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ITEC speakers touch on smart factories, digitalization, lean manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing processes, applied to both facilities and people, are the way toward profitability and product excellence for tire manufacturers, according to experts speaking at the International Tire Exhibition & Conference in Akron Sept. 11-13.

Mesnac created the Smart Factory concept, which it began applying to tire manufacturing in 2015, according to Mesnac Americas CEO Jerry Gu.

"The vision was to make a better tire," Gu said. And the goals in achieving smart production, he said, are to make tire production smart with high quality, high efficiency, low inventory, low cost, automation and energy-saving environmental gains.

Mesnac built the first smart tire factory in China for Wanli Tire Corp. Ltd., according to Gu.

The factory included more than 50 completed digital workshop projects and more than 2,000 modules with fully automated logistics solutions, he said.

"In the Mesnac concept, we tried to unify today's tire machinery with planned automation, software and artificial intelligence," Gu said.

In the Wanli smart plant, all-process automation reduces the time to produce a single tire from 48 to 30 hours, breaking a speed record for the tire industry, according to Gu.

"Product consistency is greatly promoted and the quality control system is better guaranteed," he said.

The Mesnac concept creates a complete digital ecosystem for the tire plant and interconnects all aspects of research and development, production and marketing, according to Gu.

Among the features of the Wanli plant are:

• A natural and synthetic rubber grinding and blending line, with an automatic conveyor system;

• A master/final batch storage and automatic conveyor systems;

• Automatic storage and conveying for pre-cut treads, rubberized steel rolls, beads, breakers, and play and inner liner systems;

• Automatic mold warehousing with an ex-warehouse information management system; and

• A green tire automatic unloading, conveying, spraying, saving and delivering to curing system.

Besides greatly reducing production time, the Mesnac smart plant achieves a 99.9 percent qualified rate; reduces labor by two-thirds, from 2,100 to 700 employees; and annually saves 400,000 metric tons of water and 26 million kilowatt hours of electricity, according to Gu.

Mesnac founded the China Tyre Intelligent Manufacturing & Standardization Alliance in 2017, according to Gu. It has more than 30 members, including 20 large tire companies, he said.According to Gu, CTIMSA is drafting six standards, including:

• Communication among machines;

• Unification of terms and language;

• Utilization standards for manufacturing execution systems (MES);

• Utilization standards for logistics;

• HMI software standards for an intelligent factory; and

• General specifications for equipment prediction maintenance and health management.

Rise of digitalization

Digitalization is the key to unprecedented productivity in the tire industry, according to Dan Paul, tire industry global business leader for Rockwell International.

Analytics are behind successful digitalization, according to Paul. "It's how you take big data, bring context to it and make it useful on the plant floor," he said.

"Digital manufacturing is a hill for climbers," Paul said. "Some people think it's Utopia, some people think it's here and now, and some think it will take a very, very long time."

While management of big data presents challenges, Paul said, it offers enormous operational benefits including faster prototypes for new product introductions, shorter cycle times, shorter setup and changeover times, improved quality, reduced energy consumption, reduced inventory and waste, improved planning and forecasting, and reduced human error.

On the other hand, 70 percent of tire manufacturing systems are more than 15 years old, making the adaptation of digital manufacturing a challenge, he said. Even more, the natural instinct of most tire makers is to hoard its big data, rather than sharing them with consultants or employees on the shop floor.

"You're tempted to lock it in a vault," he said. "But locking it in a vault doesn't enable your people to make decisions."

Rockwell Automation makes several products that allow the flow of company data as needed, according to Paul. These include:

• FactoryTalk Analytics Edge, which allows tire makers to access all the data in their intelligent devices and process them, making edge-level decisions based on analytics and then making the information available to the rest of the platform.

• DataFlowML, which gives tire makers the ability to transform and prepare data for machine learning, execute machine learning models and connect the results to various destinations in the system.

• FactoryTalk Analytics DataView, which gives tire makers the ability to ingest data from a variety of sources with the intelligence to recommend correlations and offer initial storyboards.

These tools allow tire makers to improve standardization across machines, plants, processes and suppliers while reusing as much of their existing infrastructure as possible, Paul said.

Lean driven

Norbert Majerus, president of Norbert Majerus Consulting L.L.C. and a former Goodyear research and development executive, expounded on the concept of "Lean-Driven Innovation," which he said created a major turnaround in productivity and profitability at Goodyear.

"We were late on virtually every product launch, and less than 50 percent of new products were profitable," Majerus said about the state of R&D at the company in 2005. "We had low employee engagement scores. In one week three people quit because they didn't have enough to do. A consultant told us, 'We could help you improve your process, if you had one.' "

Seven years later, however, Goodyear had turned its R&D situation around completely, according to Majerus. Safety and quality were at an all-time high, employees were more engaged, productivity had tripled, and in 2016 the company won the OpEx Award from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence.

Goodyear had introduced lean operations in its Innovation Center and learned how to manage its people in a lean environment, he said.

Goodyear R&D had become lean, quick and agile, according to Majerus. A good example of this was the development and marketing of the Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max, the world's first fuel-efficient tire, developed in response to a spike in fuel prices.

"It took us six months to develop the Fuel Max and bring it to market," he said. "By the time our competitors got around to developing their own versions, fuel prices had already come down."

Lean technology creation is all about generating knowledge before you generate a product, according to Majerus. To illustrate his point, he told a story about Shell Oil becoming distressed over the cost of drilling wells.

"The belief was that you just have to try things and see what happens," he said. "But the executives in exploration decided on a different tack—drill only where you know you will hit oil. Everyone thought this was ridiculous, but they soon found themselves learning to find ways to ensure wherever they drilled came up a win.

"Their hit rate went way up, their costs went way down, and their proven reserves went way up," Majerus said. "Lean innovation begins with learning about the product without building the product."

Along with generating knowledge, working quickly is a hallmark of lean innovation, according to Majerus.

"If I had only one thing to focus on, it should be speed," he said. Speed not only offers a competitive advantage, he said, but also faster learning, better risk management, better cash flow and collaterals of efficiency.

Giving respect and empowerment to employees is invaluable in lean innovation," according to Majerus.

"People come to work to do a good job," he said. "If they cannot, look at the process, the training, the qualification, the equipment.

"You must help the people be successful—all of them. You should be hard on the process, but easy on the people."

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