Editor's note: Reporter Chris Collins shares his impressions after recently touring his first tire plant. DANVILLE, Va.—Since joining the Tire Business staff 10 months ago, I've learned a lot about tires, but I never really understood what goes into manufacturing those black circles that provide you—and now me—with a job.
In April I got my first look at tire manufacturing when I toured Goodyear's Danville, Va., truck and aircraft tire plant as part of the company's introduction of its new G397 LHS line-haul steer tire.
Driving up, the Danville facility looks like a sizable office/warehouse complex about two or three stories high. But you need an aerial view to get a true idea of its size.
It's a massive 2 million-sq.-ft. building—that's 47 acres under roof. You could put a 100-home suburban housing development inside this structure.
Ground was broken in 1965 and truck tire production began in late 1966 in the original 520,000-sq.-ft. plant. Aircraft tire production started in 1968 and radial truck tire production followed four years later. The plant has been expanded 18 times.
Plant Manager John Shreve said the 2,500-employee plant produces about 11,400 truck tires and more than 1,400 aircraft tires daily.
Our tour guide was Stover Shelton, a 33-year Goodyear employee and Danville-area native. About two dozen visitors donned goggles and headphones and clipped small receivers to their belts before being led into the manufacturing area.
Using a wireless microphone, he told us about the plant in a measured Virginia drawl. Since Goodyear would not allow us to take photos inside, I'll describe what I saw.
When I entered the plant, even with my ears covered, I could still ``feel'' a constant rumbling from the massive machines.
At the entrance for production workers—Goodyear calls them ``associates''—a chart lists the daily output of the competition's truck tire plants in North America.
We walked for nearly an hour through the single-level production area and still didn't see more than a small fraction of the facility. Aisles were delineated by yellow lines painted on a smooth, clean-looking concrete floor.
Overall, the plant seemed fairly clean and there was a slight odor from the heated rubber—although it wasn't overwhelming.
We passed a ``pen'' enclosed in metal railings that contained benches, vending machines and a phone booth. About a half dozen workers taking a break were sipping coffee or soft drinks but weren't talking much because machinery noise made conversation difficult.
Each shift in the 24-hour-per-day schedule has several hundred workers who are spread throughout the sprawling plant. The break area was the only place I saw more than two or three together at a time.
This plant has a voracious appetite—it consumes about 10 million pounds of raw materials each week and uses more natural rubber than any plant in the world—about 3.5 million pounds weekly.
I saw row after row of wooden pallets loaded with barrels, boxes or rolls of raw materials in the receiving area. Fork lifts and small tractors shuttled these materials throughout the plant.
Machinery dominated the view at just about every point on the tour. Sections of roller-type conveyor systems criss-cross the plant like an expressway system in a large metropolitan area.
Large banners, hung from the rafters at various places, exhorted productivity and safety. My favorite urged employees lifting objects to ``Bend your knees, please.''
We watched one of Danville's seven extruders push rubber compound—which looks like black peanut butter—through small openings to form strips of various shapes.
The tire building machine operators worked quickly as other employees shuttled carts with rubber pieces to the machines and took away carts with ``green tires.''
We saw the G397 LHS steer tires take their final shape in large green and yellow curing machines—Danville has more than 160 of them—manufactured by McNeil and NRM Inc. of Akron.
Large yellow automated mechanical ``arms'' plucked two ``green'' tires at a time off carts and placed them into a pair of round molds.
After 38 minutes, these arms lifted the steaming tires out of the molds, a bar code label was affixed to each tire and the tires were placed on the conveyer system to be transported to inspection and then the shipping department.
The shipping department is more brightly lit than the rest of the plant. Some daylight enters through two large doors for railroad track spurs that allow about a dozen railroad boxcars to be brought inside for loading.
About 85 percent of Danville's tires are loaded onto trucks through one of the 25 loading docks.
At shipping, the bar code sticker on each tire is scanned and another large programmed mechanical arm lifts each tire off the conveyor belt and deposits it on the appropriate stack.
Since going to a round-the-clock schedule about a year ago, nearly 500 more employees have been added.
Mr. Shreve said Goodyear will spend about $118 million on further improvements at Danville over the next few years.