Trends in Tire Design

Monday, August 20, 2012

As fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility take center stage in the automotive industry, manufacturers have charged their research and development teams to get creative – fast.  Following are some of the new developments in tire technology you can take advantage of today or look forward to in the years to come.

Run-Flat Tires - Continental, Goodyear, Firestone and other tire manufacturers now offer tires that enable you to drive as far as 80 kilometres (at a maximum speed of 80 kilometres/hour) after your tire has gone flat.  These tires support the weight of your vehicle using reinforced inner sidewalls.  Forget changing your tire on the side of a busy highway:  This technology will help you get to a service station safely and without harm to your tire or rim.

Colorful Tires - Thanks to the innovative printing technology it has developed, Bridgestone can offer a dash of panache to the look of your tires.  While the majority of manufacturers simply use strips of white rubber to “print” letters on sidewalls, Bridgestone has developed a set of inks that resist wear and discoloration.  It’s not purely aesthetics that drove this innovation, however.  The white rubber used by other manufacturers adds weight to tires, which lowers fuel efficiency.  Bridgestone’s new printing technology doesn’t weigh tires down, so they become more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Airless Tires - Michelin introduced the first airless tire concept in 2005 with its Tweel (tire + wheel), a tire relying on polyurethane spokes rather than air for support.  The Tweel hasn’t made it to the market just yet, but now a number of manufacturers are exploring airless technology.  Airless tires eliminate puncture risks and so the need to carry a spare (reducing weight for fuel efficiency and freeing up storage space). Manufacturers say that airless tires are safer than conventional tires, too, and can be designed to be 100% recyclable.  Bridgestone, for example, has developed tire technology in which a mesh of spokes made of thermoplastic resin supports the tire.  That resin can be recycled into new tires, eliminating waste. Although this tire is still in its testing phase and it could be years before the engineering bugs are worked out, it shows promise that exciting new technologies are on the horizon.

Greener Tires - Over the past several years, tire industry engineers and chemists have been working toward reducing the rolling resistance of tires, which contributes significantly to fuel efficiency, and developing alternatives to the petroleum-based ingredients traditionally used in tire manufacture.  In fact, these two concepts came together as producing tires with low rolling resistance necessitated replacing certain petroleum-based materials with a modified silica filler (surface-treated sand microparticles) to reduce frictional heat.  In addition to silica, manufacturers are working with natural rubber compounds, vegetable-derived oils and other plant-based materials. Sumitomo Rubber Industries introduced a prototype using 97% natural ingredients in 2008, and plans to market a tire containing no petrochemical materials by 2013. Yokohama Tire, Michelin and other tire companies are working toward their own natural formulations as well.

The latest on the recycling front comes from Environmental Waste International (EWI) of Ajax, Ontario, winner of the 2012 Environmental Achievement of the Year Award, Tire Technology International Awards for Innovation and Excellence. EWI has developed a revolutionary tire recycling technology, which uses microwaves to extract the tire’s oil and other valuable by-products, producing zero emissions.  Instead of melting tires, this process breaks apart their molecular bonds so that virtually 100% of their by-products can be reclaimed.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) Technology - Although TPMS technology dates back to the 1980s and became widely used in the ’90s, a recent development puts it back into the spotlight.  This electronic tire pressure monitor, which alerts the driver when air pressure is low, has evolved to include an alert letting you know when the tire pressure is just right as you fill the tire with air.  Why the focus on tire pressure? Proper inflation is important to maximizing fuel efficiency as well as extending tire life.


Sources: Canadian Tire, Continental Tire Canada Inc., Inhabitat, Modern Tire Dealer, Scientific American, Tire Technology International, Wheels and Automotive Today