How Are Tiremakers, Suppliers Using AI?

Aug. 14, 2023

The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t new. The term was coined during a conference held at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College in 1956. 

However, AI is a relatively new concept to the tire industry. But that hasn’t stopped tire manufacturers, suppliers and distributors from already incorporating it into their operations. 

Many of these companies are convinced that AI not only can help design better tires. They also believe the technology can help optimize tire manufacturing, logistics, customer service and other functions. (Editor’s note: MTD reached out to a number of tire manufacturers and suppliers for information about how they are using AI. Some elected not to participate in this article.) 

Bridgestone Americas Inc. “has been using AI technology for several years now, with a focus on tire and material design, but also extending to tire manufacturing and operation – leveraging the extensive data sets associated with the tire and technology development process,” says Hans Dorfi, senior vice president, product development, Bridgestone Americas. 

“Specific to tire development, the focus is the use of AI to support and accelerate engineering processes and also accelerate discovery of new technologies,” including compounds. 

Can AI be used to help design and build better tires? Can AI help enhance tire demand forecasting and distribution? It’s already happening.  

Hizmy Hassen chief digital officer at Apollo Tyres Ltd., which owns, manufactures and sells Vredestein brand passenger and light truck tires and Apollo brand commercial truck tires in North America, says AI “is steadily making its way into how tires are produced” at the company. 

“We are developing applications using AI to optimize production scheduling, drive workflow efficiency and control machine parameters. 

“This adoption of AI has helped us to push up efficiency and quality, as well as improve output at our plants, with no additional cost. 

“Besides being capital intensive, the mixing of compounds is a crucial process in the manufacturing of tires, since it has a significant influence on the characteristics of the tire.  

“AI algorithms automatically tweak machine parameters to ensure there are fewer stoppages in production.” 

“In other areas of the business, we have been able to improve our sales forecasting by using AI for checking the weather conditions, exchange rates, etc, which allows us to provide much better availability of stocks at a lower working capital,” says Hassen. 

Pier Paolo Tamma, senior vice president and chief digital officer for Pirelli & Cie SpA, say Pirelli uses AI “in the form of numerous algorithms that support the various processes in the development of our tires,” starting with the tire’s design and advancing to “testing for performance and level of safety in a virtual setting.” 

Pirelli’s main research and development center in Milan, Italy, features a “static virtual simulator. Pirelli applies these instruments globally, including (in) North America, and they are combined with more traditional processes.” 

The increased use of AI-supported, virtual processes helps Pirelli optimize the performance of its tires, “speeds up the offering of new products and also reduces the need for real prototypes, which has a positive impact on the environment.” 

Hankook Tire America Corp. says it is using multiple AI systems, including “a broad suite of AI algorithms and virtual or digital twin prediction technologies … applied at all stages of design, development, manufacturing, deployment and usage of our products.” 

“More recently, we have been accelerating the capabilities and applications of our AI algorithms and virtual technologies through expanded internal and outsourced research,” says Robert Wheeler, vice president  of tire engineering technology, Hankook. 

Wheeler notes that Hankook’s Daejon, South Korea-based Technodome facility “leads this research,” with collaboration in some areas with Hankook’s Akron, Ohio-based tech center. 

The company also is developing new tires using its Virtual Tire Model technology, which “allows us to deliver optimized designs for the U.S. market by utilizing big data analysis and AI,” he adds. 

Nexen Tire America “is using what is commonly referred to as AI in our tire development process and also for testing and manufacturing,” says Aaron Neumann, product development manager, Nexen. 

“We have a large database  of 190,000 tires with specifications linked to real test data. AI is used to run predictions against this database. We can quickly run lots of design permutations and get performance predictions. 

“We also use AI to process shearography and X-ray images to detect anomalies and in another case, to reduce airborne noise produced by tread blocks,” says Neumann. “In all cases, what we are doing is using advances in computing power to process huge amounts of data in order to make better, data-driven decisions.” 

Other manufacturers, like Maxxis International-USA, are exploring possible use of AI. 

“In tire design and development, AI could play a crucial role in optimizing the performance and durability of our tires,” says Chris Jenkins, programs and marketing manager, Maxxis. 

“Algorithms could be used to simulate and analyze tire performance under different conditions, enabling us to fine-tune the design and composition of our products to meet specific performance requirements.” 

In addition, “through AI-driven analytics, we could gain deeper insights into customer preferences and usage patterns.” 

On the factory side “we could optimize manufacturing processes, reduce waste and ensure consistent tire quality,” says Jenkins. 

“AI also could be utilized in tire distribution and logistics. By leveraging AI algorithms and data analytics, we could optimize supply chain management – forecasting demand and ensuring timely delivery to our customers.” 

AI certainly has applications when it comes to logistics and tire distribution, says Tony Gonzalez, CEO of Tire International Group LLC. 

“We are using the foundations of AI to help us forecast inventory levels, better manage our warehouses and actively monitor our delivery vehicles. We see AI as a tool to assist our staff in making better decisions, alerting them when there are anomalies and freeing up their time. 

“We are still early in the process of rolling out and refining some of the aforementioned initiatives, but we are excited about what this technology can do,” says Gonzalez. 

“We understand that we are just scratching the surface and the possibilities are limitless with this technology.” 

American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd.’s research team “continues to evaluate new and emerging technologies to determine what provides the optimum balance of performance, safety and sustainability and cost,” says Joshua Herron, chief engineer and manager of tire research, for the company. 

“As the AI revolution continues, we will continue to evaluate how it will play into our focus of helping our customers reach their destinations safely and reliably. 

“AI systems are a wonderful tool to experiment within the bounds of training, but we at Kenda prefer to look past the current horizon to aim to what is next,” says Herron. 

What does the future hold? 

Manufacturers and other suppliers say they will continue to explore – and optimize – the use of AI. 

Bridgestone “is actively increasing our use of AI to accelerate time-to-market for solutions to make our products and customers more sustainable,” says Jason Beyer, vice president, data and analytics, Bridgestone Americas. 

“AI technologies can enable us to respond to customers in a faster, more efficient and effective way.” 

Apollo says that in North America, AI-enabled sales forecasting will help Apollo “ensure we maximize inventory availability for our customers at optimum supply chain costs and working capital levels.  

“Further to this, to support our growth in the U.S., we are using modelling tools to establish the most optimum distribution locations in the country and also optimize inventory replenishment parameters.” 

“AI will play a growing role for Pirelli customers  - not only in the U.S., but worldwide,” says Tamma, as the company continues to apply the technology “in many areas, as a support to traditional operations. 

“They involve, for example, the tire development process enhanced by virtual machine learning, the prediction of commercial trends and the evaluation of new products using specific algorithms that are themselves continuously evolving.” 

“AI will help us create variations of methods, execute tests and find possibilities,” says Hankook’s Wheeler. 

To improve the vehicle owner’s driving experience, “we are using and developing real-time performance predictions with AI as part of our intelligent tire program. Here, we are developing AI algorithms to analyze vehicle and tire sensor data to identify load, wear and road conditions.” 

Nexen’s Neumann says that “the power of AI has only begun to be utilized. As AI develops, there will be countless applications in all areas of business, leading to improvements in efficiency.” 

“AI could play a significant role in shaping the future of what Maxxis offers to its customers,” says Jenkins.  

“AI could be very instrumental in driving innovation, improving tire performance and delivering exceptional customer experiences as manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of what’s available in the tire industry.” 

“We will continue to explore ways to harness AI to become more efficient, better inform our customers and provide even better service in the tire industry,” says TGI’s Gonzalez. 

About the Author

Mike Manges | Editor

Mike Manges is Modern Tire Dealer’s editor. A 25-year tire industry veteran, he is a three-time International Automotive Media Association award winner and holds a Gold Award from the Association of Automotive Publication Editors. Mike has traveled the world in pursuit of stories that will help independent tire dealers move their businesses forward. Before rejoining MTD in September 2019, he held corporate communications positions at two Fortune 500 companies and served as MTD’s senior editor from 2000 to 2010.