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Industry 4.0 and its impact on the tire industry

General brownfield dream factory trends

Every so often, new technologies and innovations emerge that transform entire industries and upend business processes. History books have referred to these radical developments as “Industrial Revolutions.”

1. The first Industrial Revolution was driven by mechanization and the advent of the steam engine.

2. The second was powered by the use of electrical generation and electric motors, which enabled the mass production of goods.

3. The third was sparked by the introduction of robots, microchips and computers, leading to new efficiencies throughout society and industry.

The emerging Industrial Revolution

Now, the world is on the cusp of the fourth Industrial Revolution, or “Industry 4.0,” which sees the convergence of robots, computers and the Internet of Things (IoT) in society, the workplace and manufacturing. With new cyberphysical systems, companies have the ability to not only use automation to perform tasks in structured environments, but also use sensors to capture data and understand what their tools and robots are doing, and then optimize their performance.

Organizations can input this data into a feedback system and find ways to improve processes or pivot their robots to other tasks based on what is happening at critical points in real time. Industry 4.0 is bringing about smarter enterprises with the ability to adapt, innovate and cut costs, touching virtually every industry, including tire manufacturing and distribution. 

The next age of tire manufacturing and distribution

In the modern, Industry 4.0-enabled tire facility, manufacturers can, control as well as track and trace raw materials and work in process (WIP) through various production processes all the way through to outbound shipping with efficiency and accuracy. Automated systems, including automated guided vehicles (AGVs), mobile robots, gantry robots, articulated robots, monorail transfers and conveyors, are used to move raw materials, compounds, components, green tires and cured tires from one process phase to another. All these subsystems are orchestrated by higher-level control systems (cyberphysical systems) able to assess and adapt performance.

In this cybernetic environment, these pieces of automation are physically and electronically interconnected. Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) orchestrate their activity, and collect and trace production data throughout the whole process. In these systems, software solutions receive sensory data from barcode readers, vision systems, laser scanners and more – all part of the interconnected automated system. This information can be leveraged to guide decisions for optimized intralogistics, improved WIP and inventory management, and maximized production capacity and throughput.

Using a combination of automation and sensors, tire manufacturers can have total control over the material and data flow within their facilities. This level of control is critical in the modern age for quality and efficiency, where customer demands and the work environment are constantly changing. You need the flexibility to not only respond timely, but also to do so in a way that keeps production levels running at full capacity.

Moving brownfield plants into the future

Discussions surrounding automation and Factory 4.0 can seem overwhelming for brownfield plants considering the age of their equipment and processes. It may seem like Industry 4.0 is reserved for greenfield plants, and out of reach for legacy facilities. Actually, brownfield plants can also begin to make moves into this new age of tire manufacturing and distribution, namely through a modular approach that installs cellular automation one step at a time. You can gradually connect the cells together and align the factory with Industry 4.0 technologies, both from a robotic point of view and a control software management perspective. A phased implementation is also easy to manage and delivers a faster return on investment.

Gradually, tire facilities will begin to see the net effect of the Factory 4.0 Industrial Revolution. Manufacturers today that have implemented or have their strategies set on Industry 4.0 technologies already stand ahead of their competition. They are ready to move into the next age of tire manufacturing and distribution with flexible, efficient automation that is optimized by data-driven feedback, providing complete control over production and material flow. 

Author Don Heelis

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