“Definitely, the total time to supply the customer is increasing so much that we have to rethink the global chain,” he said. “This is the main goal of strategic supply chain management: to rebuild the footprint so that it is less time-consuming.”
But, he added that achieving this “is not easy” when issues, such as fluctuating price, ‘green’ aspects, security of supply and technical specifications are also factored in.
“Life is a compromise: in certain situations a big compromise,” Giraudin commented.
Another challenge is customer-engagement – something Michelin has “in the past, not always been so famous for,” continued the supply chain director.
“We have definitely changed our customer approach recently,” said Giraudin. “A strategic initiative, led by our chairman, has put customer-centricity and customer-care right at the top of our priorities.”
Michelin’s target, so, is to achieve a more integrated approach to marketing and customer service, in part through more detailed monitoring of the usage and life-cycle of its products.
“Otherwise, we react when something happens or we [develop] a self-understanding of what the customer is doing,” said Giraudin. “In other words we may completely misunderstand what the customer wants.”
Norbert Majerus, lean champion at Goodyear, agrees that the tire industry needs to move away from selling what it makes to making what customers want, and sees a ‘lean’ approach to product development as key to delivering on that goal.
“A lot of people think we use lean to cut costs, but it is really about creating value for customers,” set out Majerus. “That way you are looking at an order of magnitude higher in terms of sales numbers and higher profits.”
And while product development is not always seen as part of lean manufacturing, it can often be the best starting point.
Goodyear, said Majerus, is using lean principles in product development to create more customer-value, and has proven that the approach can really improve sales, quality and profits.
“While the process is not easy, it is well worth the investment, said the lean expert, noting that the US tire maker had reduced development times by more than 70 percent and, last year, released 2,500 new consumer and commercial products to schedule.
“We try to do more iterations because we have the ability now to do them,” explained Majerus, noting that the lean process had also increased interaction with customers in Goodyear’s development work.
But shorter cycle times and more cycles, mean people have to work differently across the various departments of the tire group from day 1.
“You have to work together with everyone,” said Majerus. “You can’t just develop tires alone and then say ‘hey manufacturing department there you go’, because then the supply chain will say ‘there is no way we can handle this’.
“If you develop hoping for good luck, you can end up having to redevelop everything. When the product is ready for launch you have to be ready to manufacture it at the right cost with the right performance. You have to be able to market it, sell it and use all your logistics too.”
Tire manufacturing will, therefore, need new levels of automation and integration to support any drive to increase responsiveness to market needs.
And, rather than simply investing in a bunch of ‘smart’ products and technologies, companies will have to adopt holistic approaches to the tire plant of the future, believes Dr Paolo Butti of Rockwell Automation.
Concepts, such as Industry 4.0, are really about “sharing the solution and getting everything together in a very standardised manner,” said Butti. “This includes total cost of ownership, as well as the life-cycle of solutions and how they evolve.”
In that way, said Butti, Industry 4.0 could help improve every aspect of tire manufacture, from its move to more sustainable materials and reduced energy consumption to maximising machine uptime, asset utilisation, factory safety and product quality.
Today, continued Butti, tire plant automation is moving up from the shopfloor to connect to the MES (manufacturing execution system), and, in turn, talking to ERP (enterprise management) systems at boardroom level.
“We are moving from our domain of confidence, which is automation, to an information solution that can really drive a lot of smart decision-making,” the Rockwell expert commented.
The skill-sets required by the tire industry are, therefore, moving from the traditional areas of expertise to new competences: in particular managing the information-flow of tire plants where all the machines and all the infrastructure speak the same language.
This new ‘age of information’ will impact every area of the tire industry, from third-party materials suppliers, to product designers and manufacturers right through to dealers and even the customers, said Butti.
“What is becoming more important is information,” continued Butti, noting that this information is now coming not only from the machine but also from the product itself “and the two of them now get combined.”
And, he concluded, with the emergence of new technologies such as RFID labelling “It will be very interesting in the future to see how the customer chooses which tire to use, when to get it replaced and when to get it refurbished.”
Report based on panel discussion during the Machinery session at the Future Tire Conference, staged this May in Essen, Germany.