Imagine being able to order a tire, or set of tires, and have them delivered to your dealership's loading area within days of their being made.
How about establishing your own private-brand tire line, with a limited production run, for sale in a small local market?
What about having a small tire plant constructed next to an auto factory, or even inside it, to supply tires for vehicles as they come off the production line?
Such possibilities are not so far-fetched after seeing the capabilities of Pirelli S.p.A's new flexible tire manufacturing system, which the company introduced July 11 to the press and financial community in Milan, Italy.
The strength of the new Pirelli system, known as Modular Integrated Robotized System (MIRS), is its flexibility.
Like Group Michelin's C3M manufacturing process, which supposedly offers similar manufacturing adaptability and efficiency, these new types of tire plants that are just now coming on stream have the capability of changing the way tires are made, delivered and sold. (Unlike Pirelli, Michelin has not opened its C3M factories to outsiders.)
Pirelli said its MIRS process, for example, can handle production runs as small as one tire, and still do so economically.
The MIRS manufacturing system, Pirelli said, permits the changing of tire molds in 20 minutes—compared with 375 minutes required in the company's conventional plants.
Pirelli Chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera said that improvement means the company has reached the ability to make tires on demand.
Think about what this could mean.
Tires today, despite the tire makers' best technological efforts and huge advertising expenditures, continue to be perceived as a commodity by most consumers.
That makes it difficult for tire dealers and tire manufacturers to raise prices, resulting in tight margins and extremely competitive market situations.
But what if tire makers and dealers could offer customized tires for sale locally and could develop tires targeted at small, highly specific niche markets?
This opportunity could change the way tires are viewed by customers, allowing tire makers and dealers to charge more for them.
Michelin is already attempting this, in a sense, with its BFGoodrich Scorcher T/A tires featuring permanently colored treads.
The tire maker is offering customers the ability to order custom colors and configurations of the Scorcher T/As direct from the manufacturer via the Internet. And it's charging more for them—between $50 and $80 apiece higher than the stock versions.
Michelin is making the tires at its C3M modular manufacturing plant in Greenville, S.C., and guaranteeing delivery within six to eight weeks.
Technically, Pirelli and Michelin have demonstrated manufacturing in small lots is feasible. Now they have to show that doing so is commercially viable.
If that happens, the way tires are made, bought and sold could change dramatically.