4WD MODIFICATIONS - TYRES & WHEELS
4WD tyres have changed little externally over the years, but much has been going on inside the black, round things. There’s now an electronic tyre revolution – poor pun – and an after-life for old tyres.
We were excited back in 2012/13 when Michelin and Kumho announced that their tyres would have embedded ‘chips’ that identified each tyre. Since then, radio-frequency-identification (RFID) has become commonplace in tyres. Eight years ago, there was expectation that other electronic programs would follow, but progress has proved difficult.
RFID is a wireless frequency of recognition technology and an RF module through an antenna can recognise and identify product information stored in RFID tags. It is widely applied in various industries such as car, aerospace, pharmaceutical, clothes and communication. It is in the spotlight as an advanced technology to bring a change to the lifestyle of consumers.
Unlike barcodes with limited data capacity and short distance recognition, RFID can be equipped with a memory that can store a large amount of information. The recognition distance extends several metres and it can collect product information from RFID tags in real time.
RFID chips, embedded in the tyre during its building process, were designed to replace barcoding as a means of identifying tyres, but the technology has the ability to interface with on-board vehicle electronics.
An example is the Michelin system that’s already embedded in 90-percent of all its tyres that incorporate identification technology. Michelin plans to have all its tyres fitted with RFID chips by 2023.
RFID benefits can start at the tyre-fitting bay, where the chip communicates accurate tyre data to the tyre shop’s RFID reader. If an incorrectly specified tyre is fitted a warning will be displayed.
The planned Michelin RFID chip also has the ability to interface with the vehicle’s electronic systems, so the correct tyre data is fed into the vehicle computer.
The RFID chip data can be input into the electronic stability program, so that the ESP ‘knows’ what tyre characteristics it needs to accommodate. For instance, the cornering and braking abilities of different tyre types – Road-pattern, A/T and M/T – can be taken into account by the ESP controller when it apportions individual axle braking.
The clever thing about the latest RFID chips is that they don’t need a battery. Energy to power the chip circuits come from electromagnetic waves emitted during data collection.
Also, durability doesn’t appear to be a problem, with today’s RFID chip lifespans said to be considerably longer than that of the tyre itself.
However, the stumbling block for increased RFID functionality is the need for more power, to operate the measuring and data transmission of tyre temperature and pressure monitoring (TPMS), for example.
Embedded batteries aren’t practical, because the tyre would have to be demounted from the wheel when the battery needed changing. Such a system would be less practical than current valve-stem TPMS devices.
Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd (SRI) has been working together with Professor Hiroshi Tani of Kansai University on joint technology that can generate electric power from the rotation of a tyre. This is accomplished by installing a power-generating device, called an energy harvester, inside a tyre, to harness the static electricity that is generated as it rolls along the road.
Sumitomo’s Tyre Internal Power Generation Technology program was selected by the Japan Science & Technology Agency (JST) to receive Stage II (Seeds Development Type) Support under the A-STEP Program in October of 2019 and has been moving forward with support from JST since then.
In April 2021 SRI announced that these efforts have succeeded in making it possible to supply power to a tyre’s peripheral sensor without the use of batteries.
SRI’s verification testing has shown that, when a tyre is running at 50km/h, the system produces over 800μW (milliwatts) of power, which is enough to activate an external sensor and achieve continuous Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmission.
SRI’s research complements its Smart Tyre Concept work that incorporates recent developments like MaaS (Mobility as a Solution) and CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electric) innovations that are already transforming the automotive industry.
Through SRI’s Sensing Core Technology the company intends to bypass the limited battery life of sensor devices that has been the greatest obstacle to making tyre sensing technology a reality.
The project has now entered the pre-production phase, but there’s yet no date for its implementation.
In another R&D initiative SRI has partnered with Associate Professor Wataru Yashiro of the Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials at Tohoku University, to greatly improve the functionality of its Advanced 4D Nano Design Technology.
This technology makes it possible to observe rubber failure as it occurs, during actual tyre usage at varying speeds. A 3D image can now be captured in around 1/100th of a second, permitting continuous, high-speed observation of rubber wear.
SRI plans to utilise this technology to accelerate the development of new tyre materials with superior wear resistance, greater environmental friendliness and longer service life.
Productivity and safety issues for fleets
Although we can’t buy self-energising tyre sensors just yet, there are upgraded measurement systems that can radically shorten tyre inspection times and increase accuracy.
Michelin reports that it takes 15 minutes on average for a person to physically check the pressure and condition of a tyre. Currently available external tyre data readers can drastically cut that time – in some case to no more than drive-past reader time as a vehicle enters a depot.
Michelin estimates that that two-thirds of fleets in Europe could improve their tyres’ performance. For example, Michelin reports that studies of fleet operations have shown that 75-percent of tyre-related incidents and problems are due to slow leaks.
Most fleet operators are familiar with devices that receive and record tyre pressures from vehicles passing by a reader unit in a depot, but less well-known is a system that measures tread depth as well.
US company Tyrata Inc has developed an IntelliTread Drive-Over System (DOS) with integrated RFID technology that measures and records the tread-depth information of each individual tyre that rolls over ramped plate. The tyre’s RFID chip identifies it and the tread depth data is recoded against the tyre log, with time and date.
This easy-to-install tyre wear monitoring system is claimed capable of measuring tread depth on a variety of tyre sizes, from passenger and light truck to heavy truck and bus tyres. It’s also said to be unaffected by debris in tyre treads.
And now, for something completely different…
Australian tyre recycling efforts
Tyre Stewardship Australia was formed in 2014, to implement the national Tyre Product Stewardship Scheme that promotes the development of viable markets for end-of-life tyres.
This initiative has the multiple benefits of transforming a waste product into useful commodities and creating new industries and employment opportunities; while also reducing the environmental harm caused by the illegal dumping of old tyres.
TSA is made up of representatives from across the tyre supply chain, including some tyre retailers, manufacturers, recyclers and collectors. TSA members also include the Australian Motor Industry Federation.
The tyre makers and brands supporting TSA include: B F Goodrich, Bridgestone, Continental, Daytona, Dunlop, Firestone, General, Goodyear, Kleber, Kumho, Mazzini, Michelin, Nitto, Pirelli, Semperit, Supercat, Toyo, Uniroyal, Viking, Yokohama. The only vehicle makers currently in support are Mercedes-Benz, VW and Porsche.
TSA has initiated many recycled-tyre projects and the most prominent are ‘rubber-crumb’ inputs to asphalt road surface mixtures that have been trialled in several Australian States.
“Although more than half of Australia’s old tyres are recycled, up-cycled or processed to make other products, like crumb rubber in roads, the equivalent of 27 million car tyres are wasted every year. These often end up in landfill, stockpiles or are exported overseas,” TSA CEO Lina Goodman said.
“As a material derived from end-of-life tyres, crumb rubber boasts many environmental benefits as a recycled product – benefits that are being realised across the Australian roads and infrastructure sector.”
“With 85-percent of roads managed by local councils and significantly more low-traffic roads found nationally, local government procurement power is critical to using resources like crumb rubber, created from the millions of used tyres generated in Australia each year, to create a better performing, longer lasting Australian road network.
“With this strong link to circular economy outcomes, TSA is encouraging local councils to become an accredited participant of our National Tyre Product Stewardship Scheme.
“Apply online at https://www.tyrestewardship.org.au/about-tsa/apply-for-accreditation/.”
The National Scheme, implemented by TSA, helps to reduce the environmental, health and safety impacts of the 56 million tyres that reach the end of their life in Australia every year.
The voluntary scheme consists of representatives from across the tyre supply chain including retailers, manufacturers, auto-brands, recyclers and collectors.
TSA has committed $6 million to a wide range of Australian projects using waste tyres including ProtectiFlex, roads, horse racing tracks, car parks, sporting grounds and playgrounds.
An explosive ending
TSA has also evolved technology to incorporate rubber crumb mixes in the most commonly used mining explosives in Australia. It’s estimated that if all mining companies used rubber crumb in their ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) explosive mixtures, it would recycle – in a flash – about 80,000 tonnes of end-of-life tyres.