One of our major customers operates several plants in NA. They were built in 1940’s, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. The fact that factories 32 – 76 years old are still operating is testimony to the continual investment in machine and process upgrades but where does this leave them in the race to industry 4.0? Investing in new green field plant with Smart Factory systems is largely beyond the Capex budget limits determined by their % of sales method. Convincing executives to make such a large investment must be compelling in either ROI or as a treat to survival. What I expect will happen is a continuation of small incremental productivity improvements without a grand plan to reach the full interconnectivity promised by Industry 4.0 pundits. I think the more pressing need is for them to become efficient making smaller batches of tires. The market continues to fragment driving more tire specialization. Tires for electric and hybrid vehicles will need to be made along the replacement tires for the existing car parc.
As an automation supplier we are part of the continuous improvement ecosystem. Within the operation of our cell, we already utilize Industry 4.0 information for process programming. This data is available to our customer for any Industry 4.0 network they may have or build. Our robot partner FANUC already offers a turnkey Industry 4.0 service call ZDT or Zero Downtime. The robot sends operational data to the cloud and FANUC algorithms detect anomalies and report to the customer. So far, the take rate on these Industry 4.0 offerings is near zero.
I am sure each tire company will continue to track their competitor’s activity watching for when Industry 4.0 becomes a must have for survival. Until then a cautious incremental improvement approach will continue.
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