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Mission control

Mission control

Since it began applying its automated handling technologies in the tyre sector decades ago, Cimcorp’s scope of supply has gradually widened. The robotic systems the company delivers are fascinating to see in action but perhaps more impressive is the software that drives them

 

Kai Tuomisaari, Vice President, Sales, Cimcorp Oy

In the quest to improve efficiency in tyre factories, software is a powerful tool. Tyre manufacturers know that they must invest in the latest control systems to achieve optimum asset utilization and avoid the nightmare scenario of a plant stoppage.

“Software enables a level of production agility that is undoubtedly the solution to the complexity facing tyre manufacturers today,” says Kai Tuomisaari, Vice President, Sales for Cimcorp. “The industry is so competitive that suppliers must take every opportunity to optimize their processes, maximize output and minimize scrap. And it’s software that is enabling them to achieve this.”

The Finnish automation supplier was not always so focused on software, however. “When we began offering robotic automation to the tyre industry,” admits Tuomisaari, “we simply provided the software to control our own material handling equipment – the gantry robots, monorail transfers, automated guided vehicles, conveyors and automated storage systems – but soon clients began to push us to extend the scope of our control systems to include their production machinery in the raw materials and components areas. The result was the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) module within our controls platform,” continues Tuomisaari, “which became the cornerstone of our success in the tyre sector, really. Through the MES, we can ensure complete traceability for every single tyre, from raw materials right through to the shipping dock. With the safety issues resulting from counterfeit tyres today, and the potential insurance implications of autonomous vehicles in the future, there is a genuine need for full traceability, even across globalized supply chains.”

SKU proliferation

Don Heelis

According to Tuomisaari, agility has never been more important for tyre plants than it is today. “As well as a highly competitive marketplace, tyre producers face some tough and evolving challenges,” he says. “For example, Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU) proliferation is set to continue because tyres are one of the tools that OEMs can use to tweak vehicle performance and differentiate their models. Add to this the increasing volumes of electric cars and the future market for autonomous vehicles – which will both add different tyre sizes to the existing petrol or diesel models – and tyre plants will need to deal with ever higher numbers of SKUs,” says Tuomisaari. “Software systems, informed by big data, can help manufacturers to plan their production to be just-in-time, without the need for large buffers between the process steps.”

Reduction of buffer stocks has undoubtedly been one of the key attractions of robotic automation for tyre producers. Cimcorp’s software manages the lot sizes of the building machines, controls the green tyre buffer and optimizes the material flow between the building and curing lines. In this way, the green tyre inventory can be maintained at an optimum level, with the presses having sufficient green tyres for curing but without an unnecessarily large buffer stock. “In the traditional solution,” explains Tuomisaari, “the buffer consisted of several thousand green tyres, whereas now it can be several hundred, depending on the plant’s production capacity. Precise tracking allows 100% availability of components at all process machines, enabling smaller production batches and less need for buffer storage. The same inventory savings can be made in the finishing area,” adds Tuomisaari, “where finished tyres are buffered before and after uniformity testing. Reduction of buffer stocks is critical if tyre companies are to be able to cope with continuing SKU proliferation.”

Smart factories

There is no doubt that software has played an important role in achieving better productivity and higher quality in the tyre industry over the last few decades. Looking ahead, as manufacturers embrace Industry 4.0, the IoT and big data analytics, the importance of MES functionality can only increase. Tuomisaari is confident of Cimcorp’s progress in this respect: “With modular plant structure, process control and robotic automation,” he says, “our Dream Factory solution for tyre factories already features key elements of Industry 4.0. Whether a tyre plant is greenfield or brownfield, it is essential to streamline the manufacturing process. It is software that is allowing tyre companies to leverage efficiency in order to gain competitive advantage. In the end, only smart factories will survive.”

WCS and MES

In modern tyre plants, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between production processes and logistics processes. In software terms, too, the lines can appear somewhat blurred. Pasi Kankaanpää, Director of Software Engineering for Cimcorp, explains how the company’s control systems fit together: “The entire material flow is controlled by our Warehouse Control System (WCS), which integrates individual system components into one material handling solution. It takes care of key functions such as receiving product from upstream processes, routing of tyres, sorting of tyres by SKU, palletization, storage, order picking and dispatch. Our Manufacturing Execution System, meanwhile,” continues Kankaanpää, “collects and traces production data, recipe management and reporting.”

Traceability

In the raw materials and component processing area, the Cimcorp MES is designed to provide full control for recipe management – including recipe creation, amendment, uploading, archiving and validation – as well as workstation management, material movement management and production simulation. Material batches, operators and processing times are all logged in the MES and In-Process Verification (IPV) ensures that the right and high quality raw materials, components or products arrive at each processing station. “Through real-time inventories, reports and alerts, the MES provides complete traceability of raw materials and components,” says Pasi Kankaanpää. “With better information on raw material requirements and processing, manufacturers can keep lower stock levels, requiring less space and releasing capital for other uses,” he adds.

Automating brownfield plants

A number of case studies in recent years have shown that introducing logistics automation in brownfield sites can throw up quite a few challenges. Don Heelis, Tyre Industry Sales Manager for Cimcorp North America, is familiar with the issues. With the trend being for tyre makers to site their manufacturing facilities in or close to the intended sales region, the USA has seen an influx in recent years of greenfield plants that have been designed around automation. “This has been a wake-up call for the indigenous manufacturers, many of whose plants were built in the in the 1950s and 1960s,” says Don Heelis. “To remain competitive and retain their market share, they are being forced to automate their legacy plants, despite the difficulties resulting from the characteristics of the existing layouts and older buildings, such as low ceiling heights and random obstructions.”

AGVs are the answer

Even with these problems at brownfield sites, Cimcorp has been able to deliver its Dream Factory concept in a number of them. Explains Heelis, “Although the plants are not laid out in a way that facilitates a streamlined and material flow – mainly due to the need in the past for large buffer areas between production processes based on manual operations – we have successfully implemented Dream Factory by using automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to connect the various areas in an efficient and speedy way. Dream Factory can simply be broken down into modules,” says Heelis, “for installation in the raw material handling, component preparation, tyre building, green tyre storage and retrieval, curing, finishing, warehousing and order fulfilment areas.”

System support

Whether a factory is producing tyres, sofas, pizzas or nails, idle machines mean zero output – and zero output means zero revenue and zero profit. If systems are operating 24/7, you simply cannot get this lost production back. “Fortunately, the modular design of our solutions mitigates this risk,” says Kai Tuomisaari. “The production flow consists of several parallel but independent lines so, if one line has a problem, the rest of the lines remain functional. There is inherent redundancy. This is not to say that we don’t recognize that asset utilization is critical for tyre producers,” stresses Kai Tuomisaari. “If there is an unexpected interruption to production, rapid recovery and repair is paramount. This is a responsibility that our 24/7 help desk team takes extremely seriously. Through remote diagnosis and swift technical support, we work hard to get clients’ systems back to full operation as quickly as possible. In reality now,” he adds, “in many instances we are employing advanced sensor technology to reveal potential issues before they become apparent, thereby preventing critical situations from even arising.”

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