessible through B2B platforms, with Crm (customer relationship management) and production data. What does this mean for our foundry operations: just a small variation in temperature or in the composition of the alloy is enough to increase waste, but now we can detect these in real time".
Adapting to a changing scenario
How will new mobility scenarios, such as car sharing and electric vehicles, affect you?
"Current trends are displaying a shift towards using or sharing vehicles rather than owning them. This implies that our main sales channels, retailer and tire repair shops, will transfer part of their shares to fleet managers: this development is already taking place, for example, in Norway and will soon spread to other countries. As far as electric cars, once again Norway is leading the way, but we can already say that we are not witnessing a huge change in terms of technology, but rather in terms of size. Greater diameters and narrower barrels: this boosts the flywheel effect and reduces rolling resistance".
So, larger diameters but “narrow”, will this be the case also with mainstream vehicles?
"Think of the BMW i3 / i8: they use tires unseen before. They look more like motorcycle wheels: 19 inch diameter combined with 4.5 or 5-inch rim width. For us this will not be a problem, all we have to do is create new moulds. These "strange" measures are becoming ever-more popular also on mainstream cars: the new Renault Scenic, for example, is also equipped with narrow tires to increase efficiency. Its rims too, from 6.5" x 20", were specially-made; at the moment, only one other company in Europe produces wheels like these. This trend confirms the goodness of our choice to focus on large diameters; I believe that in more “mature” markets, 17” wheels will soon be relegated to the “sideline".
Dealers and tire specialists as business partners
What will happen to retailers if most of the wheels will be sold to fleet management companies?
"They will necessarily have to “shed their skin”; actually modern tire dealer are already able to deal with diagnostics, with Adas systems, TPMS and electronics in general. They will have to become more service oriented rather than just retailers".
Tire dealers are already called upon to adapt to the technological evolution of the wheel, which began with TPMS sensors: how will they adapt to "smart" tires?
"Mak is already well ahead in the field electronics applied to wheels, to date we are distributors of German TPMS Huf, Taiwanese Orange and Chinese Autel; the latter is also producing Mate TPMS systems, a brand owned by Mak Spa. TPMS sensors as we know them may disappear one day since smart wheels will be able to perform their functions as well, but it will take years and a lot of work. Meanwhile, they are and will continue to be important: for us and for our dealers, who will have to know how to manage, plan and install them correctly. This is why we have a dedicated training program for this specific segment of our business”.
So, in the end, which will be "smarter", the tire or the wheel?
"Well, a wheel must be light, strong and able to absorb shocks without breaking but there is less need for it to collect data, even if TPMS sensors mounted onto the wheel do monitor the tires. The tires, on the other hand, being in contact with the road and having to control temperature, pressure, tread depth and, in the future, also grip, will no doubt be “smarter”. However, this future scenario will see us working alongside tire specialists because the entire wheel "system" will be overloaded with sensors and, even if they will predominantly be found on tires, they will have to be checked and programmed. Consider that Autel produces diagnostic tools too, therefore it is easy to see how Mak will continue to be an important partner for tire dealers".