ROTTERDAM, Netherlands—Taniq B.V. is building on its digitalization and automation services to support the growing number of clients seeing the benefits.
The research and development company, headquartered in Rotterdam, Netherlands, has been improving its technology platforms, especially for mandrel-built products, which are difficult to automate because they're "typically labor and skill intensive," Taniq Co-Founder Soren Blomaard said.
In the last year, the company has focused on automating both design and production processes, he said. Though Taniq, which has about seven engineers, has been building on the trends of automation and digitalization for a while, both have seen more attention from clients as the global economy has recovered.
"Capital was low for a couple years. There wasn't much budget, and people were delaying investments," Blomaard said. "You see it strongly picking up again, and there's a lot of requests for automation and digitalization.
"A lot of the companies, they want to scale up again, but they don't want to go back to the old ways. They're looking for smarter ways to grow, and that's good for us."
Part of Taniq's growth has been the development of the Finite Element Analysis Toolbox, which creates models that can simulate all kinds of load cases to test products, Blomaard said. Using that model can test the behavior of various parts, which gives a better idea of how different parts will behave and at which pressure it will fail. The process can be used both to optimize and compare design possibilities.
"So if you have two directions, you put them in the simulation, and you can see which in the simulation performs best," he said. "And the more you validate your model with real-life test results, your model becomes more and more reliable."
A digital environment
When Taniq takes on a new project, the first step is to work with the client to glean knowledge, Blomaard said.
"We try to learn from our clients. Most of them manufactured these products for 30-40 years, so they have a lot of experience," he said.
Then, Blomaard's team adds their own knowledge, looking for ways to minimize stress concentrations and extend the lifetime of the product, he said. Both of those knowledge bases are combined and embedded in the custom software written for the product development.
"The whole idea is that you capture their engineering knowledge, combine it with our optimization models, and then you create a custom software," he said.
With that parametric software supplied, it doesn't take in-depth engineering to make another product, he said.
"Because it's validated by prototyping and testing and experience, you know then if you change the parameters, if you make it a little longer or a little taller, it will automatically generate a good product," Blomaard said.
The FEA Toolbox has been useful in the development of large marine hoses, which run about 39 feet long and 1 foot in diameter, with multiple levels of reinforcement material, he said. Typically, making a hose prototype can cost about $23,000, with another $11,500 for testing.
"It becomes more and more interesting to have a digital environment to reduce that cost and reduce development time," Blomaard said.
Automation is used alongside digital testing to get the most efficiency out of the process, he said. With mandrel-built products in the rubber industry, most have reinforcement layers applied with rubber sheets with embedded fabric. Those can be manually folded around a mandrel to shape the product, adding strength with each layer. But the manipulation of the sheets and manual application limit the efficiency of that production method.
Using robotic processes, those sheets can be placed exactly, actively steering the direction so all the fibers are loaded in the correct tensile direction, right in the necessary positions, he said. That made a more effective product and saved material.
Taniq started out working with a robotic filament winding system, which works on a similar principle, by individually winding cords in exact orientations to reach the right tensile structure. Next, it was able to work with winding rubber and tapes. Over the last few years, the company has progressed to incorporating automated tool changing as well as cutting and attaching, Blomaard said.
Taniq recently installed a fully automated process for a U.S.-based client where the operator can place a mandrel in the robot cell and press the "start" button, he said. The robot picks the correct materials, adds layers, adds a label and wraps it, and then notifies the operator that the product is finished and a new mandrel can be inserted.
The company also makes a 'digital twin' of its robot cells to get the most out of automation processes, Blomaard said. As the controller for the robot is programmed for its movement, a simulation is built that becomes a one-to-one copy of the existing cell. Then optimization can really start, as movements or routing can be tested to avoid collision. It also allows testing of motion trajectories for speed and accuracy.
"As long as you know, 'I want to be within this bandwidth for accuracy,' you can run an automatic algorithm that we wrote to optimize for speed within that boundary," Blomaard said. "You could improve the production speed by 20-30 percent. Especially if you have a repetitive product that you make many times, saving 20-30 percent in production time can be quite significant."
Working with digitalization is a change in the way of thinking for many clients, especially as it requires investment and equipment, Blomaard said. Automation can be used to take care of a currently manual step, but using digitalization changes the approach to include finding the best designs and processes before investing in direct automation.
"We know that there's a lot more benefits to gain by first optimizing the design and following from that, having an optimized process," Blomaard said. "We're talking about sometimes 50 percent less material, 50 percent less labor time. It's really significant."
But the need for automation has grown in the past few years, as Taniq has developed processes and cells for the past 12, he said. When they started, clients thought it sounded interesting, but weren't ready to approach automation. Now, the state of the economy calls for a closer look at it.
"Many of those clients, they're coming back to us to talk about this, to find out the current status of it," Blomaard said. "The minds have changed. There is budget, there is need and capacity is growing. I think there's a lot of elements. Along the way, we've grown as a company."