Tire technicians, employed by tire manufacturers, test tires to determine their strength, durability (how long they will last), and any defects in their construction. Approximately 19,800 tire builders are employed in the United States.
History of Tire Technician Career
Before tires came into use, wheels were banded by metal. Copper bands were used on chariot wheels in the Middle East as early as 2000 BC. Strips of metal were widely used on wheels in medieval and early modern times.
Robert Thomson patented the first pneumatic tire for carriages in 1845. Thirty-three years later, John Dunlop patented a pneumatic tire for automobiles and bicycles and created a company for the manufacture of such tires. Early automobiles used solid rubber tires or narrow pneumatic tires similar to inner-tube or single-tube bicycle tires. As automobiles grew heavier and as vehicle size and speed increased, tire manufacturers developed better and more durable tires. After World War II, synthetic rubber and synthetic fibers were used for most tire construction. In the following years, the tubeless automobile tire, puncture-sealing tires, and radial-ply tires were introduced for American trucks, cars, planes, and other vehicles. Throughout the last 150 years of tire innovation, tire technicians have been called upon to test and monitor the quality and durability of these tires.
The Job of Tire Technicians
Most tire technicians work either with experimental models of tires that are not yet ready for manufacturing or with production samples as they come out of the factory. Technicians who are involved mostly with testing tires from the factory are called quality-control technicians.
There are mainly two types of testing performed by tire technicians: dedicated and free-flowing, or general, testing. Dedicated testing is a high-tech, electronically run procedure that measures rolling resistance. This is the resistance at which a tire meets force and momentum (the force acting against the tire). Dedicated testing requires the technician to be present at all times during the procedure, monitoring the machines, programming variables, and collecting data. Free-flowing testing is a durability type testing. It may last for days or even weeks and covers many different operations that test the tire’s durability. A tire technician might test 45 tires at once using different procedures.
To perform testing, tire technicians inflate the tires and mount them on testing machines. These machines recreate the stresses of actual road conditions, such as traveling at high speeds, carrying a heavy load, or going over bumpy roads. The technicians can adjust the machines to change the speed, the weight of the load, or the bumpiness of the road surface. Then they use pressure gauges and other devices to detect whether any parts of the tire are damaged and to evaluate tire uniformity, quality, and durability. This is done either while the tire is on the machine or after it is taken off. Technicians continue testing the tire until it fails or until it has lasted for some specified period of time.
Another test involves cutting cross-sections from brand new or road-tested tires. Technicians use power saws to cut up tires and then inspect the pieces to assess the condition of the cords, the plies (which are rubbery sheets of material inside the tire), and the tread.
Throughout the testing, tire technicians keep careful records of all test results. Later, they prepare reports that may include charts, tables, and graphs to help describe and explain the test results. If a flaw is found, the technician records the data collected and reports it to the supervisor or the engineer in charge. The safety of all vehicles riding on all types of tires is dependent upon the role the tire technician plays in the tire manufacturing process.
Tire Technician Career Requirements
Tire technicians need to be high school graduates. While in high school, students interested in this career should take courses in science and mathematics, including algebra and geometry; English courses that improve reading and writing skills; and shop or laboratory science courses that introduce measuring devices, electrical machinery, and electronic testing equipment. Training in typing will also allow tire technicians to quickly input and deliver information.
Increasingly, many employers prefer applicants with postsecondary training in a field related to manufacturing or product testing. For example, some tire manufacturers require a two-year technical certificate or an associate’s degree in electronics for those seeking employment. You can receive this kind of training at a vocational school or a community or junior college.
Tire technicians must have good written and oral communications skills in order to relay results to other technicians, engineers, managers, and supervisors. They need to be skillful in writing reports and adept at reading and producing charts and graphs. They must also be familiar with computers and able to collect and record data accurately and precisely.
Exploring Tire Technician Career
Students can get a general overview of the tire industry by reading the annual publication from the Tire and Rim Association (TRA), the TRA Yearbook, or the magazine Tire Review (http://www.tirereview.com/). A high school science teacher or guidance counselor may also be able to arrange a presentation by an experienced tire technician. Students may gain indirect experience by working part time or in the summer at a plant where tires are manufactured and tested.
Tire technicians are employed by tire manufacturers. The large manufacturing companies, such as Goodyear, Dunlop, and Michelin, all employ technicians to conduct testing on new tires.
A good way to find employment is to apply directly at personnel offices of tire manufacturers. Employment placement services at technical institutes and vocational schools also will be good sources of information. Employers looking for qualified technicians often contact these schools when there are job openings.
Experienced tire technicians may also find opportunities in engineering. Those with advanced training in engineering may become tire test engineers or information processors. Those with considerable tenure with one company and proven organizational and communications skills may advance to management positions. Advanced tire technicians may become supervisors in the tire testing area or in other sections of the facility.
Experience as a tire technician may also provide a good background for work in quality control, which involves examining a product after it is produced. Quality control personnel can be found in many environments, from factories to offices.
Tire technicians are classified with inspectors, testers, and graders. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, median hourly earnings of inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers were $14.04 in 2005 (for a median annual, full-time salary of $32,050). Wages ranged from less than $8.56 an hour to more than $25.37 an hour, or from less than $17,800 to more than $52,700 for full-time work. The median salary for a tire builder is $17.68 hourly and $36,770 annually, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, with wages ranging from $20,720 and $54,400.
Employees of large manufacturing facilities are usually eligible for paid vacations, holidays, sick days, and insurance. Many facilities operate around the clock, and opportunities to work off-shifts, Sundays, and holidays bring time-and-a-half and double-time compensation.
Many plants operate 24 hours a day. Newly hired technicians may have to work off-shifts, nights, and weekends. More experienced tire technicians usually get a choice of shifts.
Tire technicians are responsible for filling out reports, making charts and graphs, and relaying important information, both verbally and in writing. As a result, they are under considerable stress to provide accurate, detailed information in a timely manner. They also must frequently work on several projects simultaneously and be able to change projects midstream to address changing deadlines. Tire technicians can be proud that they are relied on to make decisions that affect both multimillion dollar businesses and the driving public.
Tire Technician Career Outlook
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts employment for inspectors, testers, and graders, like many other jobs in manufacturing, to grow more slowly than the average through 2014. One reason for this slow growth may be the increased use of computer software and automated systems to run the machines that test tires. However, recent problems in the tire industry are leading to changes in manufacturing processes and to tougher auto safety laws, which may result in more jobs for tire technicians. In August 2000, the large tire manufacturer Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires, costing the company millions of dollars. As a result of the recall, people have become more aware of tire problems and have begun to pay closer attention to tire maintenance. Also, tire manufacturers have become more focused on proving to consumers that their tires are safe, well designed, and thoroughly tested. Many tire companies are investing in new equipment, upgrading testing areas, and expanding research and development centers. As consumers and the government demand more consistent quality checks, the tire industry will likely rely on the skills of well-trained tire technicians.