Tyres don’t seem even remotely complex on the surface. Rubber, steel belts and air, not much technology involved here, right? This may have been the case decades ago, especially in regards to the consumer market, but it isn’t the case any longer, not by a longshot.
In recent years tyre manufacturers have been implementing completely new concepts in tire construction. These concepts create more durable, higher performance and safer products that are every bit as important as any other advancement in automobiles.
This article will review some of the newest advancements in tyre technology as well as the designs and engineering principles that are expected to become industry standards in the near future.
Advances in Pneumatic Tyres
Pneumatic tyres are the industry standard for all consumer vehicles. Early rubber tyres were solid, however, ever since John Dunlop designed the first pneumatic tyre in 1888, the world embraced this form of tyre, in spite of the durability of solid rubber, they were downright uncomfortable.
In approximately 455 factories around the world over 1 billion tyres are produced every year containing the same basic ingredients; rubber, carbon black and various chemicals.
Tyres are constructed on a drum and cured in a press under heat and pressure. The heat creates a polymerization reaction that links the rubber monomers and creates long elastic molecules. This allows the tyres to compress where the rubber meets the road and then reform to their original shape.
Different manufacturers uses their own compounds to deliver a combination of durability and performance. However, most tyres all start out the same way.
Tyre manufacturer Pirelli has been testing “digital tyres” on the Ferrari FXX K supercar to collect data about coefficient of friction, footprint and pavement grade. This information is then transferred to the car’s ECU and the traction control systems to optimize power delivery based on grip.
Michelin has made some very impressive developments in the longevity of tyre wear. The tire manufacturer has invented a tyre that will evolve as it wears out, preserving its road-gripping performance until the bitter end.
This new technology uses main tread grooves that get wider as they wear down, leaving plenty of space for water to still escape. The new tyres have tiny slices that expand into teardrop shapes and compensate for having shallower grooves, making the tyres safer as they age.
Self-inflating tyres for the consumer market are also being currently explored. This technology is already being used for heavy machinery and military vehicles, and uses sensors that measure the tyre pressure. If the pressure drops too low, an air compressor inflates the tyre, if the air is too high, a pressure relief valve deflates it.
Hankook has been experimenting with a tyre design that doesn’t require air. One of, if not the biggest drawbacks to pneumatic tyres has always been punctures and leaks. The new “iFlex” tyres are being made from completely eco-friendly materials.
The tyre manufacturer has been working with geometric shapes, in place of air, to offer pliable, bouncy qualities of a typical tyre. When tested for durability, hardness, stability, slalom and speed the Hankook NPT (non-pneumatic tyres) performed comparable to traditional air-filled tyres.
As long as flying cars don’t become commonplace in the next decade, expect to see some pretty interesting tyre technology hit the road.