CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio—In launching the Steelastic Next Generation Extruded Steel Belt Machine, Steelastic Co. L.L.C. paid close attention to what its customers were telling it, according to a Steelastic executive.
"We are trying to appeal to what the market is trending toward," said Matthew Abbey. Steelastic aftermarket sales and marketing manager.
"What we are hearing from industry experts and our customers is that tire plants are becoming smaller in terms of their footprint," Abbey said, adding that Steelastic opened the development process to actual tire manufacturers to make sure it met their needs.
New in 2018, the Next Generation steel belt system offers a fully automated process with a belt inspection system allowing closed loop adjustment, according to company publicity.
It offers increased productivity through a higher-speed cut and splice operation; recipe-driven angle and belt width change; a further reduced footprint through a parallel pick-and-place splicing system; a lower noise level than previously; and enhanced product traceability, Steelastic said.
Steelastic introduced the Next Generation machine in February at the Tire Technology Expo in Hanover, Germany, according to the company. In May, Steelastic made its first sale of the new system—two Next Generation machines for the new Nokian Tyres plant in Dayton, Tenn.
"When it comes online, this new plant will have a capacity of 4 million car and light truck all-season tires per year, with room for further expansion," Steelastic said.
Nokian was not one of the customers Steelastic consulted with in developing the Next Generation system, according to Abbey. He did not identify those customers, except to say that they were among the world's Top 10 tire manufacturers.
The development process for the Next Generation machine took nearly two years, according to Abbey. Steelastic began by defining the market, then defining what part of the technology has worked, he said.
"We collected data from our customers and the industry experts we used as consultants," he said. "We defined our needs, tried a few different iterations, and made it into a manufacturing-friendly, robust system."
There were several trends Steelastic considered in developing the Next Generation machine, according to Abbey. Among them are:
- Flexibility: "There's been a large increase in tire sizes," Abbey said. "This requires more flexibility in manufacturing, as well as smaller batch sizes. Our new machine allows manufacturers to be more flexible, and change quickly from one product to another."
- Locality: "Big manufacturers are opening smaller facilities closer to their auto maker customers," Abbey said. "Our machine brings them one step closer to opening more local facilities."
- Automated manufacturing: "The Next Generation system makes tire manufacturing less dependent on individual operators and provides a more consistent product," Abbey said. "This current iteration is much more automated than before."
- Traceability: "Auto manufacturers are pushing tire manufacturers to have more traceability of the product and what goes into it," Abbey said. "Our system traces data back to specific products."
Steelastic has not yet sold the Next Generation system to any tire makers besides Nokian, but the company is well into the quoting process with a number of prospective customers, Abbey said.