By P.K Mohamed:

The tyre industry will be faced with serious technological challenges to meet the requirement of regulations for environmental protection, along with the demands from automobile industries and replacement customers to enhance the comfort, safety, economy, durability and stability with minimum variability

We often say, we are living in an age of technology because of the fast changes taking place in the world thanks to technological interventions. If we scan through history, most of that we see as technological achievements were created in the past three hundred years. But the pace of this evolution is ever increasing with the addition of each new invention that becomes the enabler for further changes.

Impact of industrial revolution

P K Mohamed (Chief Advisor- Research & Development, Apollo Tyres Ltd)

Industrial revolution that began in Great Britain triggered many technological innovations. This was a transition to new manufacturing process which included change from hand production methods to machines, development of new chemical manufacturing and iron production process, improved efficiency of water power and steam power etc. This period also saw development of machine tools and rise of factory systems.
Textile industry was the dominant industry in this period in terms of employment, value of output and capital invested and in using modern production methods. Technological and economic progress continued with the increasing adoption of steam power in transport in railways, boats and ships. Steam-powered factories started large-scale manufacturing of machine tools. Industrial revolution marked a major turning point in history, as almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way.
But nothing influenced the way human beings live, more than the progression that happened in the field of transportation, from steam engine to internal combustion, jet propulsion to the now trendy battery-powered vehicles to the fuel cells to the not-so-distant solar powered ones. Seemingly, the most difficult thing now is to make predictions about the future….as it stands every possibility to be outpaced by reality.
Enhancements of computing capability and advancement in electronics have become key enablers in technological developments today. They have been constantly redefining the way we are living and communicating. Automakers have been working hard to use these latest technologies available in their vehicles. Ten years ago, cars with built-in Bluetooth, navigation, and parking sensors were seen only in top luxury slot but now even the most affordable cars have these options.

Autonomous driving

Looking into the future,it is almost certain that autonomous driving will be a part of our life. We have seen demonstrations from Audi, Google and the likes doing hundreds of miles safely without a man on the driver seat. Nevertheless, these projects look
like the projects of distant future today, but in reality they could come much sooner as we already have many autonomous functions in our vehicles under the label of driver-assist features such as lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and self-braking systems etc.
By 2021, the first production self-driving vehicle should be available for sale. In 2014, Tesla founder Elon Musk said fully autonomous cars should be on the road in five to six years. And visionaries in Ford, Google and other companies have made similar projections. The challenge, of course, will be communicating to the other autonomous and human-piloted cars on the road.
While autonomous driving will be a lot easier on highways, the same will look extremely challenging on a busy urban road. In spite of great leaps we have seen in recent years, we tend to believe that fully autonomous vehicles will run only on highways by around 2025 with drivers needing full control only around busy local or urban streets.

Strides in tyre technology

We cannot discuss developments in automobiles without a concurrent advancement in tyre technology. Though evolution of tyre had only a few milestones in the past, the same is poised to achieve a few of them in quicker succession now. The technology evolved from solid wheel to spoked wheel to pneumatic tyre by 1847. The first practical pneumatic tyre came in 1888 in cross ply fabric technology. Further improvement happened in ply material as it moved from cotton to stronger and lighter synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester.
Next milestone in tyre technology was the radial technology and the first steel belted radials were introduced in 1946 by Michelin. Since then along with the improvements in automobiles, tyre technology also improved in terms of performance such as speed capability, load bearing capability, durability, mileage and fuel consumption in rolling.
As far as performance of tyres is concerned, inflation pressure still plays the most vital role and this very fact has made the tyre inflation the potential source of problems also. This realisation has led to further research on preserving right inflation or even running the tyres without it. Equipment such as TPMS are to ensure right inflation in tyres whereas technology such as Run-flat support the tyre to run without inflation.

Next-generation tyres

Looking to future, tyres will get a lot leaner for efficient running and will be embedded with sensors and chips to capture dynamic information for driving assist systems in automobiles. As the tyre will remain the only physical contact of vehicle with the road, the transition of motor vehicles from current to autonomous operation will have greater implication for tyres in terms of design and operational suitability for safe operation.
One obvious need will be niche products in tyres. As the manufacturing is moving to industry 4.0 environment, intelligent production systems in factories will help in the production of tailor-made products in future. Vehicle OEMs may use narrower but large diameter and lighter tyres for the advantage of placing sensors and lower rolling resistance. Run-flat tyres may become standard fitment to avoid potential safety hazards from improper or loss of inflation.
Regulations, intended to ensure safety and environment protection, will be one of the major drivers for the evolution of tyre industry in future. With the penetration of alternative power trains, role of tyres in safety and emissions will receive increasing attention from all stakeholders. Reducing tyre weight without compromising performance will encourage serious research leading to findings of alternative materials and new processes.

Intelligent and non-pneumatic tyres

With autonomous driving becoming common, the tyre will become one of the key critical components providing real-time data input to aid safe and fuel-efficient driving. Even non-pneumatic tyre technology will gain popularity if it can provide necessary cornering forces required in vehicle operation.
If we examine the attributes of tyres in future to help in autonomous driving, the following is the order of importance:

Durability and reliability: Tyre being the most vulnerable link in the chain of hardware, durability and reliability of tyres will be the first priority in autonomous driving.
Traction: Complete control is a must in autonomous driving and traction provided by tyres cannot be compromised.
Sensing:Tyre to function as an Intelligent Sensor. With sensors embedded, they are to be durable and accurate and will be harvesting energy from tyre deformations.
Compatibility:Compatibility with vehicle control systems; conforming to labeling regulations.
NVH: To ensure comfort on lighter vehicles
Rolling resistance: To support fuel/ energy efficiency of the vehicle
Aerodynamics and tyre size:Tyre technologists should be ready to create niche products with dimensions that will optimize aerodynamic resistance in rolling at the same time ensuring the required load carrying.
Handling and steering: With drivers not on seat, these aspects will take a lower priority as majority of the control is by intelligent driving systems.
I wish to conclude with the observation that the tyre industry will be challenged seriously to meet the requirement of regulations for environmental protection, along with the demands from automobile industries and replacement customers to enhance the comfort, safety, economy, durability and stability with minimum variability. There will be major manufacturing challenges to minimize cost of conversion with greater demand for flexibility. The companies that have strong R&D capabilities to meet such challenges will only survive and make a mark in the blueprint of industry.

(Photo Courtesy : Ford)