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LAB TO MARKET

By PTA News Bureau

Every day Dr Keizo Akutagawa faces research challenges. As the General Manager of Tire Materials Development Department of Bridgestone Corporation, the Tokyo-based technologist is constantly working on new materials that would make tyres competitive in the market and give consumer fuel-efficient, safe and reliable products.foto-Akutagawa-small.-310

Dr Akutagawa, who is a Member of the prestigious Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IoM3) since 1988 and a member of the Editorial Board of Japan’s Society of Rubber Industry since 1996, is a specialist in rubber science and tyre mechanics.

In this interview, he explains new developments in tyre technology with regard to three-dimensional tyre compound with nano-hierarchical architecture.  “In this work, we proposed new design and control methods of three-dimensional nano-scale hierarchical architecture, which has been divided into three different scale ranges, 10 nm with crosslinks, 100 nm with filler dispersion and 1000 nm with polymer blend,” he explained.

His research team used computational science and imaging techniques to design and control the nano-architecture, which belongs to each scale range. “These techniques were developed working together with special members organised under the NEDO programme,” he said.

NEDO or New Energy & Industrial Technology Development Organisation, was established as a semi-government body in 1980 to promote the development and introduction of new energy technologies. It   pursues research and development of industrial technology, which is the foundation for Japan’s industrial competitiveness, with the goal of commercialising advanced new technology.

Drawing on the combined efforts of industry, academia and government as well as its considerable management know-how, NEDO carries out projects to explore future technology seeds as well as mid- to long-term national projects that form the basis of industrial competitiveness. It also supports research related to practical application.electronmocro-tomography310

The complicated structure modelling in nano-scale can be realised by the combination of voxel method (Figure 2) and the recent analytical methods such as the transmission electron microtomography (3D-TEM).

“The molecular dynamics was also used to optimise the architecture in 10 nm scale, which corresponds to the crosslink network. These methods enable us to visualise the mechanical behaviour of the compound under deformation with knowing deformation phenomena and stress concentration in nano-scale. The atomic force microscopy (AFM) was also used to identify the nano-architectures,” he said.

Fuel-efficiency, safety

Researchers are looking for ways to reduce rolling resistance and at the same time they are forced to find ways to produce safer tyres. The challenge is to make tyre compounds using nano-technology and advanced materials that could enhance wet-grip and wear resistance.

“Tyre technology can be described as the integration of technological elements, which correspond to scale range from nano to macro scales,” Dr Akutagawa explained. “The number of combinations will be millions of ways and a great number of trials and errors in tyre development have contributed to the progress in tyre technology.”

On the other hand, the market demands are dramatically changing as a result of increasing issues with regard to the environment, resources and safety. To manage the tyre developments taking into considerations all these factors, the important point that is to be stressed is how fast we can find the best one for customers from the millions of possibilities.

(Full Text in April-May issue)

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