When Umberto Guidoni – Italy’s most famous astronaut – takes the stage at Pirelli’s Quality Day in Milan, the audience may wonder what journeying into space can teach them about the down-to-earth business of making tyres. Space stations and zero gravity, after all, are miles away from cars and the rubber needed to grip the roads of Planet Earth.
The parallels, however, will soon become clear. There is the obvious need to guarantee the safety of passengers – whether on the road or in space – and make sure they return home safely. But the automotive industry is also facing a range of new disruptive challenges – including the rise of automation and the so-called fourth industrial revolution – Pirelli is, effectively, accelerating into the unknown. “An astronaut sees the Earth from a different perspective,” says Marco Marioni, Pirelli’s Senior Vice President Quality. “They experience a new place and must be prepared for the unexpected. They can be brave because they are competent.”
With the automotive industry facing a range of new disruptive challenges, Pirelli is, effectively, accelerating into the unknown
There is no doubt that Guidoni, 62, epitomises both these characteristics. The first European to visit the International Space Station and a veteran of two space-shuttle flights, he has spent 27 days in space and still found time to become a Member of the European Parliament. Marioni believes his experiences can help Pirelli understand the challenges ahead: to embrace change and push the boundaries of what is possible without compromising the company’s rigorous quality and safety standards.
An event to challenge and inspire
The event, entitled Quality in a Changing Environment, is part of a United Nations initiative to promote awareness of quality issues around the world. Each year Pirelli staff, including top executives, are invited to attend Quality Day, which is designed to be exciting, informative and often surprising. Past guest speakers include the charismatic and highly successful Horatio Pagani, founder of Pagani Automobili and maker of supercars such as the Pagani Zonda. “He’s a great speaker with immense experience of prestige products and he shared with us his unique ideas about marketing and customer focus,” notes Marioni.
Italian chef Simone Rugiati was another star performer who revealed his recipe for success. He explained how delivering the best customer experience involves controlling every element of the process, from buying the best ingredients to producing a beautiful dish in the right setting.
Quality Day is designed to be exciting, informative and often surprising
Future demands of life on the road
This year’s theme of preparing for the unknown is perhaps more serious. In addition to 400 staff members, it has attracted senior Pirelli executives including Maurizio Boiocchi, Pirelli’s General Manager Technology, Luigi Staccoli, GM Pirelli Digital, and Paul Hembery, Motorsport Director.
Each of them will play a major role in guiding Pirelli into the next phase of its evolution as a company. Hembery, for example, is responsible for the high-profile Formula One tyre programme and has the challenge of supplying a new size of tyre to the F1 teams. Staccoli is overseeing the digital development of the firm – both in terms of the organisation and its communications – as well as the cyber-tyre business. These innovative cyber-tyre products, which apply cutting-edge technology and the application of complicated algorithms, must satisfy customer demands.
Supplying innovative products to a space shuttle involves a very similar process to providing a new tyre to a land-based vehicle
Quality and consistency worthy of NASA
Astronaut Umberto Guidoni’s contribution will be backed up by the insights of Argotec, a pioneering Turin-based company that designs and builds satellites for scientific and commercial services as well as payloads for NASA and the European Space Agency. It also trains astronauts and creates organic – and tasty – space food with a shelf-life of 24 months. There are no freezers on the space station.
Quality clearly lies at the heart of Argotec’s corporate culture – and supplying innovative products to a space shuttle involves a very similar process to providing a new tyre to a land-based vehicle. Each must pass stringent quality tests and perform perfectly. “When we produce a tyre it is a safety product,” explains Marioni. “If it fails there are issues and we are responsible. Argotec also trains astronauts to make zero mistakes. The right training is vital if you want to ensure perfect execution of tasks.”
Pirelli has innovation at its heart as it heads boldly into the future – with new developments such as cyber-tyre sensors and virtual reality training – and the Quality Day initiative demonstrates the transformation taking place right across the company. “The message is that we are changing gear,” says Marioni. “We are leaving our comfort zone and must adapt our standards so we can create the right products without slowing down or compromising on safety. With a brand like Pirelli, however, quality is always vital.”