COLMAR-BERG, Luxembourg—When Goodyear broke the silence three years ago on its IMPACT modular tire building concept, Chairman Samir Gibara spoke of a revolution in tire making and quality.
Three years later, the revolution continues to take place behind closed doors, where the company estimates it makes 13 percent of its truck tires and 1 percent of its car tires using IMPACT—Integrated Manufacturing/Precision Assembled/Cellular Technology—at three plants where the system is in place: Colmar-Berg, Danville, Va., and Napanee, Ontario.
By 2004 the shares should rise to 33 percent for truck tires and 10 percent of car tires when seven plants will be using IMPACT. Mr. Gibara said in 1997 it would take the company 20 years to convert completely to IMPACT.
The key differences between a conventional tire and one built with IMPACT lie in the uniformity—both within a single tire, and from one tire to the next; the overall weight and, especially, the cost of manufacture, according to John Jentgen, director of tire manufacturing at Colmar-Berg.
The bad news for competitors, however, is that it is all but impossible to tell an IMPACT-built tire apart from a more conventional product.
Certainly there are no distinguishing marks on the sidewalls, or other exterior markings, and there is precious little internal difference, Mr. Jentgen said.
The system is still developing, but has four main aspects, which can be used together, separately, or in combination. Even when all four elements are used together, the system still can be integrated fully with existing tire-building processes.
Unlike other "next generation" tire manufacturing systems, this is not a complete redesign of the tire-building process.
Nevertheless, IMPACT achieves many of the same results as well- publicized systems from competing tire makers, but at much lower technical risk, Goodyear said.
The four key elements are:
A new machine, christened the "hot former";
Better efficiency through improved control technology;
Automated materials handling; and
At the heart of the process is the hot former—a machine new to the rubber industry—which substantially reduces time, cost and material volume, while improving quality and accuracy.
The hot former makes and assembles up to seven shaped components used in the carcass—in a typical truck tire, the inner liner, barrier, sidewall, chafer, apex-3, gumstrips and apex-4 components. These are all laid on a moving belt, accurately positioned and precisely dimensioned in relation to each other.
Once laid down, the components are rolled onto a spool, large enough to build 100 or more tires, and then moved to a new two-stage building machine, where each assembly is cut to length.
A typical truck tire tread package made using IMPACT is about 19 percent lighter than that made by more traditional assembly processes, Goodyear said, reducing overall tire weight by about 5 percent.
Compared with conventional tire building, the hot former operation represents a 10-percent reduction in materials used, a 42-percent drop in labor (measured in man-minutes), and a 20-percent cut in costs, Goodyear claims.
The hot former can be applied to all types of tire manufacture, Mr. Jentgen said.
The unit at Luxembourg was built on-site and has been making components for commercial truck tires since July 1999. The second truck tire hot former was prebuilt and shipped to Danville a few months later where it was assembled from a kit.
During 2000, Goodyear said about 13 percent of its truck tire output used IMPACT technology. The third hot former—for passenger car tires—likely will go to its Fulda, Germany, plant this year and a fourth (also for car tires) will be installed in North America in 2002.
By December 2000, Goodyear said, it had six types of machines operating under the IMPACT tag in its pilot plants at Luxembourg, Danville and Napanee, and it claimed this had raised its aggregate productivity index—tires per hour across all employees—to 115 from 100 in 1998. The company expects this index to rise further to 125 by 2002, when it will have 15 varieties of IMPACT machines installed at up to seven plants.
The initial six types of machines include:
A high output quadruplex extruder;
Precision breaker shear;
Precision ply shear;
Quadruple bead winder;
Enhanced truck tire assembly; and
Passenger tire assembly.
All of these are in operation today in at least one plant.
The quad extruder is a good example of the thinking at Goodyear, whose engineers have modified a more or less standard Berstorff quad extruder to operate at high volumes.
The unit at Luxembourg was producing two tread packages simultaneously, running at high speed. Although Goodyear declined to give details, this observer estimated an extrusion speed of around 10 meters/minute. Goodyear expects to add more processes in the coming months, including injection molding of bead/apex packages and injection molding of tread packages.
A highly modified injection press is in the final stages of commissioning in the Luxembourg plant making injection molded bead/apex packages for truck tires. According to Mr. Jentgen, around 5,000 tires using this bead package already are in the field, undergoing trials, and the process is now being fine-tuned for full-scale production in the Luxembourg plant.
Meanwhile, Goodyear's Akron unit is working hard on injection-molded tread packages, and that work is more advanced than the bead/apex package, according to Mr. Jentgen.
Since 1997, the firm has spent about $516 million on developing the IMPACT project. The vast majority of that—some $352 million—went on improving the efficiency of existing manufacturing processes and systems. The other three elements have each absorbed $40 million to $80 million over the last three years.