At a recent event organized by a major automation brand, I had the opportunity to sit through a customer presentation (a leading tyre brand). A well articulated presentation, the speaker outlined the challenges that the tyre producers are facing in business today – increased competition on price, quality and delivery, pressure to reduce the tire development life cycle, enforcement of modular processes, perform with fewer employees and frequently changing product demands.
I bet that a tire producer three or five-year back would have presented these same set of challenges as the major concerns for their business. So what’s new and why are these concerns still valid?
It’s the fast pace of change!
Tire manufacturing is a highly competitive field and faces volatile changes. The whole ecosystem of tire manufacturers, raw material suppliers, and machinery manufacturers are affected by industry consolidation, innovations in technology, labeling and safety requirements, increasing government regulations, shifting customer demands, and the pressure for lower customer prices.
For example, car manufacturers are focusing on energy-saving technologies. Translated to tyre, machinery experts feel energy-saving tyres will be a major focus area on the tyre equipment sector over next few years. As a machinery manufacturer, you must ensure the tires produced using your machinery has the highest manufacturing accuracy to meet the customers’ specifications in their local markets and overall quality standards.
Tyre manufacturing is a complex process. A fault or improper procedure at any of these stages threatens the structural integrity of the tire. And, tyre manufacturers demand the highest productivity from every stage of their manufacturing process. This means as a machinery manufacturer, you must cater to their demands of machines that offer high production output, manufacturing accuracy, reliability and product quality with low processing and maintenance costs and lowest possible manpower.
Over the next few years in tire machinery sector, you will have just two segments – “Chinese” & “Non-Chinese”. This thought first occurred to me a few years back. But in the recent times, I have heard this statement echoing strongly from peers in the industry. There is a handful of technologically strong tyre machinery manufacturers in China and some others are fast growing. I would not get into the industry perceptions because then I could digress.
However, this means that every tyre machinery manufacturer is continuously challenged to evolve rapidly in technology offered and differentiate globally. Also, the machines that you manufacture should possess the flexibility to adapt to changing trends in tire dimensions and complex designs.
Tyre Building Machines (TBM’s) and Curing Presses will be under intense scrutiny by tyre manufacturers for various reasons.
Tyre Building Machines
In TBM, it would be more to do with design and automation. A TBM assembles all components such as tread, sidewall, inner liner, body ply, bead, and cord body together to build green tyres. Each cycle is programmed to carry out the various operations automatically and concurrently, to give a balanced building cycle.
Automation of TBM especially for quicker synchronization of machine sections, including let-off, feed cutter, splicer, and wind-up; achieve better tension and edge control, ergonomics and operator safety, higher accuracy of cut-to-length independent of machine speed, slip correction between belts and tire building material; and capability to make adjustments in tire dimensions with demands for advancements in fault diagnosis would be more rigorous.
Tyre producers are regularly involved in either green field or brown field projects to meet their growing market demands. They demand from you the lowest set-up time for TBM integration, mechanical and electrical optimization and wiring. Leading TBM manufacturers like VMI have advanced models for cycle times of 36 seconds, full hands-off/eyes-off production, with automatic splice checking systems, a robot for green tire removal, connection to a green tire transport system, apexed bead unstacking and loading.
Tyre Curing Press
Curing is the process of applying pressure to the green tire in a mould in order to give it its final shape. This is traditionally the bottleneck of every tyre manufacturer. For curing presses, the emphasis would be on enhancing the process efficiency and reducing the energy consumption.
One visible trend among tyre manufacturers is to produce smaller lot sizes. This will require more moulds and more frequent mould changes. Quick mould-change devices will become a unique selling feature for machinery builders to compete on. Leading manufacturers like HF have models that achieve the mould-change-time in less than 30 minutes.
Hydraulic curing presses are preferred (over its mechanical counterparts) because they have repeatable accuracy over their life time. Secondly, they offer higher output which keeps the tyre manufacturers process cost under control. To improve the process efficiency and reduce curing time, post cure inflators are desired.
Curing presses occupy a large real estate space within a plant. So when the curing press manufacturers offer equipment with high-efficiency, tire manufacturers save substantially – not only by reducing the investment in quantity of machinery required (CAPEX) but also in terms of space utilization. Jacob Peled, Executive Chairman of Pelmar Engineering, foresees that split curing (tread and carcass separately) will eventually dominate the industry.
Summarizing, it’s the rapid pace of change faced by tyre producers that is driving the tyre machinery manufacturers to invest more in R&D, evolve rapidly in technology and offer customized automated solutions for maximum output to their customers. For tyre manufacturers, the consequence of increasing the automation to eliminate human errors will be that stringent testing on 100 per cent of tyre production will be a binding procedure in future.
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