With a pedigree stretching back 142 years, Pirelli is one of the world’s premium tyre manufacturers. It is the exclusive supplier of tyres to the FIA Formula One™ World Championship and 2013 also saw the 50th anniversary celebrations of its world famous Pirelli calendar. The company has manufactured tyres at its Burton upon Trent plant since 1929.
"At Pirelli, we are constantly looking to improve our manufacturing practices," explains Graeme Thompson, Pirelli’s principal engineer for Modular Integrated Robotic Systems (MIRS). He continues, "The MIRS inspection area was planned to be upgraded to incorporate state of the art testing equipment; we wanted to replace the existing uniformity machine and add a tread paint marking machine to improve processes.
"This presented us with the opportunity to change the layout of the area to provide a better throughput of product and to improve the ergonomics of the operations. The storage capacity was not exploited to its full potential which led to bottlenecks in the system and so our goal was to improve the ergonomics and productivity of the whole area."
Selecting the right partner
Pirelli invited three companies to tender for the MIRS inspection area project, eventually awarding the business to LB Foster Materials Handling. Graeme Thompson again, "From the outset, it became clear that the team at LB Foster were prepared to work closely with us to ensure that we got the solution we wanted.
"Even though amendments to the original plan went into double figures, they were very pro-active and nothing was too much trouble. Throughout the process they came up with ideas to improve the system, including the automatic indexing of tyres to make storage of heavier tyres in the cooling area easier."
Meeting tight installation time frames
To minimise expenditure, LB Foster had been given a brief to utilise as much of the existing system as possible. This added an additional challenge for the project engineers to overcome and required very careful planning to enable the amalgamation of existing and new equipment. Pirelli also wanted it designed in such a way as to accommodate future expansion.
On top of this, the installation time frame was very tight. The work had to be carried out during the two week summer shutdown which was no easy task. All the existing equipment had to be dismantled before the new combination uniformity and static/dynamic unbalance machine and the paint unit could be installed. Only then could LB Foster start work on installing the conveyor and control systems.
"We definitely made the right choice of partner for this project. We were very impressed by LB Foster’s approach and attitude throughout. They worked to ensure that the installation was completed on time during our specified time frame. They began work on 28th July and by 11th August we were ready to run the new system. As with any job like this, there were a few operational issues, but LB Foster was able to discuss and sort these over the following months," concludes Graeme Thompson.
The completed project has delivered a more streamlined FIFO system in Pirelli’s MIRS inspection area with an additional 60% of storage space for cooling. The tyres enter the MIRS area on a powered roller conveyor which takes the product through several processes including a paint machine which automatically colour codes or numbers each tyre to make warehouse storage and retrieval easier.
The tyres continue along the powered roller conveyor into the holding/cooling area where they are stored on holding conveyors until they reach the temperature required before testing. When they have cooled sufficiently, they are then put back on a roller conveyor to pass through the uniformity and unbalance machine. This conveyor had to be elevated to allow easy pedestrian access to the cooling bays.
Once the tyres have passed through the uniformity and unbalance machine, a powered roller conveyor takes them to a three-tiered selection system dependent upon customer requirements. The tyres are then loaded into tyre pallets where ID tickets are applied before they are transported into the warehouse area for storage.
The difference to the working environment is clear to see; the bottlenecks have been removed enabling the workforce to carry out inspection tasks in a more conducive atmosphere. Overall, the throughput of the tyres in the MIRS inspection area follows a logical path that has significantly improved ergonomics and productivity.