Where the rubber meets the road:

tyre technology and logistics challenges

While tyres may appear to be one of the most robust and forgiving parts of the automobile, they can be more easily damaged by careless handling and shipping than one might imagine. Simon Duval Smith reports on new solutions in design, packaging and logistics

Handling tyres has always been problematic - they tend to get dropped and stacked on their sides, so they can get damaged - damage which is not always apparent until they are fitted, a real safety concern. I ask Stewart Jackson, Supply Chain Director at Continental Tyres about how these challenges affect Continental’s choice of handling equipment in their plants and for loading and unloading in transporting tyres. He says that, “Tyres are stored on a specific Continental designed pallet in both plant and market warehouses and never stored/stacked on the ground. During transportation they are laced in a very specific way to ensure no damage occurs. Tyres are handled out of the vehicle manually with specialist mechanical handling equipment that is used for storage and what we call ‘put away’.”

Dr. Bernd Löwenhaupt, managing director of Sumitomo Rubber Industries (SRI) Europe (the parent company of Falken Tyres) gives a more general answer on this topic: “Falken together with its parent company SRI is working on a number of initiatives to improve the efficiency of its logistics. This includes materials, transport, the production process and even manufacturing location.”

TYRECUBE - an intelligent joint venture handling solution

CEVA Logistics and Goodpack have agreed to extend the long-term nature of their working relationship by entering into a strategic alliance. As part of this new alliance, the two companies have developed TYRECUBE, an intelligent returnable container for tyres with data acquisition and track & trace capabilities.

TYRECUBE is a patented collapsible and stackable container, providing an innovative method of moving tyres worldwide. By simplifying complicated movements characterised by short order-to-delivery cycles, the teams hope to deliver measurable value to the global tyre industry. Traditionally, the loose loading of tyres has been a very labour-intensive and manual process, with minimal automation and little visibility. TYRECUBE as transport and storage module helps avoid loose loading and provides a better protection of the tyres. TYRECUBE works for approximately 90% of all tyre types.

Xavier Urbain, CEVA Logistics' CEO, says: "We believe that by working in close collaboration with Goodpack, we can develop TYRECUBE into the world's best global solution for the storage and movement of tyres. The exciting part of this alliance is the scope it has for delivering across multiple vertical markets, from aviation through to passenger cars, motorbikes, trucks, off-road vehicles and industrial and agricultural equipment. We have the opportunity to revolutionise what is a traditional process by introducing a single, common container handling unit throughout the supply chain which will significantly improve process efficiency, product protection and visibility.”

Eric Grégoire, Goodpack's CEO, says: “We are very excited to form this partnership with a market-leader like CEVA Logistics. By bringing our core competencies together, we are proposing much-needed innovation for the tyre industry, enabling us to address some of its biggest issues, such as quality, traceability, workplace hygiene and ergonomics, and all at a lower cost.”

In answer to the question of how to minimise damage to tyres in transit and handling, Dave Dudek, Executive Vice-President for the Global Automotive and Tyre Sector, CEVA Logistics tells me that, “There are many types of tyres that are stored on their sidewalls in warehouses and distribution centres and that could be an issue in the future from a quality perspective as well as possibly a safety aspect. I was just visiting a company today to talk about aircraft tyres, which of course have a very strong focus on safety. Surprisingly, many aircraft tyres are shipped and stored on their sidewalls and that is a concern in that industry too.

“As regards finding a new solution for storage and shipping of tyres, the tread versus sidewall storage debate is a factor but our primary purpose in working with Goodpack on the TYRECUBE has been more to drive efficiencies through the supply chain. The preference of upright storage versus sidewall storage was an additional benefit.”

Shipping costs - big money for a low value item

As an OEM fitment, tyres are fairly low value as carmakers expect to buy in first fit tyres at a very low price and then recommend the brand for replacement through their dealer networks, giving the tyre maker a lot of repeat business. This puts the tyre maker in a tough position as regards logistics costs. Put simply, tyres are not good value to ship - their shape and size means a lot of wasted space and high shipping weight for a fairly low value (in OEM fitment) item. This has a significant impact on the environmental footprint of a tyre - already quite big as they are hard to recycle effectively.

Stewart Jackson

Stewart Jackson says that Continental Tyres are very aware of this and work hard to ship tyres in the most efficient way. “Due to the way tyres are laced on the vehicles we already minimise wasted space and environmental impact, with on average over 1000 tyres per container,” he says.

I ask Jackson how Continental chooses their logistics partners; are they guided by their OEM etc customers' choices/recommendations? He says that they take a holistic approach. “Logistics partners are chosen through a very detailed tender process, which covers service offering, costs, efficiency and environmental impact of the solution. OEMs will often manage the scheduling and fitment process through their own chosen service provider on passenger tyres. With regards to truck product this is all handled in house.”

Handling and packaging for road and off-highway tyres

I ask Jackson which advances in packaging and handling equipment have impressed him most, and how much manual handling is still involved? “Due to the nature of the product manual handling is still the method for moving tyres. There has been some improvement in manual handling equipment with regards to heavier tyres,” he says.

There are particular (aside from the obvious weight and size) challenges to supplying and delivering large truck and off-highway tyres and these often are the subject of emergency shipments, as Jackson says: “Yes, these types of tyres are difficult to store and handle so we have specialist equipment. As to emergency shipments, we store the full product range locally and our next day delivery service meets the requirement of the end user.”

Environmental impact
Steven Armstrong

Dr. Bernd Löwenhaupt

Dr. Bernd Löwenhaupt of FALKEN put the issues of efficient transportation into a broader environmental perspective: “One key project is SRI’s “Insatiable Drive for Innovation,” a research and development programme to answer the key question: ‘What can tyres contribute to the global environment?’, with a focus on three key areas of environmentally friendly product development; Fuel Efficiency, Raw Materials and Resource Savings. In 2020, the SRI group plans to unveil a concept tyre that incorporates LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), adopting new materials designed to enhance environmental performance throughout the entire lifecycle of a tyre - from raw materials and tyre production to shipping, usage and even recycling.” He says that the group (SRI Europe) has reduced its CO2 emissions relating to not only production but also logistics. “This was in part due to optimising the location of production sites with new factories such as the plant in Turkey that opened in 2015 but also strategic changes to the logistics strategy (loading at the closest port for example),” he says, adding: “The result was a reduction of CO2 of 7.7% compared to the previous year. SRI has already planned further reductions in transport distances as well as increasing the modal shift rate in 2018.”

Dave Dudek of CEVA says that TYRECUBE contributes to an improvement in the environmental footprint, “The environmental factor is a major concern, looking at the end-to-end supply chain, our solution does look at improving the footprint and enhancing to get end-of-life tyres to recycling as efficiently as possible. This solution [TYRECUBE] definitely improves that part of the supply chain."

Efficiency through better design - in tyres and logistics

Tyres for electric vehicles present some new challenges - some experts say that due to the immediate torque of the typical EV, they may wear and/or distort much faster than those on petrol/diesel-engined vehicles and I ask Stewart Jackson how this might affect Continental’s product/stock/delivery/supply chain and how has he planned for this? “Due to electric vehicles the product range is getting more complex. Due to this in the future we will need to continue to review our supply and storage strategies. With regards to delivery we already offer next day service and do not anticipate that this will change,” he says.

With the rapidly-accelerating sales of EVs, a whole new set of tyre design and construction challenges for tyre makers are coming to the fore, as Dr. Bernd Löwenhaupt of FALKEN tells me. “Referring to product design, we continue to develop lighter tyres, drawing on new materials and manufacturing processes that reduce weight. For example, on our run-flat tyres we introduced ‘Fully Automatic Connected Control,’ in the manufacturing process to achieve significant weight reductions by allowing for the optimal weight distribution through the tyre components. This is made possible through the use of a computer-controlled system that manages every step of the tyre forming process, right from the formation and processing of strip components to their application to the metal core with high precision. These computer-controlled systems could theoretically produce results within a tolerance of just 0.01 mm.”

EVs - putting new demands on tyres and on the supply chain

Due to the maximum torque available from zero rpm in an EV, wear and tyre stresses will be very different from that in i.c.-engined vehicles, as Dave Dudek says: “I have heard figures of a 20,000-kilometre life from a set of tyres on an EV compared to 50-60,000 kilometres on a conventionally-powered vehicle, in the same segment.” The use of further connectivity in the tyre supply chain can help solve this uncertainty about EV tyre life, as he tells me: "Being able to track the lifecycle information on individual units [tyres] will give us data that can be very informative to the tyre companies who can then look at the design and material specifications for EV tyres."

Dr. Bernd Löwenhaupt says that FALKEN is also focusing on EV tyre design: “With regards to EV tyres we are already working on this with a strong emphasis on lowering rolling resistance. What will change from a logistics point of view is the tyre size and shape. EV tyres will need to withstand high loads [EVs are currently heavier than most i.c.-engined vehicles, segment for segment] and be taller. I would expect that demands for lower tyre weight will continue to increase in line with OEM requirements.”

Connecting tyres to the supply chain
Steven Armstrong

Dave Dudek

As logistics become more connected - in line with the rapidly-increasing connectivity of the vehicle - it would seem obvious that tyres, the most wearing parts of an EV or i.c.-engined vehicle, should be connected to the supply chain more intimately, as well as to the OEM dealer network and ultimately to the aftermarket network. I ask Dave Dudek if TYRECUBE's capabilities in automation and digitalisation across the tyre supply chain will become more and more relevant as more components are recorded and handled through connected logistics, and what can he tell me about traceability? He says that many but not all tyres made today have a unique identifier built-in during the tyre making process, “This identification code has traditionally not been used in the supply chain but now we are able to use what is already in the tyre and tie it to our cloud-based Warehouse Management System (WMS) and tracking system and tie it to a TYRECUBE; we are then able to track each tyre all the way through the supply chain, through fitment on the wheel and the automobile as well as all the way through disposal. We can then harvest the data and provide that back to the OEM upon recycling if required. This is a huge step forward - the supply chain has had access to this information but it has not been used up until now.”

Due to the rugged conditions that tyres have to endure, these identifiers are not RFID chips but barcodes, as Dudek says: "There is a barcode that the tyre maker imprints on the tyre and we have an RFID chip in our TYRECUBE so we can scan the tyre to the TYRECUBE."

No-cost connectivity

Of course every innovation and new initiative tends to incur costs and I ask Dudek how he will handle the cost of TYRECUBE and what are the amortisation timelines looking like. He says that a lot of the infrastructure is already in place. “This is the nice element of our partnership with Goodpack. They already has more than 3.5 million MB5s; these are the cages or boxes that we are using for the TYRECUBE, these are already being used by the tyre companies for the inbound packaging of synthetic and natural rubber tyre materials, hitting about 420 or 80%, of the tyre manufacturing plants around the world. Once the rubber is unloaded, the cages go back into the 'loop' to take more rubber. We are now taking those cages and using them to move tyres with the TYRECUBE solution so there really is not an investment to be made as the cages are already present in the tyre supply chain, across 70 countries.

“We are leveraging an asset that is already being used by the industry. This synergy and imaginative use of assets is what led us to work with Goodpack and it has been a great partnership, as they know the industry so well, and our customers know them very well also. It has been a real 'win-win' relationship.”

Outsourcing tyre and wheel assembly

A lot of carmakers outsource fitting of tyres to wheels, with suppliers or logistics providers creating and delivering tyre and wheel assemblies and I ask Dave Dudek how this is integrated to CEVA’s supply chain offering.

"We carry out tyre and wheel assembly for our customers too, typically we contract with the vehicle makers to bring in tyres and wheels, fit them, balance the assembly and then deliver to them, typically directly to lineside,” he says, adding, “Where we see the benefit of TYRECUBE is that we are going to be able to capture the information of when we bring the tyre and wheel together, tracked by the barcode and the TYRECUBE RFID, and be able to provide that detailed information to the OEM. I think this is going to be significant, especially in the future with increasing electrification of the automobile. The total usage and wear profile of tyres is going to be changing a great deal and we do not yet have enough data in the industry to know where these factors are headed but now, being able to track back individual units to a vehicle, to a tyre, we feel that the data will be very informative to the tyre companies.

“This will enable them to look at the design of their products because we really are not sure what are the right compounds to use in tyres to be able to take this change in the automobile as it moves to more and more electrification.”

Extending automation

Dave Dudek says that he has been impressed by several automation initiatives from providers: “With TYRECUBE we are working with several companies who specialise in packaging and logistics automation; if you go into a tyre making plant now, you will see hardly any people working, it is much more automated than in the past. We are working with automation companies to enable loading of tyres directly into the TYRECUBEs and extend automation beyond the factory, into the supply chain. We are also doing this on the raw material end, using automation to unload tyre component materials into the plants.

“Added to this, we are working on improving and expanding barcode usage to beyond the current companies that use them so we are able to take the information from the barcodes and integrate that with the intelligence of the TYRECUBE system.”

Balancing automation and cost globally

I ask Dudek how global CEVA’s use of TYRECUBE will be, and can it and further automation contribute to making tyre plants better places to work, in both high and low labour cost areas? "We already have these cages available in more than 400 plants in 70 countries and we can operate anywhere our customers need us to be,” he says, adding, “Of course automation of the supply chain makes more sense in higher labour cost regions but when you look at the increase in quality, safety and efficiency, automation can bring considerable benefits to low labour cost regions too.

"The working environment in a tyre plant is not always the most comfortable and clean shall we say, and the traditional methods of lifting and rolling tyres by hand is tiring and can be unsafe so every tyre company we talk to wants to know how we can help automate their processes, and OEMs are very interested too." 

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