“A lot of business models are changing, so that tire manufacturers are facing a lot of challenges,” said Amamra, noting that many changes were also needed to fully adapt production to the market.
“They, of course, have to gain in productivity but they also have to improve supply chain because everything is moving faster and faster,” said the Rockwell executive.
Amamra went on to caution tire makers that while Industry 4.0 is about improving the performance of assets, they must also ensure that their people can adapt to new manufacturing environments.
“When we speak about Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing, smart machines or whatever, it’s all about connecting the people, connecting the processes and the technology,” she said. “And, if you don’t bring the people with you, if they are not able to follow you and to adopt those changes, you will never win.”
Companies, therefore, need to establish infrastructures with networks that allow secure and effective management and flow of data and visibility of the information, advised Amamra: “Security is fundamental. You can’t start anything in the infrastructure if cybersecurity is not addressed.”
According to Daniel Geider, technology field manager at SEW Eurodrive, the big question is digitalisation of the tire factory and how to connect all the different elements together.
For the tire industry as a whole, the SEW Eurodrive manager said “the challenge of the future is to have multiple systems for multiple companies working together on the same level. That means machines, that means warehouses, logistics systems.”
Another requirement, he said, is that it should be “mostly easy” to introduce new technologies: “It should not be the goal to have programs tested in months and years of programming. Stuff should be easy and adaptable like and closer to how it works in the consumer area.”
Geider concurred that employees are the most important part of the factory. “They are flexible, they can adapt. They are carrying experiences of years and decades of working in this industry and they should also be there to shape all the new staff and the new processes.”
For Erwin Zweers, R&D manager, tire building, VMI Group, the big question is: are tire manufacturers getting all the data they need out of the machines?
“From one end, we can improve the machines, we can improve the output of the machines that we are getting,” he explained. “From the other end, the car industry is demanding on having a core data link to a tire. I think we [must] combine that, to have a complete good, productive environment.
Zweers went on to identify a problem around the dominant position of the tire designer when it comes to the adoption on automation technologies.
“If you talk about self-learning machines, for example, we have been able to do that for a long time. But because the tire designers are still the boss, they say, ‘We don’t want to change that [or] make automatic changes in this process’.’’
Similarly, Guido Veit, manager, business unit Plastics & Rubber Plants, Zeppelin Systems GmbH said he was “a little bit disillusioned” about the pace of developments in his main area of activity.
“We talk about Industry 4.0 and then, using all the data and connectivity and so on, but in reality a lot of things are still manually operated in the mixing room,” he said.
“We need to have direct traceability of the materials, identify the batches etc… but when it comes to the point that this costs money, we have a problem,” Veit commented.
And, while there might be progress in areas such as tire-building, curing presses and storage, the Zeppelin manager said “when it comes to the mixing room, I sometimes have the impression that a lot of tire producers do not want to touch it.”
Good compounds are needed to produce good tires, he noted, adding that materials represents around 70% of end-product cost.
The solutions are there, so the solutions are not the problem,” concluded Veit. “It is the willingness to bring it into reality, that needs to be established.