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Keeping the old – In with the new: Automating brownfields

Tire industry brownfield dream factory

Many tire makers strive to position their tire manufacturing plants close to the regions where tires will be sold. As a result of this strategy, there has been an increase in foreign tire manufacturing companies building new (Greenfield) highly automated plants in the United States.

In order to remain competitive, the existing manufacturers in the U.S. are forced to automating their plants, which can be a much greater challenge given some of the building restrictions and existing plant layouts. This shift has made a big impact on the industry as a whole and manufacturers across the globe are looking towards automation to gain more market share.

Cimcorp sales manager, Don Heelis, with over 25 years of experience in the material handling industry, has been studying existing, also known as Brownfield, factories for over a decade. With his help Cimcorp has developed innovative solutions for both new and existing tire factories.

Overcoming brownfield challenges

According to Heelis,

“The biggest challenge with Brownfields is that they were designed to a different set of criteria than the new plants, not to accommodate automation.”

Many of the global tire factories were built in the 50s and 60s, back when the material handling requirements were planned around manual processes, requiring significant buffering areas for work in process (WIP) and raw material handling. This meant that the layouts were not streamlined based on manufacturing process sequence nor integrated material flow, causing inefficiencies in production and operations. Additionally, due to site constraints, expansions needed were not built for optimal WIP material flow, let alone efficient production layout. This is a challenge for automation.

New innovation sparks solution

Greenfield facilities are built with future growth and automation in mind. Over the last decade, Cimcorp has designed and developed its Dream Factory solution for the tire industrywith this in mind. Within the solution, raw materials, compounds, components, green tires and cured tires are transferred from one process phase to another by using AGVs, mobile robots, area and linear type gantry robots, monorail transfers and conveyors.

The entire material flow is controlled by the Cimcorp Warehouse Control System (WCS) that integrates individual system components into one comprehensive material handling solution. Cimcorp’s Manufacturing Execution System (MES) collects and traces production data, recipe management and reporting.

“Cimcorp’s Dream factory streamlines the manufacturing process and it includes solutions for each manufacturing and distribution process. It can be installed in both, new and existing plants”, says Heelis.

Factory of the future within factories of the past

“By automating new factories and developing modular automation solutions for clients’ Greenfield factories, we’ve recognized that by taking those same modules and applying them in different areas in the existing Brownfield factories, we can solve their optimize material flow challenges. Think about each module as a Lego block. By finding ways to connect them we can come up with new and innovative solutions,” says Heelis.

To see all of the components of the solution and their functionality, the Dream Factory solution must be broken down into modules. At the start of the plant there is the raw material handling, component preparation, then there is tire building, green tire storage and retrieval, green tire curing, final finish and then warehousing and order fulfillment. By breaking these down into small pieces, they can be inserted into the Brownfield factory in specific, isolated areas.

So, how to connect the individual modules together within a complex and “automation incoherent” Brownfield factory layout? We’ve found that AGVs connecting modules together, provides unlimited possibilities for innovative solutions to be implemented for any individual plant layout.

Heelis explains, “You can try to connect the modules by using other means, but you quickly run into the Brownfield constraints including of convoluted production flow, inconsistency of production equipment layout, low ceiling heights, varying column pitches and numerous obstructions. The flexibility and adaptability of the AGV overcomes these challenges and creates the critical linkages necessary between the automation modules.”

Reaping the benefits

New innovation and solutions are not only providing us with the results we need to meet our clients’ goals in new facilities, but also their existing factories. Tire manufacturers can see a high return on investment because they’re also keeping their overhead costs down by maximizing their current assets.

“We will continue to innovate and find more solutions to assist our clients in solving their material handling problems,” concludes Heelis.


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