A Dream Realised for Cimcorp
Finland’s Cimcorp has long held the desire to develop a tyre factory in which every stage of the operation – from tyre assembly to final shipping – was automated. This idea has formed the core of the company’s so-called “dream factory” concept, and Cimcorp reports that in the past year this dream has become reality.
The company’s path towards a fully automated tyre plant began some time ago, and outside the tyre industry. “At first we supplied automation solutions to the television tube industry,” Cimcorp sales director Tero Peltomäki explained in a company publication. “When the TV tube became a thing of the past, we concentrated on the tyre industry, but we have experience in other sectors too. In fact, the TyrePick robots in our dream factory concept are based on automated solutions for the food industry developed in 1995.”
The company’s first client from the tyre industry was local firm Nokian Tyres, in 2001. Cimcorp built and delivered to the tyre maker’s Nokia, Finland factory a sorting and buffer storage solution for handling finished tyres. Since this time, comments Cimcorp, the development of its tyre industry solutions has been rapid, with automation systems implemented in dozen of factories around the world.
The breakthrough in realising its “dream factory” concept came in 2008 when the company developed systems for the automatic loading of curing presses. Two alternative solutions for carrying out this task are now available: Tyres can be loaded automatically onto the presses using either linear transfer robots or an EMS (electric monorail system). Since eliminating this ‘missing link’, Cimcorp has been able to offer complete, end-to-end automated logistics solutions for tyre plants, controlled by a single operating system that supervises the material flows throughout the entire factory.
Handling operations within a plant, says Cimcorp, are automated at every stage: From tyre building and the green tyre buffer, through curing to finishing and uniformity testing, and then to storage, picking and dispatch at the loading dock. Through the utilisation of a combination of linear transfer robots, TyrePick overhead gantry robots (which sort, buffer and pick tyres, feeding them to the palletising robots), palletising robots and automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), Cimcorp solutions make dynamic use of available space, optimise material flows and minimise buffer stocks. In addition, Cimcorp’s Warehouse Control System (WCS) provides complete control of the order picking and material flows, even allowing for individual tyres to be tracked through the entire process.
While the advantages of automation are numerous, the health and safety benefits it delivers definitely feature high on the list. Cimcorp notes that, thanks to the popularity of SUVs, tyres are not becoming any lighter. As these items are cumbersome for personnel to manhandle, automation of their flows through the factory not only speeds up production but also improves working conditions for the plant’s staff. “The robot handles the loading of green tyres onto the presses with optimal efficiency and accuracy,” comments Peltomäki. “Thanks to these indefatigable robots, the entire production line approaches a one hundred per cent utilisation rate.”
Storage space requirements within a plant are also reduced. As a result of the speed and flexibility the dream factory production process offers, green tyres do not need to be stored in large quantities in production buffers. The result of improved logistics is that the size of the storage facilities can be optimised according to actual needs, and this means less WIP (Work in Process). “The reduction of storage space is a definite cost saving for a tyre plant,” says Peltomäki. “When the transport and buffering of material run smoothly between the different process stages, the customer always knows the exact location and manufacturing stage of each tyre. The traceability of the tyre also improves, when manufacturing data is passed along in the control system memory from one stage to another, right up to the customer.”
In addiction to space savings gained through real-time manufacturing, space can be optimised with storage methods. Cimcorp comments that the best space-saver is the rick-rack method, a system that today is also handled automatically: A robot generates a palletising pattern using the tyre shape and loads tyres into cages so that they overlap.
Other benefits delivered by the dream factory system, notes Cimcorp, are higher flexibility and increased productivity. Overhead gantry systems offer manufacturers a high degree flexibility to deal with fluctuations in production. In addition, floor-based storage is both completely programmable, permitting it to accommodate changes in the product range easily and economically, and completely accessible at all times, allowing manual backup operations if necessary. Last but not least, with automated systems determining the pace of work, productivity is considerably higher, resulting in shorter lead-times and greater earnings potential.