By G Unnikrishnan, Senior Vice President at JK Tyre & Industries Ltd
While relentlessly working to meet these ever-growing demands through the addition of new capacities and capital spending, the tyre industry encounters the additional challenge of having to keep up with even faster advancements in the technology in their products and processes
The global tyre market, with a current production base of about 3 billion units - including replacement and OEM markets - is expected to surpass $300 billion by 2023 with a nearly 5 per cent world average CAGR. This growth is enabled by rising demand, healthy economic trends, vehicle production, and after-market demand from a wide variety of end-users worldwide.
While relentlessly working to meet these ever-growing demands through the addition of new capacities and capital spending, the tyre industry encounters the additional challenge of having to keep up with even faster advancements in the technology in their products and processes. Here are five key drivers coming from different directions for the tyre industry. They are incremental and radical innovations in products, customer demands in performance/delivery, environmental concerns and regulations, and need to improve manufacturing efficiency.
While these developments are promising and bring with them high-growth opportunities, they require tyre manufacturers to continually modify their products and processes to keep up. Tyre producers and, as a consequence, their machine and technology suppliers face a risk of obsolescence of their production assets with each adopted innovation.
Consequently, the future of any tyre or machinery manufacturer hinges on their ability to seamlessly adapt to this plethora of changes and forge ahead to new areas of profit not to be left behind by competitors.
This article is an attempt to understand how the tyre industry can navigate the tricky waves of change such that they not only manage to stay afloat in the industry but also thrive by grasping emerging opportunities. Tyre companies need to deep-dive into the drivers, enablers, and the resulting technological impact on machine manufacturers (see figure 1), and chart a mitigation strategy
Drivers and Enablers
1) Incremental product innovations - evolutionary progression in the industry.
One major area of focus in the tyre sector presently is energy-saving tyres, one that will only increase in prominence in the future. Expanding to energy-saving tyres, however, will prove to be tricky for machinery manufacturers since some of the essential processes involved - Lightweighting, special compounds, and thinner components - put considerable pressure on extrusion, stock preparation, handling, and assembly. Compounding and mixing area will see more of new processes such as liquid phase mixing and advanced materials.
When it comes to truck tyres, wide base technology will gain momentum in low RR radial tyres. As a result, there will be an increased need for tyre building machine to have advanced Centering and Application systems to reduce the impact of splices and improve component Centering for tyre appearance and quality.
2) Radical product innovations: Revolutionary changes in the industry
Profound transformations in the automotive field like smart tyres, electric mobility and autonomous driving call for more innovative concepts in tyre design and production.
Similarly, emerging concepts like run-flat tyres, air-less tyres and 3D printed tyres entail special features in machinery. Any tyre machinery manufacturer that wishes to remain relevant and differentiate globally needs to evolve rapidly, particularly in technology.
3) Changing customer delivery demands: Dynamic in nature
Car models are increasing in number and so is the complexity of tyre designs, resulting in more tyre variety and smaller lot sizes needing more number of moulds and quick changes in different process equipment and moulds. Also, the machines that manufacture should have flexibility and agility features to adapt swiftly to increasing product complexity and customer specifications.
Finally, as a machinery manufacturer, one must ensure the tyres produced using the machinery has the highest manufacturing accuracy and consistency to meet the customers’ specifications meeting overall quality standards and make tyre production competitive in this volatile market developments.
4) Manufacturing efficiency - a perpetual process
Tyre producers will continue to face increased competition on price, quality, delivery and pressure to reduce the tyre development life cycle, perform with fewer employees amid frequently changing product performance demands. Scarcity and growing costs for real estate is another major challenge. Hence enhancing the process efficiency in every stage of their manufacturing process would be an emphasis.
Compounding and Mixing fields bear the most significant potential to enhance efficiency with Liquid phase mixing and Automation. In the curing process, split component curing of tread and carcass separately is foreseen to dominate the industry eventually. So is the shift from mechanical to hydraulic and electric movements. Electric heating and steam elimination are also gaining popularity.
End-to-end traceability of all materials and components throughout the manufacturing and supply chain will be mandatory in the future.
5) Exponential technology: It is Automation Now:
Growing dependence on automation technologies by tyre manufacturers to meet the changing demands by performing operations such as processing, assembly, inspection, or material handling, in some cases accomplishing more than one of these operations in the same system is a welcoming trend. It is needless to state that Automating a manufacturing operation increases production rate, uniformity, conformity to quality specifications, reduction of defect rate, and manufacturing lead time, thereby reducing the work-in-process inventory. Process consistency is another critical area of paramount importance. The work is also made safer.
A higher level of automation in TBM is foreseen while it transports and assembles various components to build green tyres. TBM of the future will be with quicker and more accurate synchronisation system to give better tension control and edge placements, ergonomics and safety. A key role will be played by automated testing and data analysis technologies which can supplement traditional inspection to reduce errors and increase cost-efficiency. Consequently, higher investment in automation has become economically justifiable to replace manual operations.
Industry 4.0 : Quantum Leap in Performance:
In recent years, the traditional manufacturing industry is challenged worldwide with the digital transformation that is accelerated by exponentially growing technologies(e.g. intelligent robots, autonomous drones, sensors, 3D printing). Digitalisation allows easy integration of interconnected smart components inside the shop floor, that is the basis of the so-called Industry 4.0, and that is made possible by the widespread adoption of information and communication technologies by manufacturing companies. Major tyre manufacturers and their suppliers now are fully embracing the opportunities being presented by digital manufacturing taking full advantage of digitalisation and making use of new business models make it possible to get there.
The resulting conflict
The above mentioned best practice technologies representing the diffusion of innovation need to be implemented into the production process regularly and also when making new investment decisions in capital stock. This cycle of regular initiatives will lead to machinery upgrades and fall squarely onto the machinery manufacturers and even obsolescence risk of the current asset of tyre producers.
Machinery manufacturers, on the other hand, foreseeing the emerging challenges from tyre companies, are often confounded when investing in new technology. It is unthinkable to converge both at a breakneck pace. Years pass between the upgrades for both and risk of the business falling behind competitors grows. The goal of tyre producers and machinery manufacturers is to resolve these conflicts by synchronising and converging to meet the demands proactively.
Summarising, it is the brisk pace of change by tyre manufacturers, exponential technologies and automation that is driving tyre machinery manufacturers to invest more in R&D, evolve rapidly in technology that is leading to the obsolescence in capital asset.
A Mitigation Strategy: From Talk to Action
In many cases, the more pragmatic approach for tyre manufacturers would be to mitigate obsolescence risk instead of attempting to eliminate it. Following is a step-by-step method to doing so during this regular cadence of innovation. (Refer to fig 2 for a comprehensive outline)
To reap maximum benefit, tyre manufacturers need to implement their mitigation strategy in the form of an organisation-wide initiative, addressing both new projects (in “structural” approach) and regular operations (in an “infrastructural” approach).
This means that in addition to focusing on mitigation in new projects, tyre manufacturers must also continuously enhance the value of their current assets. Ultimately, they can succeed in building a sustainable ecosystem capable of thriving in an ever-changing industry if they perform a sort of an organisational and cultural transformation of their entire system.
Though specific mitigation strategies will vary from one organisation to another, I have distilled the initiatives into five distinct pillars to prepare the best-practice plan:
1. New Project Philosophy
2. Manufacturing Process Philosophy
3. Organisational Transformation
4. Enhancement of value of current capital assets
5. Product planning
For a good reason, when a company embarks on capacity expansion, it is essential to have a project philosophy to stick to. Such a philosophy involves paying attention to flexibility in process and machinery, scalability, and retrofittability, besides capital productivity and process efficiency. Keeping pace with current trends in machinery and digital technology is also vital. Various disciplines in manufacturing such as Automation, Exponential Technology, OEE, Energy efficiency, smaller equipment footprint, and equipment with Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) need to align well to avert investment risk effectively.
It is imperative to avoid isolated patches of automated systems. Adopting an “Open process automation” (OPA) vision is far easier to maintain and update leads to enhanced value addition. Doing so will gain additional traction to eventually replace large CapEx automation retrofit programs with smaller OpEx programs. Standardisation is another crucial and common layer which cut across machines, parts, processes, materials, components and toolings.
On the manufacturing process philosophy front, using the lean approach to seek opportunities to simplify the process and cut non-value adding steps is a major step for process agility and efficiency. The lean approach through a Near Net Shape process (NNS) by getting rid and combining of process step (for, e.g., calendar-less belt/body ply making), incorporating more concurrent steps and transforming semi-continuous processes to continuous processes is the way.
Tyre companies should seriously consider modularity and flexibility to be amenable for scalability, extensibility, mass customisation, and to reduce the risk of upfront investment. Modularity and flexibility will also enable them to move closer to customers and to have agility. To maximise the benefit, continuous progression in process technology is necessary, which will give inputs to the above project philosophy. Faster adoption of exponential technologies and Industry 4.0 compliance will dramatically boost the effectiveness of the mitigation plan. The loop will be completed when the project plan drives product engineering and eventually aligns products to the finalised plan.
It’s time to realise, also for a good reason, that attention must be paid to organisational transformation initiatives such as co-creation with customers and vendors, speeding-up the technology trend for first-mover advantage and shifting from product features back to service to customers by assisting capability building. Building the ecosystem proactively before product innovations, having technical change as part of investment analysis, moving from CapEx to OpEx by out-sourcing of customised semi-finished stocks (for, e.g., compounds) and components and capability building in emerging technologies by taking full support of machine manufacturer is critical. Another fundamental mindset change needed is valuing “generalists” rather than “specialists” as it is the key to creative breakthroughs involving recombining or reimagining things that already exist. All these initiatives eventually will lead to foreseeing the requirements well in advance and reengineering and upgrading the assets to contemporary level in functionality with minimum investments at a more predictive pace.
I would also like to emphasise that, while investing in the right technology is essential, the biggest challenge is not limited to selection - ultimately success or failure depends on the timing and requires assessing the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and exploiting the full potential of new technologies.
Additionally, a robust technology forecasting and product/process lifecycle management by creating a “sunset” policy for older products and machinery are paramount to cover investment risks. Another key initiative is on the product front - efforts should be put to increase the market share of current products through value enhancement and penetration of new markets. Product migration using adjacent technologies with appropriate reconfiguration in processes and layout is also vital. These initiatives will enhance the value of current capital assets and as a result, boost risk mitigation.
The underlying goal of a mitigation strategy is to quantify the risk involved and determine the measures that make most business sense to soften the impending obsolescence. A phased approach would be to first identify and define the goals and scope of the obsolescence plan with dedicated qualified resources. Next is to prioritise the measures bringing the most value to the business and making sure they are aligned with the company vision.
It would help to initiate pilot projects and capability building to better plan for adopting advancing technology and ease the shift to the next paradigm, allowing you to embrace the future in stride. Make sure company leadership is ready and willing to champion your approach with a broader range of factors in mind focussing on an ecosystem.
Charting an action plan for the investments and technology needed such that there is minimum risk is a demanding task. Doing this will enable them to expand the firm’s productive capacity and produce quality tyres that are cost-competitive by infusion of modern technologies and that meet customer demands. The investment would turn attractive after a reasonable period putting the business on a more robust and competitive footing.
But the optimism is that companies responsive to automotive market trends and fast-changing technologies with a robust risk assessment and technology management will come out on top.
G. Unnikrishnan is a tyre technical professional with over 30 years’ experience. He is currently Senior Vice President at JK Tyre & Industries Ltd. The opinions and observations presented here are his own and do not represent that of any company or organisation
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