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Published on May 12, 1997

TECHNOLOGY IN THE NEWS

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Changes in tire technology are making headlines again and that's welcome news. In an industry that's long been focused on cost-cutting, consolidation and downsizing, it's good to see announcements from companies that involve technical breakthroughs and revolutionary products.

This issue alone contains three stories describing two new manufacturing techniques and a new tire and wheel construction for off-highway and farm tires.

Each challenges conventional manufacturing concepts within the tire industry.

Group Michelin's C3M manufacturing process addresses one of the industry's most fundamental and long-recognized problems—overproduction, which leads to price-cutting and lack of profitability.

While little is know about Michelin's C3M plants, these mini-factories reportedly can operate profitably at far less than the 80 percent of capacity required to break even at conventional tire plants and offer greater flexibility in producing a variety of tires.

Continental AG, meanwhile, is developing a new modular tire-building process, which involves producing standardized green tires in a central location and shipping them to satellite plants for processing into the finished product

Conti's satellite factories also are designed to operate profitably at reduced volumes and can accommodate production runs as small as 100 tires.

Conti said the new process will improve its distribution to dealers throughout western Europe and allow it to enter markets with minimal investment.

Meanwhile, on the product side, Titan Wheel International is using a new low-profile tire and wheel assembly for its Grizz LSW farm and off-highway product line. The line's unique design requires half the inflation pressure of conventional tires, reducing bounce and sway and other tire-related problems common in tractors, backhoes and similar farm and construction vehicles.

With downsizings and consolidations largely completed, we can expect the pace of technological change to quicken as tire manufacturers seek new ways to boost profits.

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