EPE, Netherlands—The VMI Group has followed up its VMI Maxx tire building technology with a steel cord cutting unit designed to eliminate downtime and emphasize uniformity in the cutting process.
The Maxx Cutter, like the TBM unveiled in 2009, was developed to take labor costs out with more automation and maximize output, said Kees Janszen, VMI research and development manager.
The company is touting the new machine as operating at a pace 20-percent faster than traditional cutters.
But the machinery maker also was interested in a wide perspective and overall effectiveness, he said.
“We looked at not only cycle time, but down time,” he said. “What is causing down time on a machine? Maintenance, stock changes, size changes, we looked at all aspects to see if we could make a machine that is easier to handle, more independent of the operator's skills and requires less time on maintenance.”
Most steel-cord cutters today—including VMI's—evolved from equipment designed for steel plate cutting, the Epe-based company said. Traditional guillotine cutters require a heavy steel construction to reach the stiffness required for cutting of calendered steel cord material, Janszen said, but that rigidity is limiting and can lead to cutting failure or blunted knife-blades.
“By principle, these cutters are unfit for cutting steel cord, and it's surprising to me that in 2010 we're still using these machines,” he said.
VMI made use of the latest control technology and knife materials to design a cutting system that features flexible blade mounting and servo-controlled cutting force. Control of the blade and material is part of the company's philosophy, Janszen said.
The pull-through type feeding system keeps control of the material as it moves through the process and keeps it positioned accurately during the cutting action. Because the material is kept in place, it doesn't have to be repositioned for splicing, VMI said.
“You always want to keep hold of the material and be in total control of any part you handle,” Janszen said. Likewise, he said, when cutting, you must have very accurate control over your knife, and today's tire material, especially in high-performance tires, is very hard and very thin and can cause trouble during cutting.
In keeping with the company's goals, the let-off and wind-up components of the machine are designed for maximum machine up-time—featuring, for example, an automatic roll-change operation—and easy access. The self-adjusting cutter also doesn't require blade alterations if the material changes, such as if one starts with truck and bus tire material and moves to passenger tire material, Janszen said, and blade changes take 15 minutes as opposed to as long as two to four hours.
Taking it public
VMI unveiled the technology internationally this month at the Tire Technology Expo in Cologne, Germany. At last year's show held in Hamburg, Germany, the Maxx tire building system garnered a Tire Manufacturing Innovation of the Year award.
Thus far, the company has built a prototype and tested it in-house, and is in discussion with several candidate companies to host the machine and allow potential customers to examine it, according to Arie Kroeze, president and CEO of U.S. subsidiary VMI Americas Inc., based in Stow, Ohio.
The Maxx tire building machine was stationed in a customer's plant in Finland last year, and was eventually purchased by that company. It had to pass a tire-building test over a four-hour trial period, and after 3½ hours it had reached its goal, with 100-percent up-time, Kroeze said.
The cutter will be a perfect match for VMI's Maxx TBM, which also is capable of producing at a high level of quality and uniformity, Janszen said. However, the controls on the new machine can be integrated into other production systems as well.
“The same kind of out-of-the-box thinking that went into the TBM went into this machine,” Janszen said. “Too many movements increase costs and increase risk and maintenance,” he said. Customers want to see economical solutions, with lower costs and people taken out of the equation.”
The Maxx machines are and will be built at VMI's facility in the Netherlands, but Janszen said he'd love to see the machines sell well in places outside of Europe in the future so that perhaps they'll need to make them elsewhere.
Kroeze said 2009, as it was for most companies in the industry, was difficult, but the second half was an improvement over the first six months, particularly in places like China and India. North American business was down, but the company expects to see some improvements this year.
“It starts with the customers first,” he said. “When things pick up with them, we should see it, too.”