With the automotive and tire industry in a state of constant redevelopment, leading OEMs and tier level suppliers now rely more than ever on their automation and information system vendors to help them adapt to and address continually changing market dynamics.

One of the most significant paradigms is the shift towards electric vehicles—something that is impacting every single step of the automotive value chain. Indeed, by 2040, it’s estimated that half of all new vehicles sold worldwide will be electric.

As a major supplier to the automotive, off-highway, and agricultural markets, the tire industry is particularly susceptible to the effects of these market dynamics. However, as a result of potential solutions to these pressures, and with the help of information-driven automation suppliers, such as Rockwell Automation, the tire industry is in the perfect position to become the poster child for digital transformations across the broader automotive spectrum; primarily through the useful collation, analysis, deployment and leveraging of real-time manufacturing and process data.

To meet the demands of this crowded and continuously changing market, tire manufacturers require flexible and scalable operations to help them withstand inevitable changes to production lines; and the creation of fully digitalised processes is—without a shadow of a doubt—the most effective pathway.

Indeed, connected, information-driven operations that meet the needs of Industry 4.0 will help suppliers bring products to market faster, with less risk, reduced costs, higher efficiency, and reduced downtime.

"Whether it is a new greenfield site or an existing plant, tire manufacturers have to realise the value that data will have in their future operational agility and profitability"

“Whether it is a new greenfield site or an existing plant, tire manufacturers have to realise the value that data will have in their future operational agility and profitability,” explains Dominique Scheider, Automotive & Tire Industry Manager, EMEA at Rockwell Automation. “They need to exploit data and networks to bring people, machines and processes closer together and then leverage the results of these relationships to make optimum use of all their assets.

“No one wants to invest billions immediately,” Scheider continues, “but they do need to look at digitalization, not only holistically, but also historically, to create an approach that covers a machine, cell, line or plant’s entire life cycle—from initial design to end of life. The prominent players in the industry have recognised not only the need to take this whole lifecycle approach and, but, just as importantly, the companies that will help them along this long journey.

“Within Rockwell Automation, we have split this journey into four stages,” he explains, “all of which require a best-in-class approach. These stages are—design, build, sustain, and improve. Using the holistic approach, none of them can be singled out or ignored, as they all play an equally vital role in the long-term efficacy of any solution.”

At the design stage, it`s crucial to set up clear goals to address the unique challenges. At this stage, companies often need a consultant partner who will listen to learn about the company, its issues and objectives and will help to create the whole concept to optimize operations and protect its investment. That is the aim of the Rockwell Automation Consulting Group– recently reinforced with the announcement of its partnership with Accenture. Following initial consultation and plan formulation, customers can then leverage the capabilities of FactoryTalkInnovationSuite, powered by PTC, which has been explicitly designed to accelerate digital transformation strategies for higher productivity through the simplification of complex processes. Our recent partnerships and acquisitions open up wider access to augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, all of which are playing much more substantial roles in the development of the factory of the future.

At the build stage, the Rockwell Automation Logix platform has demonstrated the capacity to evolve year after year and has proven itself in many demanding tire industry applications, including manufacturing analytics.

“The trend is not to push our customers to invest in totally new architectures,” Scheider explains. “The simple investment in a new processor will give you a significant performance boost. Logix has been leveraging all major advances over the last 20 years, including safety and motion capabilities, and exploits the net/IP as the backbone for IT/OT convergence. It is this long-term approach that will give people the confidence that an investment now will continue to be supported and enhanced for many years. Indeed, even advanced analytics are available on older devices. Our FactoryTalk Analytics LogixAI solution can be embedded in older ControlLogixchassis, allowing companies to reap the benefits of machine learning at Edge level without major investment programmes.”

Looking to the future elements of the journey—sustain and improve—as the market changes and demands adjust to the needs of the market, technology needs to evolve at an equal level. Companies need to look ahead 30 years and make sure they have the right foundations in place—foundations that will not require regular wholesale replacement but instead offer upgrade paths.

“There are, of course, multiple other factors to consider in the digitisation journey,” Scheider explains, “such as workforce demographics, where substantial amounts of knowledge and information are being lost through the retirement of seasoned engineers. This is why effective data is so important, especially its capture and contextualisation. We must also consider the issue that attracts headlines—cybersecurity. More connections mean more threat vectors, so companies must take a proactive approach to data and network security, along with the formulation of recovery plans and remedial actions, should incursions happen.

“No one will tell you that a digital transformation is straightforward…it isn’t,” Scheider concludes. “It involves a lot of work and, in some cases, a complete evolution of working practices. But what we will tell you is that it can be more comfortable and quicker than you think, especially with the right mindset and best-in-class tools and services to hand. The tire industry is facing its ‘survival of the fittest’ epoch and the entities that will weather the storm most effectively are those that have set a solid yet flexible and agile foundation that will serve them well for decades.”