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Tailored support

Tailored support

Cimcorp’s Customer Support Director, Ilpo Nummelin, explains the value of bespoke service support for material handling automation in tyre factories

Modern tyre factories are distinguished by efficient and rapid material handling processes that integrate the various manufacturing stages. Significant automation of tyre plant intralogistics in recent years means that maximizing production depends on optimizing the reliability and availability of these material handling systems. This is a fact that Ilpo Nummelin, Director of Customer Support for automation supplier Cimcorp, is only too well aware of: “Having delivered robotic automation to tyre companies for over three decades, hundreds of tyre plants worldwide depend on our systems and expect a fast response to any issues,” he says. Cimcorp counts among those clients no less than seven of the world’s top ten tyre manufacturers, as well as a number of the industry’s agile newcomers. As the company – part of the Japanese-owned Murata Machinery group since 2014 – continues to grow, so do its responsibilities in terms of global service support. “We take our service commitment extremely seriously,” says Nummelin, “because our reputation in the market depends on it. It is also driving our growth strategy to some extent,” he continues, “with the opening of our new location in India being the most recent example.”

Bespoke service

Given that Cimcorp’s systems are vital to its customers – with interfaces to various production equipment and connection to the factory’s host system – it is perhaps not surprising that almost all of the company’s customers sign up for its system support. There are various levels of service, however, so clients can select a support package that meets their individual needs. “And that really does mean individual,” says Ilpo Nummelin, “because every customer service contract with Cimcorp is unique to the client. Much like a tailored suit from London’s famous Savile Row, we work with the customer to measure their precise requirements for system support before designing a bespoke solution that will minimize downtime and maximize profitability. We talk through the various risk factors and assess the client’s resilience, in order to find the right level of support. In fact,” says Nummelin, “to continue the tailoring analogy with an age-old idiom, this approach allows each customer to ‘cut his coat according to his cloth’. Of course, in a highly competitive market, this can secure the client crucial advantage.”

Cimcorp’s bespoke service agreements can include preventive and corrective maintenance, system support and on-site resident engineers. System support can either be provided remotely – over the telephone, via e-mail or via VPN (virtual private network) connection – or on site. “We can support our software from anywhere in the world,” says Nummelin. “I like to think of it as looking after the system’s mental health, whereas servicing the gantry robots and other equipment is taking care of its physical health. Both aspects are vital for a healthy material handling system.”

Preventive maintenance

Preventive maintenance is usually undertaken every six months. Cimcorp’s customers can take care of this themselves, if they wish. “In this case, we train their personnel how to perform the preventive maintenance routines and report back to us, so that everything is done to an agreed schedule and we can flag up any issues,” explains Nummelin. Whoever is responsible for preventive maintenance, even when it is carried out by the book, problems can arise in factories – especially when they are working around the clock. “When it comes to reactive maintenance, the factory’s location is a key factor. If the customer is in a remote location – remember, we have supplied automation solutions in over 40 countries across six continents – it can some times take time for a repair team to arrive at the plant, no matter how quickly it sets off. In these scenarios,” says Nummelin, “we encourage the customer to ensure there is a team of resident maintenance engineers.”

Benefits of outsourcing

Customers may decide to have their own staff trained by Cimcorp to provide the on-site support function. “Of course, we are happy to accommodate this,” explains Ilpo Nummelin, “but there are some limitations with this approach, which we make clear to customers. Our own engineers are multilingual and have an ongoing connection to Cimcorp – to its philosophy, its product development and its customer service. They are our ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground, often alerting us to changes in customer operations or other developments – such as capacity growth – that should be addressed through changes to the material handling system. Sometimes they notice that an individual operator would benefit from additional training,” he continues. “They enable us to enhance the solution provided to the customer. It’s a key role, being integrated in two organizations and providing a vital interface between them.”

Minimising downtime

Whether the client company undertakes support itself or outsources it to Cimcorp, the benefits of having resident customer support are clear. “Downtime is minimized,” says Ilpo Nummelin, “because help is immediately on hand from a dedicated person or team.” According to Nummelin, this reduction in downtime is not only due to travel time being eradicated but also because the resident engineers know the system, its history and its operators better than anyone else. “On-site engineers will have performed the preventive maintenance routines and will know what to suspect as a weak link when problems appear,” says Nummelin. “They know the solution inside out. In fact, we have noticed that on-site technicians can handle 80 to 90% of issues arising on site immediately without even needing to contact Cimcorp’s headquarters; they just fix the problem and report back to us. They can make a faster, more accurate diagnosis and can therefore provide a solution more quickly for the customer, saving time and money.”

Smooth transition

When Cimcorp provides a resident customer support engineer or team, the technicians will usually begin work on site before the system handover, ensuring a smooth transition from the project implementation phase to the full production mode. “Being on site before the system is fully live gives our engineers the opportunity to get to know the solution really well,” says Nummelin. “Although modular in design, each system is customized to some extent, so this learning phase is incredibly important to providing optimal system availability when full production begins.”

Downtime challenge

With most tyre factories operating 24/7, any downtime cannot be made up – lost production remains lost forever. “We challenge our customers and prospective clients to estimate just how much downtime they experience, and calculate how much it costs them,” says Nummelin. “If the remedy is immediately available on site, downtime can be minimized and system availability can be maximized. When they work it out, most companies are surprised by how much downtime they have suffered and how soon into an annual customer support agreement with Cimcorp the contract has paid for itself.”

 

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