LONDON—There are growing trends among tire makers who are pushing to reduce tire weight by using thinner components and overcome barriers such as multiplied logistic complexity. From his position, Jan Grashuis, VMI vice president of global research and development, VMI, can see those trends emerging, and he is helping to develop tire plants that best meet the needs of manufacturers and consumers.
He will discuss plant automation and new technologies during the second day of the Future Tire Conference 2017, set for June 27-28 in Cologne, Germany. Recently, he sat down with European Rubber Journal reporter Shahrzad Pourriahi to discuss his vision for the future of automation.
First, please identify one significant technical development in the tire industry over recent years, and explain its importance?
One of the most significant developments is the reduction of tire weight by using thinner components. Each step towards a half-weight tire will reduce the gauge of components, making them harder to produce, handle and build into a tire. With thinner components the impact of splices and centring of components on tire appearance and quality will increase the need for tire building machines with advanced centring- and application systems.
Almost equally significant is the use of newly developed compounds that are optimized for tire labeling, which makes them harder to process.
What do you see as the main barriers to the development of the tire manufacturing industry over the next few years?
The tire manufacturing industry is facing multiplied logistic complexity, due to the increasing number of tire specs a tire plant has to produce. This trend requires more and more flexibility, to keep equipment utilization at an economical level. Furthermore, the increasing number of players in the OE market, stresses the need for cost-effective production at a competitive price/performance ratio.
Which technologies will play the biggest role in shaping the "tire factory of the future" and why?
The future of the tire industry is, like for all other industries, increasing automation and moreover, connecting all 'islands of automation' by networks. Each part of this network will be equipped with smart sensors which gather information that is not only used locally, but also shared via the network, enabling intelligent and context-sensitive decisions which optimize the whole process both in terms of quality and efficiency. The use of big data technology and the search for correlations in this immense heap of information will lead to new and valuable insights that will be used to optimize the entire process.
This trend is supported by governments with programs like Industry 4.0, automation suppliers, and implemented by equipment suppliers like VMI.
Looking into the crystal ball, what big changes do you expect to see in tire manufacture and supply by 2030?
Many scenarios are thinkable for the industry in 15 years. A disruptive change in tire technology is not to be expected in that relatively short notice. In 2035, however, 11.8 million self-driving cars are expected to be on the road and the question is if these cars will still be owned by consumers who still see the car as a status symbol, or if they will see a car as simply a service that's provided when ordered.
In the second scenario, the number of tire specs might reduce largely and the focus on ultra-high performance will lower. Cost-effective production on the other hand, will be decisive for a tire manufacturer to stay successful.
For sure there will be an ongoing development into the use of new and sustainable materials, which will keep challenging both the tire manufacturers and their equipment suppliers.