With a background in mechanical engineering and robotics and more than 25 years of experience in a variety of engineering disciplines, I like to think I have a good grasp of the concepts behind improving machines and plants. In essence, helping people and their companies do more with less.
I am delighted that my son has followed in my footsteps and has also opted for a career in the engineering sciences. In fact, he will very soon graduate from the same school I attended. Like all fathers (especially engineers like me) I am curious about what he is learning.
As it turns out, the basic principles are much the same – you can’t mess with physics – but the overlying trend is certainly one that has IT and OT at its heart. Indeed, the college itself has changed its name from Ecole des Mines de Douai to Institut Mines-Télécom. The clue’s in the name.
This evolution into the IT/OT realm is squarely down to the need for a new, more ‘data-comfortable’ engineering workforce. One that is equally at home applying the information generated from ones and zeros as it is leveraging more traditional engineering tools and concepts.
This data-centric approach underpins just about every industry on the planet, but it is in the automotive and tire industry, where I reside, that the effects can be truly profound.
It is my opinion that we have reached the limits of what we can currently do – in terms of efficiency gains – with more traditional capabilities, tools and mechanical designs. If we want to go further, we desperately need the help of machine data. The new world is coming, and the winners will be the ones that both inject and embrace this new technology.
With the automotive and tire industry in a state of constant redevelopment, leading OEMs and tier level suppliers now rely more than ever on automation and information system vendors to help them adapt; and it is my belief that the tire industry is in the perfect position to become the poster child for digital transformations across the wider automotive spectrum.
To meet the demands of this crowded and constantly changing market, tire manufacturers require flexible and scalable operations to help them withstand inevitable changes to production lines; and the creation of fully digitalised operations is – without a shadow of doubt – the most effective pathway. 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. Ultimately, this will help to bring products to market faster, with less risk, reduced costs, greater efficiency and reduced downtime.
Within Rockwell Automation we have split the journey into four stages, all of which require a best-in-class approach. These stages are design, build, sustain and improve. As it is very much a holistic approach, none of them can be singled out or ignored. They all play an equally vital role in the long-term efficacy of any solution.
At the design stage companies need a consultant partner who will listen and learn about the company, its issues and goals 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 our partnership with Accenture.
Following initial consultation and plan formulation, customers can then leverage the capabilities of FactoryTalk InnovationSuite, powered by PTC, which has been designed specifically to accelerate digital transformation strategies for greater 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 larger 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. From a manufacturing analytics perspective, our FactoryTalk Analytics LogixAI solution can also be embedded in ControlLogix (even some older models), 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 a commensurate level. Companies must now look ahead 30 years and make sure they have the right digital foundations in place – foundations that will not require regular wholesale replacement, but instead offer upgrade paths.
No one will tell you that a digital transformation is straightforward… it isn’t! 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 easier and quicker than you think, especially with the right mindset, best-in-class tools and services and the all-important “data-comfortable” engineers.
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.
Learn more about the tire factory of the future at Tire Technology Expo 2020 in Hannover (25-27 February 2020). Join us on booth 10080 and come and see my presentation ‘Optimising Performance Through Project Lifecycle Support and Digital Technologies’. I am certain you will be inspired by some new and interesting ideas.