GRIMSBY, Ontario—Cimcorp Group has made great strides in the last two years in what it dubs its "Dream Factory" concept, which is a fully automated handling solution for tire manufacturing and distribution.
"We are able to automate from bringing in raw materials right through the finished product coming out of the factory," said Don Heelis, sales manager of Grimsby-based Cimcorp Automation Ltd., the group's North American business unit.
"We've got all the automation modules to link all of the elements of the factory together. So all the manufacturing cells can be linked together with physical automation and various kinds of robots. We can tie everything together physically, and then we tie it all together with software as well."
Heelis said during the recent International Tire Exhibition & Conference in Akron that there are certain areas of the tire factory where Cimcorp's process is extremely well embedded. Now the firm is looking to push into other areas in tire manufacturing with greater detail and penetration. One of those areas will be the component preparation area, where the compounded rubber is handled.
"How raw materials are stored and how they are retrieved," he said. "Everything is tracked by some sort of identifier, either a barcode or an RFID tag. The manual processes that typically have been seen in a legacy plant will fade away and be replaced by these automated processes."
The evolution of the dream factories have begun, he said. Cimcorp's technology breaks down the material handling functions into these elements: Raw material or component preparation; tire building; green tire buffering; storage and retrieval; green tire curing; final finish and palletizing; and order fulfillment.
"In the dream factories, that is what is being implemented, and the factories are designed to accommodate that," Heelis said. "The older legacy factories were never laid out that way. Nobody had any vision of what was coming, so the factories couldn't accommodate it."
But he said the new tire plants are being designed with material handling automation in mind. "You don't lay out a tire factory now independent of your automation and material handling," he said. "You do it concurrently to make it work hand-in-glove."
Heelis said Cimcorp Group, which also includes Cimcorp Oy in Finland, has been successful at getting its technology selected for a good number of new tire plant projects around the globe. "If you look at all of the vendors trying to play in this sector, we're winning the majority of the projects," he said.
And that includes the tire plants being constructed in North America, saying that Cimcorp is involved in a number of greenfield projects in essentially every phase of development, from the initial phases of planning to some getting ready to open.
Heelis said he has 35-40 years of experience in automation, the last 13 in the tire industry, and that Cimcorp's history in the tire business goes back 35 years. During that time, the tire industry much like the auto industry has come to rely more on outside vendors for expertise.
"What it does if you're in auto or tire manufacturing, you focus on what you need to make," Heelis said. "You don't focus on the equipment you need to make your product. You design your product. You're not focused on the automation you need to make your product. It enables you to focus on your core competency.
"That's the emergence of the automation industry. Once that shift had taken place then you saw the emergence of standalone, independent automation companies."
While much of Cimcorp's business has been with new tire factories, Heelis said it also has made headway in legacy factories. The key there is to identify areas where the automated technology can have the biggest impact for the customer.
Thus far, one such area is the finished product area where the tires have to be palletized. "That's an area where automation can provide a lot of value," he said. "We can free up floor space, reduce costs for those processes and improve the accuracy of the process."
From there you work back through the factory: from the curing area to green tire storage and retrieval area. And while greenfield factories are designed from a clean slate, with current factories a modular approach is needed.
"In a legacy factory you have to attack certain areas," Heelis said. "Legacy factories have to keep running. They have to keep making product at the same time you're implementing this automation. That's as big a challenge as coming up with a solution that will have a viable return on investment."
Cimcorp has had success convincing a number of tire manufacturers that it's worth making the investment, he said, without naming specific customers. "Each project that you look at comes with its own unique challenges," Heelis said. "What we try to do is bring from the tool kit of standard engineering modules to address those challenges. Depending on how we put the blocks together, we usually can come up with a satisfactory concept that will satisfy the requirements of the project."
The payback for adding this technology at legacy plants depends on what the customer wants to implement, but he said the average time for the project to pay for itself is a bit more than two years.