ROTTERDAM, Netherlands—Taniq B.V. has developed a software and machinery package that allows for robotic production of mandrel-built rubber goods, an advancement that can lead to savings in both labor and materials.
These products traditionally have been manufactured manually by skilled workers, but officials of Rotterdam-based Taniq—formed in 2006 by three technologists from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands—hope their firm's development will change that.
The company already has customers making pipe plugs and expansion joints using its technology, and also is working with prospective customers on design software and robotic machines for pinch valve sleeves, shaped hoses, dredging hoses and other goods, according to Managing Director Siebe Nooji.
"Whole equipment and software has been developed and is working right now," he said. "Now we're also expanding to other applications in the market."
Before developing the automated equipment for mandrel-built goods, Taniq had automated placing reinforcement with robots in hose and other rubber products. But while this involved just the fibers, Nooji said the company knew customers wanted the capability to automate the entire operation. So Taniq began developing the programming and physical processes to use the software and robotic machinery to place all the components onto the mandrel.
"What everybody wants is to automate all these parts, and that's what we've been working on," he said. "It required a lot of research and development effort. There is no such equipment in the industry to apply the rubber (using automation) and do the wrapping tape. We've been developing all the tooling, but we're also working with good hardware and equipment partners that have been able to help us out a lot."
The Taniq managing director said tire production now is highly automated, but the level of automation had not been brought to segments that fit somewhere in between high volume and strictly custom goods. There are companies, for example, that make products such as expansion joints that come in a range of sizes, pressures and other variables.
"That's kind of the arena in which we can work because (our technology) is not just automation that is capable of making one type of product, but it can—because of the software we provide with it—make a whole range of products," Nooji said.
So when a manufacturer needs to produce 10 expansion joints of one size and pressure ratings, then needs five others using other parameters, those variables, he said, are entered into the program, which then informs the robot, keeping switching times quite low.
"That's why there's a market," he said, "because such automation usually is only available if you're making one product a million times. Because we've made that step where the software can make the new design—that's how this market can be served."
The software package—custom made for each customer—also makes it easier to switch materials and tweak other variables, according to Taniq Operational Director Soren Blomaard. But while Taniq does provide the means to automation, product design still stays under the customer's control.
"Taniq doesn't really depict how the product should look, but we can automate it, optimize the reinforcement and then also integrate the special feature of a customer in it," Blomaard said.
Payback time varies for each customer, but in general runs 1½ to three years, Nooji said. The calculation depends on where a part is made and whether the changes are designed to reduce labor or save on materials.
Taniq is focusing much of its efforts on Europe and the U.S., where he said the payback may be quicker because of the high labor rates. By comparison, customers in Asia normally see their savings from the reduction in materials, which also can add up, according to Nooji.
He said Taniq recently designed a system for a customer where the product now uses 70-percent less fibers but still meets the same standards, and the product is more flexible as a bonus.
While change can come slow in a market, once the move to a less-expensive production method begins, players in the field have a decision to make, he said. "You either need to make that hurdle or you need to stop producing that product."
Taniq will add a second prototype unit at its headquarters facility in Rotterdam. This machine, though, will be the same equipment the firm is selling commercially, Nooji said, rather than making things on a smaller scale.
"We are going to use that for our current customers who are doing development projects," he said. "We can show them how their part is being made in production."
This also will be a step toward Taniq being able to start supplying its systems—sold under the Scorpo Robotic brand—from stock, resulting in quicker delivery times, Nooji said.
Taniq so far has launched two websites to help spread word about its new capabilities, one at www.pipeplugtechnology.com and the other www.expansionjointtechnology.com.
Blomaard said many companies still know Taniq just as the firm that offers technology for applying the fiber reinforcement, so "it's interesting for us to reach them now after a couple of years."
And while it is getting out the word on its new developments, Nooji said Taniq also is developing an equipment line for making big mandrel-built hoses that will bring a good deal of automation to that market.