Ahead of the company's participation in the Tire Technology Expo, VMI’s chief commercial officer Mike Norman urges companies to rethink how they upgrade tire machinery
Opinion: Step up to the platform
To cope with such potentially disruptive changes, a simple move many companies could make today is to focus more on platforms and less on individual machines.
In the simplest terms, the platform concept means investing in production systems that can be kept at or close to best practice standard at all times through targeted upgrades, extensions and retrofitting.
VMI has been committed to this strategy for nearly a decade now, ever since the launch of its original MAXX tire building machines, and we believe it offers real advantages to tire companies of every kind.
The tire industry still does not generally think or act in this way, and there are good reasons why: Developing an effective tire-building system represents a massive R&D investment, and delivering acceptable return on this investment takes years of steady, efficient production.
So, there is a well-established pattern of capital investment in standalone machines, with limited upgrade potential only. General practice of the industry is to assume that a machine will work satisfactorily for a long period if properly maintained – 20 years is typical – and then be replaced.
This explains why it is quite common to see machines from different technology generations on the same factory floor, which cannot help in achieving consistency and optimal quality output.
Committing to platforms that evolve naturally rather than investing only in standalone machines requires a roadmap that avoids write-off of current investments and does not create operational disruption along the way.
Indeed, most tire manufacturers could make rapid steps towards a platform approach now, without unacceptable costs and with a positive effect on their operational efficiency and quality output.
To help in this process of change, we have identified a number of developments which the industry should prioritise as they move towards a stronger focus on platforms.
Service becomes a higher priority: The first requirement is to have a long-term service relationship that provides the context for rapid updates and improvements. This means that, for example, retrofitting when improved components are available becomes a normal activity, factored into the relationship.
Focus on partnership: Machine builders and tire manufacturers could collaborate at a deeper level than is normal today in pursuit of improved commercial performance.
In particular, suppliers and customers could jointly target improved outcomes, such as cutting out scrap, making more efficient use of time and rethinking processes to make them simpler and more integrated.
Search for added value: There is a lot of untapped value within end-to-end processes, whereby tire manufacturers could:
Use production data for continuous operational improvements, building more profitable relationships with automotive manufacturers and moving up the quality and price ladder
Unlock the potential of control systems to enable greater process integration and continuous improvements in production efficiency
Do better at managing the need for more flexible operations, including smaller runs, greater variety in tire types and use of new materials, while keeping costs firmly under control.
Change begins with mindsets and attitudes. The tire industry is conservative, and rightly so: people’s lives depend on the quality of what manufacturers do, so potential changes must be rigorously examined before adoption.
Yet change is inevitable and we believe that the platform approach is the logical place to start addressing the challenges facing tire manufacturers.
Treating costly capital investment as a platform that can be continuously updated and improved will ensure maximum ROI, help deliver competitive advantage and play a vital role in keeping the tire industry ready for the future.
VMI’s presence at Tire Technology 2019 will highlight the value of long-term vision and commitment to the platform approach.