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Michelin wagers on “green” tires



The Michelin plant in Spinetta Marengo, dedicated to producing truck tires, is the group's global pilot plant for the introduction of sustainable technologies and processes.


Massimo Condolo

Michelin accelerates on its plans towards sustainability. The multinational group is clearly committed to go in the direction set by the United Nations Agenda 2030 and starts from its plant located in Spinetta Marengo in the North-western part of Italy, which produces tires for trucks, buses, operating machines, tractors and rubber-tired metros. The 17 objectives of the Agenda are within reach, with a particular focus on numbers 8 (decent work conditions and economic growth), 9 (enterprises, innovation and infrastructure), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 13 (combating climate change). Built in 1971, the site has spearheaded the group’s policy on socially and environmentally acceptable practices, gradually extending it to the other factories within the group. It currently employs 920 people and occupies 400 thousand square metres of land, one third of which covered. It is Italy's largest truck tire plant and supplies as many as seven European brands of heavy trucks as well as major manufacturers of buses, semi-trailers, lifting and light earthmoving equipment and manufacturers of rubber-tired metros and trams. Strongly devoted to exports, 40% of its production goes overseas.


People, environment and profits

Commitment involves thorough planning, scheduling and management. The three pillars of the strategy are people, the environment and, of course, profit. The balance between these three factors generates growth, development, inclusion and solidarity for employees, the company and the territory. As a result of the company’s ability to work with local players in creating a cluster of skills, the plant has benefited, via the Piemonte Region, of European funding for innovation, which have led to the improvement of production systems and their environmental and social impact. Significant results have been achieved in the reduction of accidents at work, as many procedures are now totally automated and employees are forced to move through dedicated pedestrian paths and gates which have reduced accidents from internal circulation by 40%. Another positive result relates to lower emissions of volatile organic compounds thanks to the construction of a new tread extruder. Instead of gluing three layers of rubber with solvent-based adhesives, this machine extrudes the tread and the bands for the sidewalls ready to be applied on the tire casing.  Contrary to popular opinion, automation, introduced thanks to investments in the region of 55 million euro since 2013, has not eliminated jobs. Since 2012, in fact, the workforce has increased thanks to higher production; previously unskilled labour has been trained to perform more complex and rewarding tasks and taught to access new technologies. More than 50% of the employees, whose average age is 41 years, are high school or university graduates and quite a few are small shareholders Michelin; on average, the amount of time dedicated to staff training last year was 63 hours per worker (eight days).


Sustainability across the board

As expected, the adoption of new technologies lead to the creation of new and innovative products designed with sustainability in mind. Each new tire is called upon to improve on the performance of its predecessor in terms of durability, lower fuel consumption and grip; the improvement in one key aspect, however, must not affect the others. Reduce, reorganize, recycle and renew are the four "Rs" currently driving the company's vision. Every new product is designed to Reduce the weight of the tires, CO2 emissions, fuel consumption and the number of tires used for the same number of kilometres travelled. Tire Retreading, which allows a casing to be used over  500,000 km safely, saving 70% of raw materials, is the pillar of the second "R". Michelin's commitment to Ecopneus, the consortium that takes care of recycling ELTs mainly for the construction of roads and sports surfaces, is responsible for the third “R”. Renewing, on the other hand, means using fewer and fewer materials of fossil origin in favour of, for example, natural and reusable rubber. Following an investment of 18 million euro, 1.7 of which granted by the Region, a new process of research and development produced the aforementioned extruder, which originated from other machines duly modified, a digital workload simulator that streamlines production, automated transport, expected to start in the fall, will allow staff members to be used only when more delicate tasks are involved, an automated procedure for internal welding of the casings, and an A/C management system that collects data on air quality on an on-going basis. Designed in  collaboration with Enerbrain and the Polytechnic of Turin, the Spinetta Marengo plant features optimal working conditions throughout the plant and a 40% reduction of the energy required for cooling and heating. A study is underway to extend the same production system to the Cuneo plant.


Mef, measuring the footprint

The name Mef, Michelin Environmental Footprint, points to the indicator designed in 2005 by the company to calculate the environmental impact of each of its production facilities. It is obtained by dividing the impact recorded during the year in progress (consumption of electricity, water and gas, emissions of CO2 and volatile compounds, production of  un-recyclable waste) by the data recorded during the reference year (2005). Last year Spinetta recorded a MEF of 31, against the general average of 48 in all the other plants. A result made possible thanks to a combination of factors such as Trigeneration or combined cooling, heat and power, replacing old air compressors with newer high-performance models, low-consumption lighting, the aforementioned analysis of air conditioning and the efficient use of 100% of the waste produced.


Michelin’s range for heavy duty transport 

Truck tires are what the Spinetta factory is all about. They produce 70 different models and sizes and every day as many as 37 different types of tires are produced, including the ones used in one of the most gruelling competitions in motorsports, the Dakar! Michelin’s range for trucks and buses is divided into six lines. The X Line is designed for long-distance transport where the main focus is the reduction of fuel consumption. Regional or long transport over winding routes with lots of hills and mountain passes has been entrusted to the X Multi, able to guarantee more than adequate grip and mileage without neglecting to be robust enough for the job. X Works is the range that deals with the most severe conditions on regional routes, urban tasks such as going in and out of building sites and waste collection, on-off road applications albeit with a prevalence of road use; the main focus here are sturdiness and mileage. Specific for off-road use, instead, is the uncompromising X Force, while the X InCity is dedicated to urban tasks, where robustness and mileage are equally important. Finally, X Coach thinks about long-range and intercity buses, with a focus on safety, mileage and comfort.

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