02 Apr Material Handling of Tires
Material handling systems for tire manufacturers
Van Riet has been providing material handling systems for over 50 years and has been active in the tire industry for more than a decade. In recent years, however, the Dutch company has become a more high-profile presence in tire factories on the back of some spectacular sales growth.
In his 18-month tenure as Van Riet’s CEO, the former Xerox executive and Ajax Amsterdam soccer-club president, Rik van den Boog has overseen rapid expansion across the business, with major projects for the tire industry leading the charge.“Our revenue growth in this area is around 20 to 30%,” he says, “the same for the company as a whole. And I believe that’s a conservative figure.” Key to this astonishing expansion is Van Riet’s ability to oversee a project from conception to installation. “It starts before the order is signed,” explains Rudolf van Dijk, the company’s system sales engineer. “That, for us, is the interesting part and we believe that is where we add our value.” Part consultancy, part manufacturer and part systems integrator, Van Riet pieces together conveyors that are individually tailored to the client’s needs. “We buy the belts in, before assembling them to our conveyor,” explains van Dijk. “All the steel components are produced by us, but things like the drive, the motor and controls, the belt material and the sprockets, all come from other manufacturers.”
The pattern that Van Riet follows begins with a consultation with the client to discuss their wants and requirements, before progressing to engineering. The modular nature of the conveyors means that standard units can be combined into a bespoke solution. Depending on the location of the client, physical construction of the system begins either in Van Riet’s Dutch facility in Houten, or at its facility in China. “After the in-factory process, shipping starts,” continues van Dijk. “This is an important part for us, and the customer tends to take a close interest, especially in the final phase of commissioning.” From start to finish, the design, build and installation process typically takes around nine months. China plays a dual role for the company. The country’s appetite for growth has seen substantial work undertaken at tire manufacturers there, while a Van Riet subsidiary facility in Jiangsu Province, China, also serves as a base in the Far East. “The factory builds for most of our installations in China,” explains van den Boog, “but it also caters for the Korean and other Asian markets, too.”
Van Riet’s operation in the region is typical of the growth experienced in other industries. Since its inception in early 2012, the facility’s workforce has swelled to around 60, with the bulk stationed in engineering and construction. This is already almost on a par with the numbers at Van Riet’s head office in the Netherlands, where around 80 full-time members of staff cater for Europe and the Americas. Permanent staff are supplemented by short-term contractors to cater for local projects. “If we have a big job in Brazil, for example, then we have an extra 20-30 staff we can bring in to help with it,” explains van den Boog. The emerging markets are central to the company’s continued growth; projects in India, for example, will be catered for by Van Riet’s Chinese operation. Positioning itself as a ‘solutions partner’ enables Van Riet to cater for all types of applications, including new installations at greenfield sites, as well as retrofits to existing factories. The latter scenario provides a particular challenge for Van Riet’s consultancy-style approach: “When we offer that, we really have to understand the system already in place,” explains van Dijk. “We have to connect with, or develop, parts in that system, and take over the controls. I spend a lot of time in tire factories, and every time I visit, someone is building or extending something. It’s a very dynamic environment.” Automation is an integral part of the tire factory’s future, helping to eliminate errors and improve efficiency. The bigger players are often the most advanced in this area, but van den Boog hopes his company can help to level the playing field. “Some manufacturers are much further on in their development than others,” he says. “You will see a lot of innovation and pressure from some, but others are still in a ‘start-up’ phase of the switch from manual work to automation. There, we are supplying a lot of similar systems to those we installed a year or two ago [for bigger manufacturers]. If we keep developing, especially with our larger clients, we can build new techniques and the best solutions for everyone.” A 24V zone accumulation system is typical of Van Riet’s latest, modular developments. “We are seeing more integration of the mechanics and electronics on the system,” explains van Dijk. “The addition of electronics turns it from a mechanical system into an integrated mechatronic design. It comes with the control modules mounted to the side – very remote, local controls, so that the system doesn’t need to communicate with the PLC each time something happens. It can start up and carry out most tasks by itself.” This system of distributed controls also assists with error handling, with messages from each controller allowing problems to be easily traced to the source.
Where once the ISO 9001 quality management standard was the must-have accreditation for suppliers such as Van Riet, in the future it could be a company’s energy efficiency that helps it secure major contracts. So, in line with the approach adopted by many of the world’s leading tire companies, Van Riet is working to reduce the power consumption of both the company and its products. “It’s not that we are under immediate pressure to change,” says Rudolf van Dijk. “But one of our goals is to go for greener technology. We are building a full green program that still makes sure we stay on track in delivering to other companies. You have to have answers, so we are slowly building this into our systems.”