"For digital (technology) you need to really reach out to customers to find the benefits of any new development for them," said Pape, noting that networking is an intrinsic aspect of IT and process integration.
This, he added, might require different styles of working: asking tire producers about their digital strategies and getting better data from production to build better machines. "A lot of value stems from getting to know the machine and processes even better than before."
Pape admitted that "it is always a discussion" about what data can be shared but believes agreements can be reached: "But it's a win-win situation: customers get immediate feedback on any data they share with us to improve their own production and maintenance operations, while also enabling HF to do better machine engineering for them."
Advanced condition monitoring and predictive maintenance capabilities will clearly be important elements of the Digital Solutions toolkit, with Pape considering the introduction of new HF digital products and apps in this space.
Indeed, one of the initial projects at Digital Solutions involves the application of digital technology to keep cycle times of curing presses at optimum levels—for example by focusing closely in on the movement of mechanical parts and the use of advanced sensor systems.
In tire production, cycle times can often increase unnoticeably, due to "process drift," linked perhaps to wear and tear or particular settings, Pape said. So, a machine that takes 12 minutes and 30 seconds to cure a tire, might need 13 minutes after a couple of months.
"We can do very detailed monitoring to find which part of the machine is starting to be slower," he said. "This gives an early warning to maintenance staff to look at this previously unnoticed problem and resolve it."
Highlighting the potential benefits to customers, Pape said this approach "will help to keep cycle time on a consistently low level so the machine produces more tires. And if we calculate this by the number of presses in the factory, then that gets interesting."
HF is seeking new partnerships with customers, looking to improve their curing processes, for instance by further optimizing cycle times, said Pape, who expects to apply similar approaches to tire-building machines.
Again, his message in terms of digitalization is: "Let's set aside trying to be first and a technological leader and so on. Just go out and ask customers, 'what do you need? How can we help you?'
"In digital, when you are doing something new, you often have to take a step back, and say, 'Hey, why are we doing this? Why are our customers doing this? Let's talk about this.' "