From Star Wars to design excellence
From a ‘Star War Warrior’ to ‘Tyre War Warrior’, the journey that Dr TK Tio has undertaken is as perplexing and mindboggling as his participation in the laser weapons development for the Strategic Defence Initiative or Star Wars under US President Ronald Reagan. After playing in the theatre of high-tech space war research, he began to tread the equally arduous road to design the perfect tyre for the terra firma. A tyre designer of international repute, he shares in this interview his experience with the technologies in shaping the rubber ‘black donut’ and explains the challenges that faces the industry which is on the cusp of radical changes
He is a tyre designer, scientist and consultant to the tyre industry worldwide. He brings to the table his years of experience in cutting-edge technology from Star War laser development to shaping the rubber donut that is called the tyre.
His background as a scientist with the Strategic Defence Initiative launched by US President Ronald Reagan has helped Dr TK Tio bring to the design table multitudes of technologies to make the tyre perform even beyond clients’ expectations to outsmart the competition.
This tyre engineer, with double PhDs in Engineering Physics and Tyre Physics, is now engaged in developing the perfect tyre for a large number of applications. He is taking a scientific approach to light truck tyre (LTR) All-Terrain or Multi-Terrain designs based on rigorous terramechanic physical principles.
He takes up the design challenges using his technological expertise which has helped replace the conventional time-consuming cut-and-try craft approach. As he takes up the design challenges in LTR A/T and MT SUV, ATV/UTV and other off-road tyres, he relives the Star War experience that marked the domination of technology innovations.
Dr Tio is being drawn to design projects with OE companies such as Polaris, John Deere, Caterpillar, Jeep, Land Rover, 4Wheel Parts, Discount Tire, Tire Rack, Source Interlink Media and other tyre biggies that continually push the envelope in cutting-edge designs.
Innovation is the key
Today Dr Tio is involved in his own transformation from a real Star War warrior during Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative to assignments to design tyres that will make ride safer, comfortable and economical. He puts the same passion in tyre design as he has done with the technology assessment of both ground-based and space-based laser weapon system for the Space War project.
He says that over the years, tyre designs have evolved from a delicate craft to sophisticated science. “Current generation of tyre designers and scientists must have exposure to multi-disciplinary technologies to be able to reinvent and recreate a whole new generation of innovative tyres,” he asserts.
For this they have to equip themselves with knowledge in current trends in technology. Tyre Mechanics is the central science of tyre design that every tyre designer should grasp, he insists. This area covers tyre structural and mechanical aspects that must be grasped as the designer steps into R&D, design, engineering or manufacturing.
A technologist who wants to get into the tyre design field should also gain an intimate knowledge of rubber materials and learn the elements of rubber compounding. Studying tyre mathematical modelling and intelligent tyre and vehicle system knowledge would equip the tyre designer to scale new heights in his profession, he explained.
Adding to the designer’s knowledge base should be terramechanics and vehicle mechanism as these are necessary to understand and acquire the skills in tread design and traction or grip behaviour. The fundamental terrain-vehicle interaction physics at the contact patch, especially for off-road tyres of ATV, LTR and OTR, would make the engineer the star of the tyre industry.
A tyre designer should have a strong knowledge about rubber mixing, rubber compounding for gaining better performance, raw material supply chains and rubber products, he felt.
Dr Tio has his own 4WD test rigs and facilities for All Terrain and Mud Terrain tyres. “I’m a real world hands-on-butts-on tyre designer,” he says adding that his emphasis is always on empirical R&D approach that complements virtual design and simulation technologies, especially in the terramechanics and off-road tyre traction physics.
Commenting on disruptive technologies, Dr Tio mentioned about the ground-breaking designs brought out by Goodyear’s Aqua tread design. It has a deep centre aquachannel and a non-directional tread pattern with two other circumferential grooves, and numerous lateral grooves and 1,024 biting edges. “I have not seen any tread design that is as revolutionary as this,” he commented.
Another revolutionary breakthrough that he mentioned was Michelin’s silica/silane compound to reduce the rolling resistance (to the level of cornering grip) and at the same time increase the wet grip. “That is breaking the magic triangle. “
Silica has properties that when blended with tyre rubber, allows tyre engineers to decrease rolling resistance while increasing grip, breaking some rules that used to be thought unbreakable. Silica-enhanced rubber compounds have revolutionised the tyre industry.
Another engineering revolution is the use of tyre pressure monitoring system and sensor incorporation in tyres. Integrating the sensors with on-board inflation system to make them work hand-in-hand makes vehicles safer and fuel-efficient.
“In my opinion, the radical tyre design development would be in the intelligent tyre and vehicle systems such as the simple integration of TPMS with on-board inflation system,” Dr Tio said. This integration, together with the load vs pressure table standard of the Tire and Rim Association (TRA) for trucks and buses, will make tyre safer, fuel efficient and comfortable for riding.
The technology-driven tyre design ensures safe and efficient mobility making transportation more environmentally sustainable.