A startup automation company has a solution to the shortage of workers at tire shops. The new hire is tall, strong, weighs hundreds of pounds and never needs a smoke break — unless it breaks down.
Before RoboTire made waves showing off its new tire-changing technology at the 2021 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, it landed on our radar a month before when Reinalt-Thomas, d.b.a. Discount Tire/America's Tire, announced it had invested in the Detroit-based company.
Are technician jobs in danger?
No, jobs are safe, and the hiring issues the industry faces — really all industries — will continue.
Has the robot revolution finally come? Yes. It sure seems like proof we are living in the "future." Automation, unlike 1980s movies made it seem, isn't replacing people more than they are making their jobs better.
Officials with RoboTire see their work as part of an auto shop evolution to introduce manufacturing-like automation that can make the shop and technicians safer and more efficient.
The tire-changing robots are designed to perform a four-tire/wheel change in 20 minutes or less and take a lot of physical exertion off of the technician. The technician time saved from the menial work of changing the tire can be used more effectively diagnosing problems or working on another job.
Discount Tire, the No. 2 tire retailer in North America, likes the product so much it invested in the company behind it and will pilot a program this year using the robots.
"One part of this that I don't believe people are talking about enough is RoboTire's commitment to helping elevate the role of the tire technician through this process — as the RoboTire system will work in tandem with our employees," Tom Williams of Discount Tire said.
Founded in 2018 by entrepreneur Victor Darolfi, Detroit-based RoboTire patented a system that uses robots to change a set of tires in under 15 minutes, or what the company claims is a fraction of the time human operators can perform the task.
The company's goal is to introduce "manufacturing-level" automation to traditional automotive repair shops, thereby transforming the traditional financial and operational considerations used by fleet operators and automotive service providers for tire and wheel services.
New technology needs early proponents, and Discount Tire's role could be the very thing that propels the company forward.
There's plenty of reasons out there why finding and maintaining quality workers is such a burden on the industry. Low starting pay puts service technician positions in the same range as other jobs that don't require as much training. This means much of the hiring pool may be made up of "job hoppers" — those who are likely going to stay only for the short term.
There's a major perception problem, too. Many young adults may see a position at an auto shop as a "job" rather than a career. If a hire doesn't see the position as a career, it may be difficult to get them to pursue advanced training.
So retaining and properly employing the skills of trained technicians is paramount to the future. Innovations such as RoboTire should allow technicians to spend more time on bigger paying jobs and more thorough vehicle diagnosis.
The technology — like many automated shop tools — will take years to find its way into smaller retailers, but when the price is right, the impact on revenue per job should be great.
That's certainly a future we'd like to see.