Wheeling Through 2020

New tire technology is keeping pace with the rapid evolution of vehicle technology which means a better marriage between your car and the parts that keep it moving.

By Kenneth E. Seaton

Imagine if you will, that in the not-too-distant future, it’ll be possible to drive in a world where flat tires exist only as a miserable unpleasant memory, there’s no such thing as a tire blowout, wheels no-longer detach from vehicles to become airborne and tires no longer shimmy, shake and/or vibrate when travelling at freeway speeds.

Historians generally agree that it was in Mesopotamia, around 3500 B.C., that the earliest wheels first appeared. They were made of stone and primarily used for milling, or as a potter’s wheel. It took man another 300 years or so, to realize that they could be used for other things. Things like wheelbarrows for transporting items or for moving people.

Wheels have had a long and illustrious history and today’s tires – tip of a lug wrench to tire founding fathers Edouard  and Andre Michelin, John Boyd Dunlop, Charles Goodyear – and those tires that are still pinned to drafting boards can only be described as mind blowing. From a tire rubber that can be produced from dandelions, to using 3D printers to customize replacement winter and summer tires. Tires and the tire industry are making some extraordinary advances.

Rubber Once Ruled the Road

Back in 1839, when American inventor Charles Goodyear accidently created the process to vulcanize rubber, no one could have predicted the trips that his discovery would take drivers on. His original process was further developed and used in the modernization of the old, heavy leather-rimmed solid iron-clad wooden wheels.

Over time, those wooden wheels evolved into wheels that were made from solid rubber and these in turn morphed into the more modern pneumatic, or air-inflated radial tires that are still in use today. Ever moving forward, the tire industry rolled out bias-ply tires, steel-belted radial tires, non-pneumatic tires, carbon fiber wheels, and others.

However, everything that has been done to and about tires pales in comparison to the recent advances that have been accomplished resulting from the contribution of new tire technology. Shrewd tire manufactures are paying close attention to ongoing changes to government regulations and to prospective customers, who are demanding greater fuel economy and safer vehicles.

Rolling On the New Technology Highway

As new vehicles drive out of the showrooms and onto the highways, there are a lot of techy things going on in the engine, on the dashboard and in the tires. As vehicles develop a greater reliance on artificial intelligence and become more widely connected, the next evolution will be the trend towards “Smarter Tires”.

Today’s drivers have the advantage of using Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) to monitor their tires. There are two types. The first is Direct TPMS and it monitors tires by measuring air pressure via wheel mounted sensors. If the air pressure drops below 25%, it triggers an alert via a dashboard light. And there’s another type of TPMS called Indirect.

Indirect TPMS works with a vehicle’s Antilock Braking Systems (ABS) via wheel speed sensors. Tires with a lowered air pressure roll at a different wheel speed than fully inflated tires and this information is picked up by the sensor. It then via the car’s onboard computer, also alerts the driver by way of a dashboard indicator light.

Tire sensor technology is advancing past simple TPMS to the point that it can signal drivers when it is time to change a tire. It can monitor tires and report details about uneven and/or dangerous tire conditions. Additionally, it can even distinguish between different road conditions and aid in preventing vehicles from slip-sliding across road surfaces.

Tire manufacturers are hard at work producing new technology that best enables sensors to collect real time data. This data is forwarded to the vehicle’s onboard computer. Then, the computer, will evaluate and assimilate the numerous aspects of the tire’s performance and road conditions. Lastly, adjustments are made which will allow the tires to run at the most optimal performance levels.

Continental AG is introducing two new tire technology concepts that it claims will make for even greater road safety and comfort in the future. The two systems support the continuous monitoring of the tire’s condition as well as situation-matched adaptation of the tire performance characteristics to prevailing road conditions.

Continental’s “ContiSense” will use tire sensors to measure tread depth and temperature and will alert drivers to any tire damage. The system is based on the development of electrically conductive rubber compounds that enable electric signals to be sent from a sensor in the tire to a receiver in the car.

“ContiAdapt” will continually adjust tire pressure and rim width to adapt contact patch to road conditions. It combines micro-compressors integrated into the wheel to adjust the tire pressure with a variable-width rim. The system can thus modify the size of the contact patch, which under different road conditions is a decisive factor for both safety and comfort.

In March, the Ford Motor Company announced that its 2020 Explorer will be the first car to come equipped with Michelin Selfseal tires. The tires contain a natural rubber sealant, which can either surround an embedded object or patch a hole that an object leaves behind. This is different from run-flat tires which will lose some or all of their air if they are punctured, but they will still allow the vehicle to drive on for a limited distance at a reduced speed.

While advances in new technology are driving designers to make changes to the wheels that are rolling on the road, other interesting influencers are also compelling tire manufacturers to – if not, at least keep pace – but to also strive to stay ahead of the automotive industry. Electronic and autonomous vehicles will soon be changing the automotive landscape.

EVs & AVs Have Special Tire Requirements

As electric vehicles (EVs) become more commonplace on the roads and with autonomous vehicles (AVs) just around the corner, there’s an ever-increasing need for smarter tires for smarter vehicles. Studies have shown that traditional tires wear 30% faster on EVs than on conventional vehicles, thereby creating the necessity of designing ever increasingly complex types of tires.

As EVs operate, they put more resistance on the wheels, so that the batteries can continually regenerate, which in turn puts more strain on the tires. Electric vehicles generate huge amounts of instant torque and this factor, combined with the extra vehicle weight of the battery, also takes its toll. Lighter weight tires are needed to counter the vehicles’ additional weight. Additionally, since EVs operate on a much quieter scale, tires also need to run as silently as possible.

Similarly, autonomous vehicles will have to run on more specialized types of tires. Designers are developing future concept tire models as they anticipate the needs and requirements of the self-driving vehicle. Tire vehicle communication will become paramount. AVs will require continual updates on specific tire conditions, temperature and pressure sensor monitoring and predictive wear-and-tear maintenance information, in order to ensure the safe operation of the vehicles.

The Trucking Industry Is Looking To Techy Tires 

Owners and fleet managers – ever mindful of the necessity of increasing company profits – are more and more turning to new tire technology as one means of improving their businesses’ daily operations. With proper understanding and the correct utilization of the Internet of Things (IoT) and other new technologies, they can run tires for longer periods of time, minimize vehicle failures and lower company fuel cost, etc.

What was once fantasy is now becoming commonplace. Top tire manufactures, and by extension owners and fleet managers, are embracing this newfound reliance on IoT data to provide added support to their businesses and fleet operations. IoT sensor data will enable vehicles to be tracked, tires monitored, have information analyzed, and all in real time.

Every time a company vehicle enters a fleet terminal, tire data will be collected and displayed via the internet to all fleet offices. The data is then scrutinized for any potential issues, i.e. high temperature or low tire pressures, and if warranted, action is taken. By using this technology, there will no longer be a need for doing manual tire pressure checks throughout the fleet depots or at its fuel islands.

Tire manufacturer Continental recently unveiled a new digital tire monitoring platform developed for “intelligent” steer tires. Named “ContiConnect”, the tires will deliver direct information about temperatures and pressures via an integrated sensor mounted to the tire’s inner liner. The system’s IoT SIM technology can be monitored in the vehicles cab and/or transmitted to the fleet office.

Fuel efficiency is becoming increasingly important to owners and fleet managers. Techy tire solutions, engineered for maximum fuel efficiency, can not only improve a fleet’s bottom line but will also enable companies to lower their carbon footprints. This will also increase a company’s eco-awareness platform for advertising purposes.

In the past, owners and fleet managers found that there was often a trade-off between the life span of rolling resistant tires and fuel economy. Moving to improving a fleet’s’ fuel costs and understanding the call for greater fuel efficiency, tire manufactures have worked hard at designing technological improvements and have developed tires with much lower rolling resistance.

Tire manufacturers like; Bridgestone, Yokohama, Cooper Tire, have all made major in roads in the use of advanced materials and innovations. Silica tread rubber and more rigid tread designs will not only lower the tires’ rolling resistance but also maintain and increase a tire’s durability and treadwear. 

Eyeing the Future Of Tires

Tire manufacturers constantly strive to push the envelope. Their future model concepts and innovations continue to transform the automotive industry. So much so, that often car and truck owners are on pins and needles as they anxiously wait for the next teaser prototype to be trotted out at trade shows.

Ever mindful of public expectations that new technology will be used to increase car safety, tire manufacturers are developing a system known as Contact Area Information Sensing (CAIS). Researchers are working on a premise that this new technology will be able to share information with other similarly equipped vehicles thereby allowing vehicles to anticipate actions from vehicles that are traveling in front them.

CAIS will also use a sensor that’s attached to a tire’s interior wall to monitor how it interacts with the road’s surface. The system will continuously check the road surface to distinguish conditions and then it will send real time information to the driver via a digital screen.

Expecting to revolutionize the industry by removing the need for air pressure, Hankook has been engaged – as are many other tire manufacturers – on developing an airless non-pneumatic tire. Its research and development teams have put significant effort into ensuring their non-pneumatic prototype will perform as well as, if not better, than conventional tires.

Continental Tire is developing a replacement for rubber known as “taraxagum”, that the company claims could be in production within five-to- 10 years. The material can come from as many as 1,200 different types of plants, though researchers are leaning toward the Russian dandelion that takes less than a year to grow. 

Researchers believe that dandelion roots are much easier to harvest than rubber from trees and are better for the environment. “Most people view dandelions as a nuisance,” said a statement from Continental, but researchers at the German company “embrace the flowering weed as a key component to the future of tires.” 

French tire manufacturer Michelin and American manufacturer General Motors, have partnered to work on developing a prototype tire named Uptis (Unique Puncture-proof Tire System), this tire supports additive manufacturing technologies. The system will be mounted on an assembly designed without air to avoid all punctures.

The companies presented a 3D printed prototype at last year’s Montréal’s “Movin’On” summit on sustainable mobility. The manufacturers believe that this puncture-proof tire will eventually reduce the number of tires that are thrown away due to punctures and ensure better safety for motorists.

Protecting Techy Tires and Wheels

Even though technological advancements in the auto industry are moving at warp-speed, old-fashioned wheel and vehicle theft remains a major problem. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that auto theft cost Canadians close to a billion dollars a year. Vehicle owners often spend huge amounts of money on aftermarket rims, wheels, and tires. 

There are many reasons why stealing tires and wheels is so prevalent. Much like a racing pit crew, determined thieves armed with a jack and a battery-operated tool, can pull off all four wheels in under 10 minutes. Wheels are usually untraceable and are easily fenced. The more expensive the wheels, the more money thieves can make selling them to unscrupulous tire re-sellers. Also, sometimes thieves steal them to sell to collectors, or they just dump them on scrap dealers for a quick cheap sale.

Once vehicle owners understand that they and their vehicle are extremely vulnerable, some simple needed steps can be taken for protection from parts-and-vehicle thieves. 

Essential steps include:

Park in well-lit areas, where there’s lots of pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Thieves like to work in the dark and don’t like having any potential witnesses around. When leaving a vehicle for a long time, park it where it’s highly visible and whenever possible, park it in a lot equipped with surveillance cameras.

Turn the vehicle’s wheels to a 45-degree angle when parking. The wheels get tucked into the wheel well, thus making it harder for thieves to get at the lug nuts. Since the steering column is locked and without an ignition key, it’s very difficult to straighten out the wheels. And when parallel parking, always park as close to the curb as possible. The closer a vehicle is parked to a curb, the less room thieves will have to place a jack under the vehicle.

Purchase lug nut locks and install an alarm with a sensor. Replace one – some owners replace all – of the tire’s original lug nuts with a lock. The lock requires the use of a specially sized wrench for its removal. Install a car alarm that is equipped with sensors that attach to the wheels. The alarm detects when the vehicle is subjected to an angle change or gets tilted, and the wheel sensors can also detect if the wheels are being tampered with. 

Be it for added vehicle performance or just aesthetic reasons, investing in aftermarket rims, wheels, and tires can represent a sizable investment and often have much sentimental value to owners. Spending the time and expense to get the wheels insured is often well worth the added piece of mind. And, if they do fall to thieves, marking them with some personal identifying mark may aid in their recovery.

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