When you think of eco-friendly tires, you may think about tires that are properly inflated, or get good gas mileage. While gas mileage is one important environmental consideration, there are several other factors that deserve equal weight.
For instance, a lot of people don’t think about the pollution that’s produced in the manufacturing process itself. A tire manufacturer needs heat – lots of it – to produce a reliable, modern radial tire. They also need a large amount of electricity.
The environmental impact of your tires begins long before they hit the shelf and ends long after you dispose of them. Let’s take a look at some of the things tire manufacturers are doing to make their businesses green.
Sustainable development is a phrase you hear a lot these days. But not many people know what it means. What it means is ensuring that every part of a project can be carried on indefinitely without running out of resources or doing harm to the environment.
Solar farms are a good example of sustainable development. Provided that the heavy metals in the solar panels are properly recycled as they’re replaced, humans can use solar farms for thousands of years without any environmental repercussions.
So, how does sustainable development apply to tire manufacturing?
To begin with, it means reducing demand for petroleum. Synthetic petroleum-based tire rubber isn’t nearly as bad for the environment as the petroleum-based gasoline we all burn every day, but it still poses some environmental hazards, particularly in the extraction process.
Effective rubber tree management is another responsibility shared by any company that uses natural rubber. These trees’ ecosystem needs to be protected, and the farmers who grow them need to be well-paid, so they’re encouraged to grow more. Natural rubber is far more sustainable than synthetic rubber, but only if it’s properly sourced.
Having a Green Supply Chain
Rubber may be the most indispensable component of a tire, but it’s not the only thing that needs to be properly sourced. Steel used in radial rings comes from a foundry. Depending on how that foundry is run, it may be relatively green or absolutely filthy. A green tire manufacturer will source their steel from an eco-friendly foundry.
Similarly, a responsible manufacturer will always be looking for better options. With today’s technology, it’s now possible to produce a tire that’s only about 5 percent petroleum. But we can still do better. Major companies are now experimenting with silica and carbon fiber alternatives, as well as tires made from vegetable oil.
Research into tire recycling is also ongoing. Currently, over 40 percent of used tires end up being converted into fuel. About 31 percent were used for industrial and civil engineering purposes, but 16 percent still ended up in landfills. Nobody comes up with a way to make old tires into new ones. This is the holy grail of tire manufacturing.
Of course, the best way for a company to have a green supply chain is just to own the process. That’s what companies like Giti Tire are doing. By owning all of their suppliers, they can hold them to the same high standards they hold themselves.
Efficient, Automated Manufacturing
Ever since Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing with the assembly line, manufacturers in all industries have constantly been trying to improve their efficiency. This allows them to produce more of their product and make more money.
But there’s another reason efficiency is good. Overhead costs, like lights, heating and air conditioning stay the same whether a factory is producing ten tires an hour or ten-thousand tires an hour. The more a company can get out of a single factory, the more their business can grow before they have to open another factory, which will cause their overhead to grow. Since most overhead expenses are energy costs, saving overhead means saving energy.
Automation is the best way to make a factory more efficient. Machines can do most jobs faster and with more accuracy than a human can do them, so it’s no surprise that manufacturers in all industries are increasingly turning to machines for the bulk of their labor.
Although an automated factory has fewer human employees, today’s eco-friendly tire manufacturers are turning to a highly-skilled, well-trained workforce. With fewer human eyes involved in the production process, it’s critical that today’s manufacturing workers be able to recognize problems when they occur and make corrections as quickly as possible.
Informatization and Green Manufacturing
Informatization is the process of integrating information from a variety of systems to take a big-data approach to a project. Virtually all modern companies, in all industries, are utilizing big-data informatics to make business decisions.
For example, retail companies keep track of their customers’ purchases. They use this information to target specific ads to individual people, since they already know what their customers want.
In manufacturing, this takes the form of automatically tracking which machines were involved in producing a certain lot of a product. Suppose a tire company discovers during quality control that the sidewall in one lot of tires is unsafe.
In the old days, they’d have to scrap the entire lot, then visually inspect tires coming off the assembly line to find damaged pieces and trace them back to the faulty machine. This wasn’t a safety concern – bad tires would simply be destroyed – but it could take some time to discover which parts were faulty and on which assembly line. During this time, energy and material would be wasted running a broken machine, producing more tires that would need to be destroyed.
Now, computer systems can track which tires were made on which machines. Using this data, managers can quickly identify the faulty machine, and have it shut down for repair immediately. This is just one example how of tire manufacturers can use informatics to help the environment.
The Last Mile
A durable tire is an eco-friendly tire. If you can get 40,000 miles out of a set of tires instead of 10,000, you’ll be producing far less waste. Manufacturers like Giti Tire are engaging in sustainable development, embracing big data, and still producing extremely durable tires. That’s a combination that’s good for mother nature and your bank account.