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Pirelli MIRS Technology A fully automated production process for motorcycle tires

Luca Bruschelli

In the new millennium Pirelli Modular Integrated Robotized System (MIRS) has changed the world of tire manufacturing, cutting the 14 phases of tire building of the traditional process to just three: semi-finished components preparation, building/curing and finishing. This paper focuses on the synergy between MIRS industrial capabilities and In particular the flexibility to manage small production batches, the control of tire geometry on critical low-thickness tires, the opportunity to raise the bar of feasibility to more sophisticated shapes turned the application of MIRS process on motorbike segment into the story of a success.

1. Introduction
Tire manufacturing began as a manpower-intensive process that required skilled operators and large machines to assemble the dozens of components used to produce a tire. Typical tire factories have grown to over a million feet under roof and each tire requires extensive setup to change from one type or size to another.

Fig. 1 Factory process layout of traditional process

The Pirelli Modular Integrated Robotized System (MIRS) has changed that. MIRS reduces Pirellis 14 traditional phases of tire construction to just three: preparation of semi-finished components, building/curing and finishing. The first thing you notice about a MIRS module is its size. Requiring less than 400 square meters of floor space, the entire production process is concentrated in an extremely small area. Little space is required for the preparing or staging of raw materials as they are transformed into finished product without interruption.

Fig. 2 Factory process layout of MIRS process

The next thing is the precision of the robots as they carry out their computerchoreographed tasks. Beginning with a bare metal drum custom-made for each specific size and type of tire, the robots precisely place the required rubber, fabric and steel components onto the drum. Since many of these components are applied spirally as the drum rotates, the finished tire is extremely consistent and uniform. The desired shape of every element is achieved by means of repetitive spiral application of a properly small extruded rubber shape. As each robot completes its job, the partially completed tire is handed off to the next robot to add the next components. After all the robots have completed their assigned manufacturing tasks, the tires are cured in segmented molds circulating on a multi-position carrousel specifically designed for MIRS manufacturing. A MIRS module completes curing a tire every three minutes or less and each tires balance and uniformity is confirmed before it moves on to final inspection.

Fig. 3 Typical structure of a motorbike tire

Fig. 4 Modular and miniaturized MIRS construction

For a process that was once manpower intensive, its interesting to note that the first time a MIRS tire is touched by human hands is after it has completed the manufacturing process. This is when a Pirelli technician inspects it for cosmetic flaws before sending it to the warehouse to begin its journey to vehicle manufacturers or tire dealers around the world. The next important capability provided by MIRS is its flexibility. In the last ten years the number of tire sizes and tread patterns has almost doubled, with most new sizes combining sophisticated profiles, large rim diameters and lower annual volumes that cant be produced efficiently in a standard tire factory. One of the advantages MIRS offers is as long as the basic plies, belts and compounds remain the same, MIRS programming allows it to manufacturer multiple sizes without missing a beat. Compared to the traditional, large-scale manufacturing systems with highvolume production rates, a MIRS module is a compact production island that masters low volume runs and can be programmed for extremely rapid adaptation to the production of new tire models. Pirelli has truly blended creativity and technology in the Modular Integrated Robotized System.

2. Main Section
MIRS is one step of Pirellis long story of innovation. In particular for the motorbike product Pirelli has been a recognised leader in technology since the 90s with the introduction of the radial construction with zero degree steel cord, shortly followed by a bunch of innovative materials like Kevlar pulp and PenTec; in more recent years in the new millennium many concepts more product-related went to light like the Dual Arc Tread for profile control, the MAW winding technology aimed to fine tune the structural reinforcement of zero degree, the EPT - Enhanced Patch Technology and the Interact both designed with the goal to optimise through different approaches the answer of the whole tire as a complex structure for a better behaviour. MIRS is a very important part of the process innovations that also came after 2000, with the birth of multi-compound technology and of innovative continuous compound mixing machines. And with the support of the new processes again many recent product breakthroughs like the Wintec, the stunning wet supremacy in sport touring segment, the introduction of a new generation of high tensile carcasses in racing.

This story of innovation reflects the orientation to Premium Products that is the distinctive sign of Pirelli. In particular the world of motorbike tires has several specific needs and features that perfectly match with some of Pirellis technologies. The need of a perfect balance between performance and weight leads to the design of simple but sophisticated structures, with the need to master in precise way the shape of the internal elements of the tire that are in some case just few millimetres wide. Motorbike development, especially for supersport and race-replica bikes, has reached performances that were until few years ago only possible with race machines; and the tires are the connection to the asphalt that make possible to exploit this. The direction of development for this kind of products has chosen many solutions that were in the past typical of racing, like high hysteresis compounds, stiff carcass, and profiles with increased curvature. Moreover, the request of motorbike manufacturers has led through the years to a multiplication of number of sizes and of combination of size / speed index / load index, thus increasing the complexity for the tire industry in order to fulfil the mix of items requested by the markets with consequent trade-off between volume, mix and efficiency. The combination of these challenging product requirements (performance, rolling smoothness, grip in dry and wet, mileage), of process capability needs (tire weight, geometry control, extreme shape) and of market segmentation (logistic difficulty to balance the production mix) have found an optimal answer in the MIRS process. MIRS allows to switch between different production lots with no loss of material nor time, and is capable to guarantee superior control and of tire geometry by means of the robotised automatic process; making possible the industrialisation and the large scale production of technical solutions that were once feasible only by means of skilled handmade tire building. Moreover the process is capable of a perfect realisation of the most complex tire geometries thanks to the spiral application of small standardized strips of extruded compound (see fig.4). In other words, with the same small bricks a cathedral or a castle may be built in the same time on the same machinery, with great benefits for the optimisation of production mix. With the support of this process it is possible to turn what was once a tailormade technical solution into an industrial reality. PIRELLI says, we race what we sell, we sell what we race

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