How to make digitalisation work in tire production

(PresseBox) ( Lustenau, )
Digitalisation is ubiquitous and is transforming manufacturing processes. But as for any other industrial investment: Improvements must be measurable. Digitalisation done right, can sustainably improve production Key Performance Indicators (KPI) in tire manufacturing.

IDENTEC SOLUTIONS, a leading supplier of innovative wireless solutions for industrial automation, is putting their focus on helping tire manufacturers to improve their production Key Performance Indicators (KPI). IDENTEC SOLUTIONS’ off-the-shelf solution Asset Agent helps to achieve an increase of tire output volume of up to 3% with the same input factors such as production assets, manpower and raw material.

Digitalisation in production started with Programmable Logical Controllers (PLC’s) in 1969 and continued to increase the degree of automation ever since. The advantages of PLC’s over Connection Programmed Controllers (CPC’s) were so obvious that the investment into this modern technology seemed logical. Over time CPC’s got almost fully replaced by PLC’s.

Digitalisation or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) aims to replace barcodes and scanners as well as paper and pencil in manufacturing by making assets smart and connecting them to production control software. In short, the aim of IIoT is similar to the PLC revolution. So why is it that workshop-type operations still rely on barcodes and scanners and even paper and pencil more than 20 years after the announcement of the IIoT by Kevin Ashton in 1999?

The answer is simple: Most IIoT approaches never delivered measurable improvements of production KPIs. At the same time, they suffered from low blue-collar user acceptance with simultaneously high monetary cost and engineering hours. The result of such an “investment” is easily predictable: After a long period of continuous frustration, management decides to give up on the project and reverts to status quo.

In order to reduce production cost in tire manufacturing, any IIoT-based solution must help to increase machine utilization, reduce scrap of raw materials, eliminate production errors of the final product and increase labour productivity.

IIoT-based solutions generate running cost, require maintenance, and sometimes user training. If the IIoT solution suffers from availability issues, is not user-friendly and easy to use by production personnel, doesn’t handle exceptions well and generates too many process deviations, users are going to bypass it and revert to existing processes such as barcodes and scanners or paper and pencil. In this case the IIoT solution makes production KPIs look worse as it only costs additional money and doesn’t deliver any KPI improvements at all.

Consequently, the approach to ask the IT department to “pick some hardware, program a few lines of code” and hand this custom “IIoT-solution” over to operations is certainly going to fail. Unfortunately, this approach is reality still too often.

The way forward is to choose an off-the-shelf IIoT solution, which is tailored to the needs of tire manufacturing from hard- and software design as well as IT and user interfaces. The chosen solution must be low in running cost, maintenance effort and ideally doesn’t require any training for blue-collar personnel at all.

Asset Agent is the answer provided by IDENTEC SOLUTIONS: Every carrier will be equipped with a battery powered device – a transponder – which enables the Asset Agent application software to identify, locate and communicate with every single material carrier at any given location in the production plant. The solution scales up to thousands of transponders in one plant and works outdoors if required.

The Asset Agent server application offers standard interfaces to ERP systems (e.g. SAP Extended Warehouse Management – EWM) as well as other production and material flow management systems for a seamless integration into existing IT infrastructure.

The entire tire building process becomes immune to human errors without any user interaction, therefore eliminating the need for manual bar code scans or paper and pencil. Every user communication is based on a globally established communication standard – a simple three colour led indication system (traffic light).

Asset Agent’s proven technology and design has been running in production environments for many years in tire manufacturing plants across the globe, and can be installed in any existing infrastructure. With its standard Power over Ethernet (PoE) and out-of-the-box interfaces to all major ERP systems, seamless integration into existing IT infrastructure is guaranteed. Including transponders providing IP 65 rating and a battery lifetime of up to 8 years, depending on the use case, only minimal hardware maintenance is required.

Asset Agent is designed for automated health checks of all infrastructure components including the transponders and integrates to network, server and log monitoring software such as Nagios, PRTG Network Monitor, Solar Winds and others. Even the battery exchange could be managed proactively by Asset Agent in connection with the plant’s PMS system to minimize the effort for plant maintenance personnel.

Carrier search times are reduced, scrap due to perished raw material is abolished, while machine utilization and labour productivity go up. All in all, this leads to an increase of tire output volume of up to 3% with the same input factors such as production assets, manpower and raw material. The initial investment costs are proven to have a compelling payback period of less than one year which can be seen by the following example:

If a tire manufacturing plant with 100 tire building machines wants to increase production by 3% it would normally need to invest in three additional tire building machines, additional production space, more manpower and would use 3% more raw materials. The “more of the same” approach would cost several million Euros and yet would not improve anything in terms of machine utilization, reduction of scrap, reduction of production errors or increased labour productivity.

By only costing a fraction of a new machine, Asset Agent excels the “more of the same” approach for sure.
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