At the ERJ Future Tire Conference 2018, a top-line panel of experts from the European tire industry examined the challenges of a potential technology-led revolution for the industry over the coming years.
Future Tire: Return on innovation
The question was the theme of an expert panel discussion, tag-lined Evolution or Revolution?, at this year’s ERJ Future Tire Conference in Cologne, Germany.
Philippe Lallement, who leads the tire electronics pre-development team at Michelin, took the discussion back to the very basics of tire-manufacture and to market fundamentals.
What is certain, he said, is that there will be a huge global population increase in the coming decades, with many more people requiring high levels of mobility from their cars.
This will mean “several tens of percent” of growth in tire demand over the coming decades, said Lallement, who is based at Michelin’s Centre de Technologie in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
Such growth, he added, will increase pressure on the environment and the need to minimise fuel-consumption and the amount of materials used in tires.
Unless the latest advances in tire technology contribute somehow to delivering that goal “the tire industry will be under deep pressure,” warned the Michelin executive.
“So, it is not about technology and efficiency, it is about making things that match the needs,” he continued. “Connectivity is important, RFID is important as are intelligent tires etc, but everything has to move somehow into providing mobility to more and more people on earth.”
Lallement went on to describe how the tire industry usually relies on a return-on-investment (ROI) approach to the adoption of new technologies.
When presented with project proposals, managements request a business-model showing when they are going to get their money back. In many cases, they then don’t get responses “because of fear of the ROI,” said Lallement.
For example, he described the adoption of RFID at Michelin as a “a story of motivation and lack of motivation,” with people at various levels and at different stages seeing or not seeing the payback, before a decision was eventually made to break away from the ROI approach.
“Someone finally says ‘go’ and then suddenly everything starts to move. So, the ROI does not apply always for new technologies,” said Lallement.
Another issue, however, is around the skills required to take advanced technologies forward, according to Lallement.
“How many people do we have in-house who are really able to drive those new projects and those new technologies?” he said. “We have some and have to hire some. But trying to find the best [people] etc can be slow.”
Another fundamental challenge is to identify what are the actual game-changing technologies, according to Lorenzo Alleva, head of digital garage R&D at Bridgestone EMEA.
Tire makers, he said, have to focus on innovations that alter their role from “supplier of products, as it is today, to something that actually enables additional solutions.”
Among such technologies is RFID, Alleva describing this is as “a domain that will generate what we actually believe will be a game-changer.” It could, he suggested, be a step towards enabling tires to become a “first gateway” for the Internet of Things.
More broadly, said Alleva, “connectivity of the tire will have an impact end-to-end through the entire value-chain from the design, manufacture, supply, warehousing, logistics and then the end solution to the consumer.”
And, noting the challenges of CASE (connected, autonomous, shared and electrified) vehicles for the tire industry, Alleva said: “In each stream, I think, we are facing a potential revolution and it is up to us to determine which are the key points to address.”
The Bridgestone speaker foresaw a move from a tire that meets requirements for reduced rolling-resistance and other performance criteria to one that identifies information about the individual driver, keeps the car safe and brings it to the next tire-change.
“That kind of intelligence is the future: so that the product delivers much more than it does today,” said Alleva – citing the development of digital-twin tires as a potentially key enabler here.
Industry consultant Jose Silicani noted the impact of current automotive industry trends, such as electrification, on tire-performance requirements.
More generally, the tire-of-the-future should have minimum rolling-resistance, last longer, be retreaded periodically and provide good economics for consumers, he said.
In this sense, argued Silicani, the real game-changers “would be any new plant technologies that could help lower the cost.”
In particular, it was suggested that “if liquid mixing was available for everything, then the [tire] business would change. Of course, you would need to have a supply network for any compound and some might not be so happy because of a move to [materials] standardisation.”
While artificial intelligence (AI) is another fundamental game-changer, it “will not by itself deliver anything for the tire industry,” said Cimcorp technology director Jyrki Anttonen.
“We need to have that foundation first: the sensors, the connectivity, communications network, the algorthims the entire structure to support that,” he said. “And, of course, we need to have a clear idea of what we can achieve with AI.”
A basic target for all companies is to invest in technologies that either win new customers or make products more efficiently.
“These developments take time: it is not easy and not about doing something here and there. It is a total package that needs to work out.”
“Revolution is never one item alone,” concurred Henk van Tuyl, Goodyear’s EMEA director of strategic products and technology initiatives, based at the company’s ‘innovation center’ in Luxembourg.
“To have sensors in tires is not a revolution,” said van Tuyl. “It is about what do we do with the sensors: we need to communicate with the vehicle, which in turn needs to be able to handle that data.
“So, it is a combination of all those elements with the data that goes along with it. You have three or four factors that come together at a certain moment in time that creates change in the industry.”
AI to autonomous
Summing up the discussion, panel chairman Jacob Peled, executive chairman of Pelmar Engineering Group Ltd, said the consensus was that, right now, the most important game-changing technology for the tire industry is artificial intelligence (AI).
In his closing comments, Peled also forecast that – contrary to general opinion – autonomous driving will place greater demands on the quality and safety of tires.
“This is not being mentioned, but when, for example, a city bus company comes to you, you supply tires that are 100% inspected, with all the safety that you can [provide],” he said. “You cannot afford and the customer cannot afford a mistake, because autonomous driving will become public transportation.”
Article published in the European Tire Report 2018, a supplement in the September / October issue of European Rubber Journal magazine