Technology continues to play a key role in the automotive industry, as every miniscule improvement comes in handy towards maximising a vehicle’s total cost of ownership
Over the years, the auto industry has been witnessing a significant shift in customer thinking from the environmental perspective. Amidst this scenario, JK Tyre & Industries shifted gears at a rapid clip to roll out solutions that offer optimised fuel efficiency as well as aid the industry’s move towards greener and connected mobility.
For the last many years, JK Tyre has been continuously evolving on the technology front as it strived to become self-reliant for new product development activities. JK Tyre established its own global R&D centre – the Raghupati Singhania Centre of Excellence (RPSCoE) – in 2018 that focussed on six areas – material sciences, finite element analysis (FEA) or predictive technology, tyre & vehicle dynamics, tyre mechanics, physical product validation and product industrialisation.
Such a diverse technological approach ensures processes undertaken are on the right track and enable zeroing in on the best combination; thus creating a number of variables, and subsequently understanding the impact and arriving at the best product that is developed with a combination of structures, design, profile, and material properties, among others. All these are put in virtual reality and subsequently the product is evaluated and moved for physical testing, explained VK Misra, Technical Director, JK Tyre & Industries.
It is also important to validate achievements of whatever was perceived. After carrying out the screening process of its products through various parameters, the company also conducts field testing of the product on its own as well as with its fleet operator partners to ensure product robustness. JK Tyre operates four R&D centres at Faridabad, Mysuru, IIT Kharagpur and IIT Madras, and spends 1.5 % of its revenues on R&D activities.
It has now firmed-up plans to consolidate its R&D activities at Mysuru, where it will spend an additional Rs 100 crore over the Rs 200 crore already committed to the new RPSCoE. The consolidated R&D centre at Mysuru will employ 180 people and is in close proximity to the company’s three plants. JK Tyre has also set up its own workshop at NATRAX Indore, under NATRiP, with its own instrumentation, vehicles, engineers as well as expert drivers to collect relevant data for fuel consumption and check tyre performance on a vehicle in various conditions such as dry, wet and slush, among others. Such a dedicated set of efforts has enabled the company to roll out a host of technologies for the Indian automotive market.
For any fleet operator, tyre health is one of the prime concerns since it is the second biggest cost factor for them after fuel. Ironically, 80 % of trucks plying in commercial fleets lack appropriate safety measures, which effectively means that these vehicles are putting lives of drivers as well as other road users at risk, along with public and private property. Five years back, JK Tyre joined hands with Pune-based TREEL Mobility with an aim to expand its horizons in connected technologies and eventually acquired the company last year to subsequently roll out its smart tyre technology.
The data driven insights-based technology banks on the tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that continuously monitors air pressure and temperature inside the tyres. An array of IoT-based sensors – two for two-wheeler kits, five for car kits can be installed on the wheel rim using steel belts to provide real time information about tyre health. The system enables high accuracy in ascertaining fuel consumption, service sessions, and insurance renewal dates, among others to reduce the overall maintenance costs of the vehicle. All the critical information collected is seamlessly stored in the application’s cloud-based storage to enable ease of access and easy restoration at a later stage.
Among the host of other features offered together with sensor kits as an option include vehicle engine status, driver behaviour alerts, over-speed alarms, trip data, and vehicle last location. This system is also available with other peripherals such as connected point of delivery (POD) that helps in real time vehicle monitoring of a vehicle’s performance across transmission, suspension as well as its last location enabling family safety, noted Misra.
Reducing the total operating cost has always been a complex challenge for fleet operators and to address this, JK Tyre rolled out Fleet Connect that also records, updates and analyses fleet data using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors from multiple locations to ensure optimum cost per kilometre. The Fleet Connect network is controlled and managed entirely on the SAP HANA 5-based platform, with numerous built-in checks and features that sends out predictive updates, thereby reducing vehicle downtime. JK Tyre’s team is working on further enhancing the technology and is now focussing on reporting of tyre tread wear on-the-go, which is largely possible for static tyres, but also possess a major challenge when the tyre rolls, observed Misra.
Largely developed for tubeless tyres initially, JK Tyre has also taken a step ahead and developed the smart tyre technology for tube-type tyres. The company developed sensor embedding into the tubes, and also developed sensors that can be directly installed on the tube valve, which means it is not only OEM-driven but can also be procured from the aftermarket for installation on the tyre rim at a certain cost, Misra explained. Further, the company is also working on sensor embedding in tyres, as the government might make it mandatory to ensure safety.
FUEL SAVER TECHNOLOGY
Development of a technology always involves close coordination among a host of factors working in tandem for a common goal. The biggest challenge faced by the tyre industry lies in lowering the rolling resistance coefficient (RRC) of the product, as increasing vehicle fuel efficiency has been a top priority for vehicle manufacturers in the commercial vehicle (CV) segment in long haul as well as in the passenger vehicle segment. With every miniscule change in lowering the RRC, the product profile, its construction, material involved, characteristics, product evaluation as well as its weight undergoes a significant change to roll out a robust product. The loading of high-end silica on compounds are difficult to process and demand ultra-modern process capabilities as well as various tools and tackles.
Saving fuel has been a top priority for automotive stakeholders and to address the situation, JK Tyre introduced the ‘Fuel Saver Technology’ at the 2020 Auto Expo in New Delhi. The technology involves three factors – lower rolling resistance, decent mileage and structural engineering – to roll out robust tyres and offer 7-8 % fuel savings. JK Tyre’s team worked extensively on various components, including tread block stiffness and design, using its simulation technologies, predictive technologies and final development analysis to achieve a decent contact print that keeps the mileage intact as well as rolls out a structure that leads to lesser heat generation.
Besides, the company also used different structures in the product interior to shed its weight without compromising on sufficient tread as well as tyre footprint structure to achieve lower RRC and mileage. Even during continuous operation, there is no compromise in the rolling resistance of the compound; so it is a combination of engineering and material sciences, said Misra. The company took almost a year and a half to introduce the fuel saver technology in tube-type tyres and was able to introduce the same technology in tubeless truck tyres as well. JK Tyre has already been supplying this technology to OEMs as well as fleet operators for long haul applications.
Natural rubber, as an element for manufacturing tyres, has existed since time immemorial and is here to stay for tyre manufacturers despite being a long gestation crop. Misra insists that there is still no substitute in sight for natural rubber, especially for truck radials, off-road tyre or heavy duty bias truck tyres as they comprise as high as 70 % of natural rubber and carries unique properties that enable better tyre durability. However, the work on part substitution such as using polybutadiene rubber or synthetic rubber is moving at full throttle along with exploring newer avenues in the north-eastern part of India for natural rubber production, both individually as well as with industry bodies such as the Automotive Tyres Manufacturers Association (ATMA).
Manufacturers have also been working on developing base compounds and threshold solutions to serve certain characteristics to lower RRC in tyres without compromising on mileage. However, natural rubber still plays a predominant role in each compound, stated Misra. Issues related to passenger vehicle tyres are not much significant due to thinner construction; thus, the situation is completely different comprising 10-15 % of natural rubber and it continues to be dominated by synthetic rubber, he pointed out.
CHANGE WITH ELECTRIC VEHICLES
Electric vehicle technologies are busy driving the automotive industry into a different direction altogether from the environment it has traditionally witnessed. JK Tyre is also undertaking various EV-oriented developments as different vehicle architecture needs to be addressed. Fundamentally, there are three important factors related to EV tyre development – EVs call for high torque resistance as the battery transmits power instantly and the tyre needs to withstand that kind of sudden torque; secondly, easy rolling for increased battery life; thirdly, EVs do not have mobile parts as in the case of ICE vehicles and if not controlled, noise can cause irritation, while driving an electric vehicle.
Thus, what kind of new material, new polymers can be used as well as new structure for lower RRC and noise, better grip and high mileage is an ongoing industry battle. Opting for lower RRC would lead to sacrificing on the mileage, but there is a need to reduce it up to an extent that is acceptable to the customer, said Misra. JK Tyre has also set up anechoic chamber at its Mysuru R&D centre to develop products with lower noise and has already been working with various EV makers across the country for tyre supply.
Various agencies such as the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) and Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA) have been closely working with tyre industry stakeholders for development and adoption of tyre labelling in the country that will be defined and designed as per the rolling resistance, along with tyre grip as well as the tyre rolling sound. It is the combination of these three that also defines tyre labelling in the international markets like Europe. However, infrastructure for testing – particularly wet as well as dry grip – is not yet fully ready in the country. Europe has already shifted to Stage II of tyre labelling, and with India migrating from BS 4 to BS 6 emission norms, no possibility can be ruled out here as well.
The company will generate requisite data for tyre development as soon as infrastructure is available and accordingly set standards for optimised rolling resistance for tyres. The rolling resistance criteria and standards have already been established based on all the data the country has generated, explained Misra. It is not just OEMs or tyre manufacturers, but also the role of regulatory bodies in terms of environment, which will be critical towards enabling stakeholders to adopt their respective approaches in a more cost-optimised way.
JK Tyre is also working aggressively on this front as it claims to be the only one to have procured a skid trailer from a French company by spending ` 5 cr to establish its prowess in developing tyres for any condition, including wet and dry weather conditions. The trailer is currently placed at NATRiP, Indore and JK Tyre’s engineers are now generating a lot of data on its product portfolio on how to further improvise on its performance.
Tyre radialisation in India has reached over 90 % mark for the passenger vehicle segment. However, it continues to hover at around 55 % for the CV tyre segment. Markets like Europe have practically reached 100 % radialisation and with BS 6 norms now a reality, radialisation in India is expected only to move northwards. The radial tyre aftermarket is also picking up well; however, there are many such applications like tippers in mining, quarries, off-road structures where bias tyres continue to be a significantly pardoning product and are here to stay with at least 20-25 % market share over the next 20 years, concluded Misra.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja
PHOTO: JK Tyre & Industries