Tyres take on new roles

As the march towards autonomous motoring steps up its pace along with efforts to make motoring ‘greener’, the car tyre is taking on a far more prominent role as an information provider to the unit as a whole.

At this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA), Continental presented Conti C.A.R.E., a comprehensive technology system.

Conti C.A.R.E. (Connected. Autonomous. Reliable. Electrified.) stands for the fine-tuned networking of wheel and tyre technology and the manageability of the desired performance characteristics. These characteristics are also closely aligned with the requirements of electric and autonomous driving in both individual and shared mobility scenarios.

In combination with the web-based ContiConnect Live application, Conti C.A.R.E. forms a flexible system solution that can provide a means of tyre management for modern robo-taxi fleets, for example, boosting performance as well as helping to optimize costs.

Conti C.A.R.E. tyres feature sensors that are built into the structure of the tyre. These sensors generate and continuously evaluate data concerning tread depth, possible damage, tyre temperature and tyre pressure.

This monitoring system, which goes by the name of ContiSense, transmits information on the condition of the tyres to ContiConnect Live, facilitating efficient mobility management for fleet operators.

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It can also actively adjust tyre pressures by means of centrifugal pumps built into the wheel. As the vehicle accelerates, the centrifugal forces within the wheel act on the pump to generate compressed air. This PressureProof technology keeps the tyre pressure constantly within the ideal range and helps achieve a sustainable drop in CO2 emissions. Any excess compressed air is stored in an integrated tank.

PressureBoost technology then uses this air to rapidly adapt the tyre pressures to various driving situations.

And, in the SilentWheel concept, Continental will be presenting a modified wheel rim that reduces the vibrations generated while driving and delivers superior ride quality.

However, it goes further than that and, like so many other industry verticals, fleet management is undergoing significant change as new technologies become commercially viable. These technologies are helping to streamline current operations but, more exciting, they promise to change the nature of fleet management altogether.

One of the most promising of these is tyre management which is already changing important aspects of fleet management for the better. But while individual technologies can be used effectively as standalone solutions, taking the ecosystem approach is actually the way to achieve new levels of value.

As an example, consider the growing use of RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips or sensors that allow the transmission of information from an object, such as a truck tyre, to a central point, like the company’s data centre.

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When vehicles typically return to a depot at regular intervals, a gate sensor can collect data using WiFi as the vehicles pass, ensuring maintenance teams know exactly which tyres need pressure adjustments.

For vehicles that are away for longer periods of time moving cargoes around the country, chips with mobile connectivity can feed information back to headquarters from wherever the truck happens to be.

Bridgestone introduced Toolbox, a cloud-based tyre management program, in 2017, which is available both as a desktop or mobile app. It’s designed to provide meaningful and actionable insights to fleet managers, enabling them to optimise overall tyre usage, selection and maintenance.

A recent development that has extended this ecosystem is the acquisition of the telematics division of TomTom. This means the system can be used to plan drivers’ routes, plot progress and immediately see all the tyre pressures of all vehicles. Using this platform thus enables the fleet manager to obtain visibility of all his or her tyre assets across the fleet — where they are, how they are being used and what their current state is.

The TomTom platform will integrate into Toolbox, providing the foundation for exponentially more sophisticated — and useful — ways of using the data, and acquiring more data.

For example, one day soon a fleet manager could monitor the full history of each tyre, including such information as how much it cost, how many times it has been retreaded, its tread depth at last reading, and begin to project when that tyre will need replacing—thanks to much improved algorithms and the use of sophisticated predictive analytics.

The final step is to integrate all of this operational information with the financial side of fleet management to obtain a truly holistic view of a whole fleet’s tyre assets.

All of this indicates that tyre and fleet management is very much at the forefront of the emerging Internet of Things. What is exciting is that as this builds momentum, we are approaching the ability to move from selling tyres to selling mobility solutions—the ‘as a service’ model that is revolutionising so much of business.

Bridgestone is already offering the option of leasing tyres to a small segment of the market, but as the range of data and ways to process it expands, will be able to roll this out to a wider market because both the risks and benefits will be more quantifiable — and transparent.

Operationally, tyres are one of key pain points for fleet managers — if the tyres malfunction, the whole vehicle is unusable with inevitable consequences for scheduling and overall profitability. Increasingly smart, data-driven solutions will serve to reduce downtime by pre-empting problems via preventative maintenance, and also maximise return on investment. It’s the future, and it will solve many of a fleet manager’s current challenges.

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Author: Colin Windell

Colin Windell is an apprentice retiree, petrolhead, rock music addict, lover of fine food and has been writing about cars for more than 40 years.

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