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From games to motorsport, from eSports to new product development, simulation systems are now making their way in the world of tires with Goodyear and Pirelli leading the way

Paolo Ferrini

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown period has brought to the fore everything that somehow relates to digitization. First and foremost, telework, but also the growing popularity of eSports with professional drivers engaging in virtual competitions in front of a computer.

Not exactly a novelty. Older fans probably still remember when, in 1996, Jacques Villeneuve, making his debut in Formula 1, was seen "playing" with the Grand Prix 2 video game to discover the secrets of circuits where he had never raced before. Since then, little by little, simulators have become a regular feature in the racing world. Professional and amateur racers now use them regularly to prepare for the next race or simply to keep fit during the off-season, using increasingly sophisticated programs and products churned out in a continuous stream by specialized companies.

At this point, it is not surprising that, at the beginning of this year, two major tire companies like Goodyear and Pirelli decided to equip their research centres with professional driving simulators to be used for virtual development and tuning of the dynamic performance of their tires through a simulation of different driving conditions. Reduced development time, fewer prototypes to dispose of and greater collaboration with car manufacturers, are some of the main results Goodyear and Pirelli aim to achieve.

The use of simulators makes it possible to reduce by about 30% the average time needed to develop new tires, regardless whether we are talking about road or competition tires, thanks to the use of virtual prototypes designed for specific models. Thanks to simulations, parameters can be quickly modified during the development phase, making the exchange of digital information between tire manufacturers and carmakers instantaneous.

Going into more details, Goodyear chose a Compact Simulator for its Luxembourg development centre and a Dynamic Driving Simulator DiM250 (Driver-in-Motion) for the one in Akron, Ohio (USA), while Pirelli adopted a Static Simulator for its Milan R&D centre. All the equipment is made by VI-grade, an Italian-German company with a strong development base in Italy, which has so far produced about seventy simulators sold in various parts of the world.

In most cases, the simulators consist of a cylindrical screen with an extension of 210 degrees and a diameter of 7.5 metres, able to visually reproduce different circuits and driving conditions. The system is equipped with the screen of a static car equipped with some active technologies to transmit the feeling of driving a real car, including the seat, steering, seat belts and several shakers positioned where suspensions and engine are supposed to be.

Each operation is coordinated from a control room. From there all the relevant parameters as well as tire and vehicle specs are entered into the simulator and the simulated test results, such as tire-to-road contact forces and all related performance indicators as well as the subjective assessment of the tester, can be monitored.

"In the case of Goodyear and Pirelli, these products share a very similar software, but differ significantly in their, let's say mechanical component, i.e. in the way the operator interacts with the simulator" explains Alessio Lombardi, Sales Director Southern Europe and Great Britain. In a nut shell, in a Compact Simulator the tester sits on a normal driver's seat, while in a Static Simulator he is inside a space that reproduces the car’s interior, while with the DiM250 he operates in an environment that through actuators and other systems managed by computers, simulates the movements of the cabin, or cockpit if it’s a racing car, increasing the realistic effect. To reproduce the movements and accelerations of the vehicle, the DiM250 is based on a revolutionary patented design with nine actuators. The resulting configuration with its nine-degrees-of-freedom moving platform goes well beyond the basic six-actuator design of a simple hexapod, thus providing more working space while maintaining a high level of stiffness. This leads to a system that is suitable for both low and high frequencies, which characterize automotive chassis design, making it possible to study the vehicle’s dynamics as well as driving behaviour and comfort on the same driving simulator.

"This level of sophistication will enable Goodyear to make significant progress in the development of the tires of the future, enabling us to further enhance both driving and customer experience," says Chris Helsel, Senior Vice President and Technical Director at Goodyear.

At this point, one thing seems to be well established: the new trends in the automotive industry, which increasingly include a virtual development cycle, offer a great opportunity in the development of new tires, and these new simulation systems will enable manufacturers to collaborate even more effectively with OE manufacturers. The ability to simulate different driving conditions means being able to virtually develop the dynamic performances of new tires.


Who is VI-grade

VI-grade is the leading provider of best-in-class software products and services for advanced applications in the field of system-level-simulation. Together with a network of selected partners, VI-grade also provides revolutionary turnkey solutions for static and dynamic driving simulation.

Established in 2005, VI-grade delivers innovative solutions to streamline the development process from concept to sign-off in the transportation industry, mainly automotive, aerospace, motorcycle, motorsports and railways. With offices located in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, UK, Japan, China, and the USA, and a worldwide channel network of more than 20 trusted partners, VI-grade is a dynamic and growing company with a highly skilled technical team.

Since September 2018, VI-grade became part of Spectris, a FTSE 250 listed global conglomerate with 2017 sales of over 2 billion dollars and 9,800 employees, that conducts business in four major segments: materials analysis, test & measurement, in-line instruments and industrial controls and serves a broad range of industries ranging from automotive and aerospace to electronics, energy, mining and pharmaceutical. "Buying these types of simulators and working with us on a specific training program to optimize their work, will give our customers a clear competitive advantage" says Guido Bairati, vice president of sales and global marketing of VI-grade.


Simulators for everyone

However, driving simulators are not exclusive to development centres. In addition to professional products, such as those manufactured by VI-grade, there are other applications usually based on gaming software. Any of us can test them, to play games or to develop our own driving skills. A system of this type, for example, is currently in use at UniRacer, a company formed by a group of track engineers, which uses it to train its drivers. Another one, connected to the cockpit of a one-seat racer, is available at the Heaven Lab and used by many professional drivers. In many Italian cities, we find centres equipped with systems connected to driving seats where challenges can be organized between several participants.

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