Ecodesign, hi-tech innovation and sustainability the future of the tire business
Institutions, manufacturers and trade associations met to discuss a new production model based on circularity
Tires were at the forefront of the digital event organised by Autopromotec a few weeks back: “Futurmotive - Digital Expo and Conference”, a web-based conference held last December 10, was an opportunity to bring together the entire aftermarket supply chain in a virtual arena where company representatives, international experts, universities and trade associations discussed present and future scenarios and economic strategies for the sector. Among the various topics discussed, the rich programme dedicated to tires focused mainly on sustainability and innovation.
Circular economy and tires
Laura D'Aprile, Director General for the Circular Economy at the Ministry of the Environment opened the proceedings and illustrated the guidelines of the new European directives on principles of circularity, recently acknowledged also by the Italian Government, and then went on to talk specifically about the possibilities to enhance the role played by retreaded tires, as products resulting from recovery and restoration aimed at reuse: "Such concepts as repair, reuse and eco-design are at the basis of the European plan for a circular economy, so they are concepts that are fully consistent with our national strategy," explained D'Aprile. "At the moment we, as a country, can rely on a precious tool we call CAM (minimum environmental criteria) which was taken as a positive example of environmental development even at the last G7 summit. The introduction of specific provisions allowing public contracting authorities to include retreaded tires in their calls for purchasing tenders would certainly give the sector a major boost. As things stand, the two pillars for the development of a circular supply chains are the CAM, for public procurement, and the End of Waste, that is, the elimination of waste status on used tires and the promotion of secondary raw materials deriving from the development of waste production chains. We are confident that the introduction of minimum environmental criteria will give the sector the boost it needs."
Aguettaz (GiPA): sustainability works if it speaks with our wallets
Before getting to the heart of the discussion, Marc Aguettaz, GiPA Italy's Managing Director, gave an overview of how the retread market is currently faring in Italy, which still represents only about 15% of the purchasing made by trucking fleets. However, around 30 out of 100 companies make significant use of retreads, which account for 50% of their consumption, which means that they are very scrupulous, as the retread market cannot exceed 50% since tires must be purchased as new before being retreaded. Switching to companies that do not make use of retreads (or only marginally), the greatest objection concerns safety in more than 60% of cases ("a myth yet to be dispelled", comments Aguettaz); the second reason is end-of-life management, which needs to be organised; the third reason, though marginal, is mileage, mentioned together with product quality. As for installation, most retreaded tires are installed by specialists (72% of the total), but in recent years the share of in-fleet workshops has grown considerably, from just 2% in 2011 to 22% today, while the presence of official networks has dropped, accounting for just 2%. Splitting the data by company size, we see the 25% of owner-operators who use retreaded tires, turn to tire specialists 94% of the time, but this figure drops to 65% when we take large companies into consideration, 30% of which can rely on their own workshop. "Circular economy works, if it speaks with our wallet", is Aguettaz's final comment, and retreads can represent a virtuous system in this sense too.
Carloni (AIRP): eco-design is the key word for a circular economy
Speaking about circularity applied to the world of tires, Stefano Carloni, President of AIRP - the Italian Tire Retreaders Association, has no doubts as to what the basic concept for the future is: eco-design. Tire retreading plays a key role in a circular economy, and indeed represents its noblest part," explained Carloni, "because it consists in reusing not recycled materials but the product itself, so we are talking about remanufacturing, that is, the functional restoration of the product. And tires are perfect to promote circularity, so much so that they represent an exemplary “ante litteram” case, as retreading has been around for 80 years". As a best practice, tire retreading offers not only economic advantages for the user but also enormous environmental benefits, as it saves more than 70% of the raw materials needed to make a tire, significantly reducing waste production at the same time. However, there is a distinction to be made," said the AIRP president, "because not all tires are suitable for retreading. If we take a low-cost tire, it will almost certainly be impossible to retread at the end of its first life cycle. On the other hand, a premium tire, after the original tread has worn down, is suitable for retreading in most cases (and sometimes more than once). This is where the concept of eco-design, or durable product design, comes into play: tires must be designed upstream with the aim of being able to have more “lives”. For Carloni, this means that manufacturers are now faced with a highly demanding technological challenge, "because, in a way, this means setting themselves the goal of placing fewer new tires on the market, but with better performance and a longer lifespan. Some manufacturers are responding adequately to this changing scenario, setting up more evolved production systems, in other cases, however, this transition is proving slower or is non-existent altogether."
Vergani (Michelin): the three lives of a tire
So what does eco-design mean when applied to the tire industry? Silvia Vergani, Marketing Manager B2B Italy at Michelin, explained: "At Michelin we can give three examples, the first being the pursuit of what we call the multi-life model, as we do with truck tires for example; multi-life means that the first life refers to when a tire is new, the second when we regroove it, while the third is represented by retreading. In order for a tire to be able to guarantee several lives, it is necessary to design it with this in mind, so our engineers, chemists and technicians, take into account the fact that our tires will have to guarantee as much mileage as possible as a new tire and just as much as a retread. Technological development allows us to achieve the same performance using less raw material than in the past, thus reducing the weight of the tire and consequently consuming less energy when moving, all in favour of sustainability. The first example of eco-design therefore concerns the design phase. However, eco-design must be applied also to the production phase, because production plants must also think in terms of sustainability, trying to reduce their footprint by adopting production methods that consume less energy and water and produce less waste. Michelin has been working in this direction since 2005 and has halved the environmental impact of its plants." A third example of eco-design, according to Silvia Vergani, lies in the economic factor, because eco-friendly products must also be economically viable for the purchaser: "the number of kilometres covered by a retreadable tire doubles, as both new and retreads are able to cover the same mileage, so the unit cost per kilometre will be lower than if one uses just use a new tire".
Capurso (Marangoni): The constant evolution of retreading
Francesco Capurso, Marangoni's Sales Manager Trucks Tires Europe, spoke in detail about the ongoing developments taking place in the retreading sector: "Nowadays retreads boast mileage and performance levels that are comparable to those of new premium products. The evolution of retreading technologies, both hot and cold, ensures that retreads are as reliable, durable and have the same performance as new tires. Another crucial aspect of quality retreading is the process: over time, remarkable goals have been achieved, both in terms of equipment efficiency as well as retreading technologies, which are highly advanced in terms of automation and precision throughout every stage. The materials used are also of primary importance: the compounds used for retreading are similar to those used on new premium tires, and are specifically formulated for each type of application. Different types of vehicles, different road and environmental conditions translate into different requirements and therefore different types of tires. Not only for the tread pattern but also for the formulation of the compound. Research into specific compounds is constantly evolving with the aim of increasing product quality, developing tailor-made tires following the technical evolution of vehicles at the same time. The use of special compounds brings a number of advantages such as: better elasticity at low temperatures to maximise winter performance, lower rolling resistance to reduce fuel consumption, and longer tread life in highly abrasive conditions or general road use". Hence, concluded Capurso, as with new tires, retreading technology continues to evolve, developing better products, more fuel-efficient and long lasting.
Prosdocimi (Goodyear): tires and vehicles united in the race towards new power units
In a constantly evolving scenario, Marco Prosdocimi, Retail Director Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, examined in depth, the synergy between tires and new hi-tech vehicles: "We are witnessing a transition from traditional internal combustion engines to electric and hybrid units, and in this context tires play a key role in overcoming several obstacles. First and foremost, mileage! EV manufacturers are aiming to reach the same kind of mileage guaranteed by combustion engine, and here is where tires can really make a difference; for several years now, investments in research and development have been made to create tires able to guarantee the lowest possible rolling resistance in order to improve mileage in line with customer's expectations. This translates into lighter tires, new sidewall construction and compounds. Another important point is noise: on EVs, the rolling noise of tires is very noticeable, and the development of special foams placed inside the casings makes it possible to reduce noise emission. In addition, electric cars pose a particular challenge from a production point of view due to the higher specific weight of the battery pack, and the power unit behaves differently, with a high torque down low, so that tires are subjected to greater stress. Therefore, what clients required from their tires is the ability to bear a greater weight and ensure that the mileage is in line with what happens with traditional engines. Nowadays, an electric car will consume its tires 30% faster than a normal car. For these reasons, it is easy to see that both tire and vehicle manufacturers have to cope with similar challenges and Goodyear is creating partnerships at a technical level to create the perfect match between tires and vehicles, achieving performance levels equivalent to what is expected from conventional cars.
Moncada (Continental): sensors underpin sustainable mobility
In a future based on connectivity and information technology, sensors are fast becoming a cornerstone of sustainability and this is true also in the field of tires, as Enrico Moncada, Sales Director of Continental Italia, explained: "Systems are being developed to enable communication between tires and vehicles, sharing data such as temperature, pressure, tread depth and other information. We can see very concrete cases of how the tire is functional to sustainability from three points of view: economic, environmental and safety. A tire is now able to monitor and communicate its own pressure, and if we look at the transport sector, we can see that if a tire travels with a pressure lower than 0.6 bar its life is reduced by 45%. This has an impact not only for the fleet in economic terms, as tires will have to be changed much more often, but also on the environment because it involves more consumption of raw materials, more CO2 emissions and, above all, more fuel: tests show that a vehicle that moves on the same route with the same driver saves an average of 950 litres of fuel every 100,000 km if the tire pressure is correctly managed. Now try to convert this data into cash! Furthermore, in an under-inflated tire the temperature can reach up to 150 degrees, technically this means that the structure of the tire is compromised, with added risks of downtime and accidents, negatively affecting road safety. These three examples show how a sensor able to communicate data such as temperature and pressure can bring considerable benefits in terms of sustainability: economic, environmental and safety. If we then extend this to all the sensors now used on vehicles, it is clear that this specific sector is the key to a truly sustainable future.