NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Mexico will be the second stop for Bridgestone Corp.´s automated tire manufacturing process.
Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. said work will begin soon on a $220 million factory in Monterrey, Mexico, that will use Bridgestone Corp.´s proprietary BIRD tire production system. The firm expects the plant to begin operations in July 2007, with capacity to make 8,000 high-performance, ultra-high performance and large-rim diameter passenger and light truck tires daily. Employment is forecast at 200.
The BIRD—Bridgestone Innovative and Rational Development—production process automates all stages of tire making, from materials processing to final inspection, according to the company. The BIRD system also makes it possible to produce several different types and sizes of the tires simultaneously.
Bridgestone´s first BIRD system was installed earlier this year at the parent company´s plant in Hikone, Japan, and will begin full production in the near future, a Bridgestone Americas spokeswoman said. "I´ve seen it in prototype format in Japan and it is absolutely remarkable," she said.
The Monterrey factory will be Bridgestone´s third in Mexico, complementing Bridgestone Firestone de Mexico S.A. de C.V. operations in Mexico City and Cuernavaca. It will be Bridgestone´s 49th tire facility worldwide.
There was no single factor that resulted in the BIRD project´s landing in Mexico, the spokeswoman said, but rather a balance of variables such as availability of work force, support from local and national governments, transportation and resources. Though she couldn´t provide details, she said the "state of Nuevo Leon government was very supportive."
Having access to lower labor costs in Mexico plays far less of a role in a highly automated factory such as this than it does in a traditional tire manufacturing facility, she said. For example, while the Monterrey plant will employ just 200, a facility Bridgestone is building in Brazil to open in the second half of 2006 also will make 8,000 passenger and light truck tires a day but will require 500 employees.
The tire maker expects most of the production from Monterrey to service North America, but that could change depending on market demands when the factory opens.
"Bridgestone looks at sourcing from a global perspective," the spokeswoman said. "Where the tires end up will be where the need happens to be at that particular point in time when we´re actually producing tires."
The BIRD technology also will help in the dynamic changes the tire market has and will continue to see in terms of the proliferation of tire types and sizes, she said. "It´s exciting from the consumers´ perspective. It allows for more choice. But it´s challenging for manufacturers. You can´t make hundreds of thousands of one size anymore. BIRD allows us a higher degree of flexibility."
Bridgestone is running close to capacity throughout its tire manufacturing operations and has been looking to add capacity with various projects around the globe. The spokeswoman said the company is "cautiously optimistic" about future growth. It sees continued strength in the truck tire market, as well as the agriculture and off-the-road segments.
Passenger and light truck tire growth isn´t expected to be as robust, she said, but gains are forecast there as well. The company is especially pleased that about 60 percent of sales in these markets have been for the Bridgestone or Firestone brands, a share that´s been rising gradually the past several years.