TOPEKA, Kan.—Changing materials, the drive for more intelligent systems and a focus on cycle times and automation are some of the driving forces behind improvements in mixing machinery equipment for the rubber industry.
That was the message of Ian Wilson, director of the Farrel Ltd. business unit for HF Mixing Group, who was one of the speakers at the firm's recent International Mixing Seminar in Topeka. That is the unit that works with the company's tangential mixers, including the Banbury line.
Some of the trends in the marketplace over the last decade or so, Wilson said, are the need to mix highly sophisticated compound requirements, such as mixtures with high silica content; functionalized polymers, such as solution SBR, that require more temperature control; and new grades of carbon black that offer better abrasion resistance for truck tires or reduced rolling resistance for car tires.
“We have to understand these better and tailor the machine to be more suitable to processing these types of materials,” Wilson said in an interview after his presentation. “That basically drives us to test these materials and look at how we can adopt our mixers. Of course, customers are pushing us for better performance and reliability.”
Some of the changes in the mixing industry, however, are internal developments that HF Group is working to get its customers to adapt.
For example, Wilson said the machinery group is touting having more “intelligent” technology in hydraulic systems. That's because position control is something that must be focused on—not just pressure control.
“The focus in the past was very much driving the ram down very fast, and now customers are complaining about having a high powder accumulation on the slope of the ram,” he said. “By driving the ram faster, you're worsening that situation. You need to step back and look at the whole process, and you can adopt the hydraulic system to eliminate the issue rather than dealing with it by using a ram sweep. So you eliminate the problem in the first incidence without trying to deal with it afterwards.”
Cycle times are particularly important in the tire industry, where the cost of material per kilogram is closely associated with the tight margins in a competitive market.
“That's one of the reasons why we're pushing out very large size tangential and intermeshing machines because, of course, mix size is very much linked to the cost per kilogram as well,” Wilson said.
Some customers are more receptive to change than others, he said. “It's a conservative industry. It's very difficult to get tire factories to change their processes.”
There were questions when HF Group touted the potential for independent drives to help decrease energy consumption and increase productivity, according to Wilson. Many in the U.S. market maintain energy consumption isn't a big concern, whereas those in India or other Asian nations see the benefits.
Wilson, however, doesn't agree that there is no need to watch energy consumption for its U.S. customers. “If you're a custom compounder, that has a big impact on your (profit and loss),” he said. “It allows you to be more competitive with your product and either get new business to increase sales revenue, or alternatively just increase the margin directly at the same volume that you're producing now.”
Automation may be the most critical area for future improvements, an area HF Mixing is investing in heavily and adding staff, he said. “We have a dedicated systems and automation business unit to focus on this,” he said. “We will continue to focus a huge part of our activity on this in the development of our automation products going forward.”