| Written by Christian Aadal
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The shop floor logistics necessary are complex and prone to human errors. Getting the right material, to the right tire building machine, at the right time can be a hassle. Manual bar code scans are still common practice, yet outdated, costly and not well suited for a First Expired First Out (FEFO) based production.
It is common practice in tire manufacturing to load raw materials onto material carriers (or bobbins) at the so called cutting machines, to store these carriers in storage locations and to transport the right carriers to the staging area of a tire building machine where the right carriers need to get inserted into the matching slots of a tire building machine.
In a large-scale production environment with multiple storage areas on several floor levels, thousands of material carriers and hundreds of cutting and tire building machines, production logistics becomes a challenge aggravated by keeping control of the FEFO principle.
An unintended violation of the FEFO principle can lead to perished raw materials. Long search times for specific material carriers reduce labour productivity and increase the risk of perished goods. One missing carrier at the staging area – or just a forgotten scan of a carrier – impedes the start of the production order, reducing machine utilization and labour productivity. And finally, a wrong material inserted into the tire building machine results in a drop of profitability.
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In order to reduce production cost, tire manufacturers must increase machine utilization, reduce scrap of raw materials, eliminate production errors of the final product and increase labour productivity.
Any IIoT based solution must focus on the whole process from loading raw material onto a material carrier (or bobbin), managing the storage and staging areas, as well as the insertion of carriers into the tire building machine.
Asset Agent is a RTLS solution which solves all these issues: Every carrier gets outfitted with a battery powered device – a so called transponder – which enables the Asset Agent application software to identify, to locate and to communicate with every single material carrier at any given location in the production plant. The solution scales up to thousands of transponders in one plant and works outdoors if required.
The Asset Agent server application offers standard interfaces to ERP systems (e.g. SAP Extended Warehouse Management – EWM) as well as other production and material flow management systems for a seamless integration into existing IT infrastructure.
Further reading: Asset Tracking - RTLS, RFID and software
When the raw material gets loaded onto a carrier at the cutting machine Asset Agent checks via a patented wireless location technology if the carrier/ material association is correct and provides an immediate visual feedback to the worker via a red-yellow-green LED indication integrated into the transponder. The carrier can be moved to any storage location allowing chaotic storage because Asset Agent always knows its position with unmatched precision also in a metal obstructed production environment.
The integrated LED indication serves as a pick-by-light system when a worker must find a specific carrier on the storage area – finding instead of searching is the design principle of Asset Agent. The carrier gets dropped onto the staging area and Asset Agent communicates its location automatically to the ERP system to complete the transport order and assigns material to individual building machines. Finally, while the carrier is pushed into the tire building machine Asset Agent : Green for everything is ok, yellow for right material yet wrong batch and hence a violation of the FEFO principle, red for the wrong material.
The entire tire building process becomes immune to human errors without any user interaction, therefore eliminating manual bar code scans. Every communication with the user is based on a globally established communication standard – a simple three colour traffic light system – that doesn’t require any training.
Carrier search times are reduced, scrap due to perished raw material is abolished while machine utilization and labour productivity go up. All in all, this leads to an increase of tire output volume of up to 3% without investment into additional tire building machines or more personnel.
Used in production for many years in tire manufacturing plants across the globe, Asset Agent can get installed in any existing infrastructure with the transponders providing IP 65 rating. With its standard Power over Ethernet (PoE) and out of the box interfaces to all major ERP systems, seamless integration into existing IT infrastructure is guaranteed. With a battery lifetime of up to 8 years, depending on the use case, only minimal hardware maintenance is required.
Asset Agent is designed for automated health checks of all infrastructure components including the transponders and integrates to network, server and log monitoring software such as Nagios, PRTG Network Monitor, Solar Winds and others. Even the battery exchange could be managed proactively by Asset Agent in connection with the plant’s PMS system to minimize the effort for plant maintenance personnel.
The initial investment costs are proven to have a compelling payback period of less than one year.