Automation is everywhere in a tire plant – from the old manual plants and mid-hybrid automated plants to the newest plants with the latest automation technology all over the world.
Some tire industry automation challenges are opportunities for automation suppliers and machine builders. These can vary from retrofitting old machines and designing new machines to including smarter components to bring their production into the IIoT.
Plants want to save CapX dollars on new machines, so they are looking to upgrade old ones. Tire plants are learning from the past. They are limited by their older technology, but it has been hard to upgrade and integrate new technology, so there are long-term needs for adding flexible automation on machines. This requires new processes and recommissioning machines quickly. A good example of this is the addition of a vision system to improve quality inspections.
More automation is also needed due to a lack of skilled labor in the industry combined with the desire for higher throughout. The addition of robots on the line can aid with this. Plants can also simplify their wiring by migrating away from control panel i/o/analog to an IP67 network and IO-Link master and hubs.
The use of IO-Link also allows for more continuous condition monitoring. There is an increased need for quality inspections and process improvements. Plants are collecting more data and learning how to use it and analytics (Industry 4.0, IIoT) to achieve operational excellence. Plants need more technology that supports preventive and predictive failure solutions.
Additionally, there are automation needs on new machinery as tire designs are in an evolutional growth/change period – in the electric vehicle (EV) market, for example, where rapid change is happening across all vehicle manufacturing. Smart tires are being designed using RFID and sensors embedded in the tire ply.
Successfully matching up automation products to meet plant needs first requires understanding the plant’s main processes, each with millions of dollars of automation needs.
How tires are made
- Raw materials logistics – raw materials are transported to the mixing and extrusion areas for processing.
- Mixing and extrusions – up to 30 ingredients are mixed together for a rubber blend tire.
- Tire components – extruded rubber ply is measured and cut to size to meet the needs of the specific tire and then loaded onto reels feeding the tire building machines.
- Tire build machines – tires are built in stages from the inside out. They are crated without tread and transferred to the curing press machines.
- Tire curing press machines – here, the “green” tires are vulcanized, a chemical process that makes the tire more durable. Tire parts are then compressed together into the final shape and tread pattern.
- Inspection and test machines – tires are quality tested and undergo visual, balance, force, and X-ray inspections.
- Logistics material handling, conveyor, ASRS, AGV – finished tires are taken to the warehouse for sorting and shipping.
In the past, not many people outside the tire industry understood the complexity and automation needs of these high volume, high quality, highly technical plants. Tires are so valuable to the safety of people using them that manufacturers must be held to the highest standards of quality. Automation and data collection help ensure this.
In the meantime, check out these futuristic tires and imagine all the automation to manufacture them.