Tyres are an interesting topic, be it in motorsport, passenger vehicles, or even motorcycles. Not many pay attention, but a good tyre makes all the difference. Look at it this way — the tyres are the only component in a vehicle that’s always in contact with the road and is under constant stress. It’s in contact with the road come what may — rain, sun, snow, gravel, mud, and any form of surface a car is capable of traversing on.
A tyre in an average passenger vehicle should last between 40,000 to 60,000 kilometres if taken care of, meaning rotated, aligned, and balanced at regular intervals. To achieve a tyre to withstand its harsh life, tyre manufacturers use extensive technology that, at times, are guarded much more than Fort Knox, one can say. So getting an in-depth tour of a tyre manufacturer’s R&D plant is a rare occasion and JK Tyre did just that.
JK Tyre has an R&D centre located in Mysore. The Raghupati Singhania Center of Excellence is a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the development of tyres. Inaugurated in 2018, the centre houses the Hari Shankar Singhania Elastomer and Tyre Research Institute – HASETRI, an independent research institute, and The JK Tyre Tech Centre. The R&D plant houses the latest machines to test tyres, and the manufacturing process uses advanced technology with the help of data, thanks to enthusiastic IITM students, who JK Tyre recruits.
Tyre technology has come a long way — with global competitors on Indian soil and consumers looking for the best, JK Tyre is on par with technology. Having been to the facility to look at what goes on to re-invent the wheel, Express Mobility had a chance to speak with Dr Mukhopadhyay, the Director, R&D, JK Tyre, to know more.
The facility in Mysore has all the technology required to test a tyre. One of the highlights is the CT Plus machine, made by MTS. The machine is designed to simulate conditions a tyre would face and measure its properties. MTS is a US-based company that manufactures high-performance testing and simulation systems. JK Tyre has invested in an updated CT Plus machine, due to arrive in a few months and overall, ₹100 crores this year.
No matter the plans, there are hindrances. For example, the CT Plus simulator needs to be imported from the US, and this takes 20 months to be delivered from the time of order. Speaking about some of the drawbacks R&D faces in India, Dr Mukhopadhyay told us, “We are talking with the government. Earlier, the government gave us a lot of incentives for R&D. The financing for R&D in India needs to improve compared to other countries like Japan, the USA, South Korea or China. The government withdrew a lot of tax benefits in March, so we are in discussion with the government. Since we are a scientific industrial research organisation, so we don’t pay duties, but normal in-house R&D departments need to pay heavy duties for machinery.”
He goes on to say, “In India, there is not much interaction between universities and industries. Universities are mostly academic-oriented, and very few are offer applied research, like IIT Chennai. This is one of the areas that the government needs to look at and encourage institutes to join hands with private industries that will help both.”
Moving on to some of the developments, JK Tyre is working on alternate materials. Dr Mukhopadhyay said, “We are working on materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes that could replace carbon black and silica. We are also working on embedded sensors in tyres to help manage large fleets.” The embedded sensors help fleet managers keep track of the tyre temperature, air pressure, and most importantly, keep theft at bay. The sensor is placed inside the tyre, which can relay live data to a computer or a smartphone, warning drivers to pull over if the tyre is hot or low on pressure. The possibilities are limitless, as in the future if the driver ignores warnings, the sensor can even trigger traffic lights to pull over the vehicle.
Speaking about possibilities, one of the main areas of importance JK Tyre is working on is tyres for electric vehicles. As EVs are quiet compared to ICEs, tyre manufacturers are looking at making tyres as silent as possible. To achieve this, JK Tyre has a specially built acoustic room where tyres are tested. Another factor when it comes to EVs is that the tyres need to be stronger and withstand more instantaneous torque. So it is a challenge building tyres to be stronger, lighter, more durable, yet silent.
Possibilities are endless because the heat energy generated from tyres can be converted to other forms of energy to run sensors, perhaps? This is a possibility, as per JK Tyre, similar to how brakes were until a few years ago — they were designed to slow and stop cars. Now, car manufacturers can extract energy from them to recharge batteries.
Speaking of products and what JK Tyre has to offer soon, the pioneers of radial tyres in India is working on different sizes of MT tyres for SUVs, soft-compound motorcycle tyres, premium car tyres, and most interestingly, a puncture-proof tyre. The passenger car lineup will soon have a tyre coated with a special compound on the inside that instantly seals leaks. During its testing stages, a single tyre was punctured over 300 times and ran over 10,000 kilometres. More on that, soon.
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