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Daniele Lorenzetti, CTO, Apollo Tyres Ltd
Innovation in tyre testing is moving at a rapid speed within our industry, driven by a focus on fuel efficiency, the need to deliver better and better performance, and improve safety. New regulation requires tyre manufacturers to develop more advanced development tools (e.g., simulations) and testing facilities (both indoor and outdoor), and the growing prevalence of electric vehicles produces a new set of challenges for tyre industry.
Innovation in testing is becoming increasingly critical to improving traffic noise reduction. In recent years the impact of road noise on public health has become a key focus for the automotive industry. It’s well known that traffic noise has a significant, negative affect on health, but it also negatively impacts the environment – recent research from Pacific University in Oregon even found that traffic noise diminishes songbirds’ ability to find food. As the number of electric vehicles on our roads increases, so does the noise – which is no longer drowned out by the rumble of internal combustion engines.
To address this, Apollo Tyresis measuring the noise and vibration inside the vehicle, both through assessing the subjective experience of the driver and using specialised equipment. Apollo Tyres has invested significantly in an advanced indoor testing facility that can measure tyre noise in a controlled environment, allowing engineers to fully understand the sources of tyre noise, learnings from which are fed back into R&D.
A key challenge for our engineers is to ensure other essential characteristics of the tyre are not compromised; exterior noise optimisation, for example, can have an undesirable effect on rolling resistance and wet-road properties, particularly when it comes to hydroplaning. Likewise, some tread patterns that help to reduce in-car noise can have a negative impact on general handling characteristics and rates of wear. Getting the balance right is key.
Central to Apollo Tyres’ innovation to reduce tyre noise are three key advancements. The first is the development of tread pattern design using advanced simulation tools and virtual prototyping, enabling us to focus on acoustic pitch sequencing optimisation. We’ve also employed advanced compounds throughout the construction of our tyres, to dampen noise and vibration. Finally, we’ve invested significant research in advanced technologies such as foam and sound blades (patent pending) in the tread pattern.
"Virtualisation will continue to be one of the most important changes affecting the tyre industry, reducing both development time and costs"
Throughout the global tyre industry, virtual tools are opening up new opportunities in tyre development, enabling the industry to increase development speed and efficiency. The ability to accurately predict tyre performance before prototypes are made not only reduces the waste involved in creating unfeasible physical prototypes, but also speeds up the rate of product improvements.
In the future, tyre development will move away from designing, building, and testing of real tyres towards new virtual development approaches. Simulations will not only be used to test early tyre performance estimation but for full virtual subjective evaluations on vehicle simulators. Virtualisation will continue to be one of the most important changes affecting the tyre industry, reducing both development time and costs.
That said, physical testing will still remain important to guarantee safety and environmental performance, but will require fewer loops due to the support of more reliable tyre virtualisation. There will continue to be some testing on hydroplaning, grip on wet and dry surfaces, handling and comfort, and noise.
However, creating a digital twin allows companies to create a digital footprint of all their products, from design to development and throughout the entire product lifecycle. The digital twin has allowed the fidelity of Apollo Tyres’ products to improve consistently, allowing us to more accurately predict tyre performance, and reliability. One example is that we can now predict aquaplaning, wear and comfort and handling characteristics to support new product development for both OEMs and the replacement market. All of our virtual models undergo a deep and detailed internal validation procedure, and we continue to monitor the models to make further improvements and fine-tune their performanceand reliability.
Autonomous driving and sensor integration will dominate innovation in the tyre sector going forwards – and it will become increasingly important to ensure we have more sophisticated testing facilities and tools for the parts required. Both will have an effect on the proving grounds, and will lead to a need to support the evaluation of vehicle and tyre behaviour under autonomous conditions. At the same time, we will need to innovate our testing methods for electric vehicles, whose performance differs from ICE vehicles – which will have a further effect on proving ground evolution.
Going forwards, we can expect to see much more collaboration between leading tyre companies to enhance tyre testing across the industry. While large vehicle OEMs often have their own limited proving grounds, the significant investment and maintenance required to build and maintain this type of infrastructure may prove challenging for tyre companies to establish on their own; cross-sector collaboration to share proving grounds would be the most efficient scenario.