Tailor made

What goes into producing the tyres for your car?

They're only round and black, so how hard can it be to make a tyre? To find out exactly what is involved, we asked Michelin, who invited us along to one of its state-of-the-art facilities to build our very own.

When you consider that more than 200 components go into constructing one, you start to get some idea of how complex the process is. And as many are still made by hand, there is much more under that tread and sidewall than you'd first expect.

True, machines are now used for high-volume tyre manufacturing, but they have only been around for the past decade or so. These are capable of turning out around 2,000 tyres during an eight-hour shift.

However, short-run specialist rubber is often still hand-built, given the intricate nature of the production process. Here, the only things that are automated are the supply of components and materials. While this method is not as cost-effective, a skilled operator is capable of making 50 to 60 tyres a day.

Which brings us to Michelin's Cataroux factory in the heart of France. Based in Clermont-Ferrand, the facility hand-builds high-performance road tyres, including ranges for racing, rallying and vintage cars - the perfect place for us to get our hands dirty. Even before we don our safety boots, it soon becomes clear the amount of work that has already been done for us. Elsewhere on the site - and at other Michelin plants the metal, steel, rubber, silica, vulcanisers, fabrics, polyesters and dozens more ingredients have been mixed and shaped into the various strips, belts, panels and cords that would go into our tyre.

The circular work station we've been allocated has also been prepared with the various components - all in the correct position to be laid on the tyre-building drum. Depending on the design, this process alone can take up to two eight-hour shifts to set up. Our tyre was just about the simplest around: a 125/R15 for that French classic, the Citroen 2CV, which Michelin still makes 8,500 tyres a year for. With the knife gently heating at our side, we were about to make it 8,501.

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