By David Shaw, ERJ staff
Berlin -- Michelin has confirmed that it expects its puncture-resistant inner-liner technology to become standard on all its tyres. Eventually. The company is currently deciding how best to present the benefits of the technology and how to estimate the value to consumers and OE customers.
The company believes the innovation has the potential to change the industry in many different ways. These include no need for a spare tyre or tyre changing hardware. Another possibility is that consumers in developing parts of the world will never experience the inconvenience associated with a puncture.
Philippe Denimal, head of development for Michelin, said the innerliner material is not made from butyl rubber; but from another polymer. "Once we had defined the stiffness and the Shore," he said, "the design of the material was easy." He declined to say which polymer is being used but agreed that it as relatively soft compound and uses a filler with a plate-like geometry to reduce the air permeability.
He said the material distorts around any protrusions, so preventing airloss.
Unlike other systems which claim to seal over a puncture, the Michelin system, said Denimal has no significant drawbacks in service. There is a small weight gain of the order of 500g for a car tyre, and a bit more for a truck tyre, as the innerliner is a bit thicker, but there is no penalty in terms of rolling resistance or lifetime.
The main drawback of the system is that the material is relatively difficult to handle during manufacture, as there is less dimesional stability than most other tyre components and assembling the new innerliner with the other tyre components requires a change to the tyre building equipment. Before Michelin can introduce the technology on a wide scale, it needs to adapt its tyre building infrastructure. Because Michelin today has a very large infrastructure of tyre building machines, the widespread introduction of the technology will require a substantial investment in equipment and tooling.
Gilles Colas des Francs, Michelin's vice-president for global marketing for consumer tyres said the value to consumers is especially strong in China and India where punctures are more common than in the developed nations. In the developed world, he saw a clear benefit to commercial vehicles where there is a clear link between vehicle downtime and lost profit.
Michelin expects to launch tyres using the technology in both OE and replacement markets within a few months of each other, probably in about two years' time. The company has made some 3000 units altogether and is currently testing them in various countries.
He said Michelin knows it is sitting on a gold-mine with this development, but it is still working out exactly what mesages it needs to send out to best exploit the development.
Colas des Francs said some OE customers are very interested, but there are on-going discussions over pricing and value to consumers.
He said the expectation is that the technology wil first see widespread distribution in China. "Where there is a lot of construction work, there are a lot of nails on the road; where there are nails on te road, there are a lot of punctures." he said, by way of explanation.
He said Michelin sees a clear need for this technology in developing countries, both at the OE level and as a replacement product. The tyre can be used as a drop-in replacement for conventional tyres. Unlike self-supporting sidewall tyres, which degrade after a short distance of low-pressure running, these tyres continue performing, so the need for a tyre pressure monitoring system is less pressing with these tyres.
Denimal said the ultimate in security could be provided by combining self-supporting sidewalls with this inner-liner technology. This would provide mobility even in cases where there is large-scale damage to the tyre, resulting in holes which the innerliner cannot seal.
Colas des France said Michelin is still working out what claims it can make about the technology and how to present the benefits to customers. It is important, he said to convey an accurate message - not one that is either an exaggeration or an under-statement of the benefits of the development.
nevertheless, he said Michelin is very excited about how this development could affect mobility and also affect consumers' perceptions of tyres. He said it has the potential to change the industry in many ways.