Article from the ERJ China Tire Report 2018, published as a supplement in the July/August issue of European Rubber Journal magazine plant in China.
Chinese tire maker Wanli has, since May of last year, been operating what is said to be the world’s first ‘smart’ tire factory – employing integrated automation throughout all production and transfer processes.
The project in Hefei, Anhui, is in its first phase, marking a €270-million investment to establish 2 million units annual capacity for truck and bus tires. This is to be followed by a phase II project with 20 million passenger car tire capacity.
Set up in 2015, the Hefei Wanli operation is a joint venture between China’s tire maker Wanli and automotive manufacturer JAC Motors. The site has a total area of 333,000 square metres.
The automation project is being led by Mesnac, a pioneer in the development and manufacture of ‘smart’ manufacturing systems and equipment for the production of tires.
At the Future Tire Conference 2018, held 30-31 May in Cologne, Germany, Mesnac vice president and general director, Mesnac European Research and Technical Centre, Karol Vanko reported on a year of operation of the Wanli tire plant.
Start with the basics
To build the smart factory, he said, Mesnac “started with the basics”: changing the system of machine production, including machine standardisation, and introducing advanced solutions for logistics and automated warehouses.
Mesnac supplied about 70-80% of equipment for the Wanli plant, which said Vanko, uses a complex system of hardware and software across several levels.
This included its own-developed solutions, such as equipment for automatic feeding of polymers in the mixing area and automatic logistics and warehousing systems.
“The smart factory,” he added, “is really a big complex of logistics solutions for each area of the tire plant. Everything is transported automatically [which involved] establishing many warehouses for materials, compounds, cassettes, for the racks with pre-cut treads...”
Prior to setting up the Wanli plant, Mesnac had developed many SCADA and PLC applications as well as an MES (manufacturing execution system) standard in China, Vanko pointed out.
The Wanli factory features three aspects: process automation; all-area software-based intelligence; and ecology around the use of resources such as water and energy.
“If we look at the basic figures from the Wanli plant, due to the level of automation we are able to [reduce] the standard workforce of 2,100 people for the truck tire plant to 700,” said Vanko.
With a ‘qualified rate’ of 99.9%, Wanli has reduced production time for a tire to 30 hours, compared to 48 hours previously. This, said Vanko breaks the record for the fastest manufacturing speed in the industry.
Meanwhile, annual consumption of water and energy is down by 400 kilotonnes and 26 million kWhr respectively – compared to the equivalent ratings for a conventional truck & bus tire manufacturing plant.
“This is the first experience and Mesnac is very actively continuing to develop smart machines and smart tire factories for the future,,” concluded Vanko. The “ultimate goal”, he said, is to improve all aspects of tire manufacture in terms of quality, efficiency, stock-holdings, data-flow, energy-efficiency and environmental performance.
In his presentation at the Future Tire Conference 2018, Karol Vanko, Mesnac vice president and general director, Mesnac European Research and Technical Centre explained how the MES ”super brain” is central to smart production at the Wanli plant.
The MES capabilities were shown to encompass: production and manufacture; technical management; quality tracking; warehousing and logistics.
According to the Mesnac VP, the system “breaks isolated islands of information between workshops and attains information-control of all production processes.
“The MES system sets production plans and ultimately gathers all data [from] production, finance, customers and sales to ERP. It attains a closed-loop enterprise information management system and accomplishes am all-area smart manufacturing systems.”