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By TA News Bureau:

When Daniele Lorenzetti, former Pirelli R&D Director, took over as Apollo Tyres’ Chief Technology Officer and joined its Management Board, it signalled the company’s intention to further strengthen its global market presence, particularly in Europe. His brief was to spearhead Apollo’s global R&D initiatives for both passenger and commercial vehicle tyres. Helping him in this endeavour is a dynamic team of research, technology and design teams in Europe and India. With several tyre and mobility-related patents in his name, he will be powering Apollo’s product leadership in various segments. In this interview to Tyre Asia, he speaks about his research agenda to make Apollo one of the world’s top companies that offers a large portfolio of quality tyre products. Excerpts from the interview:

How is Apollo Tyres’ stated corporate objective at product development with focus on sustainability are being achieved in the context of increasing competition in the tyre industry globally?

Apollo’s vision is to be a premium tyre company by 2020 with diversified and multinational presence. Current priorities set by the company to realise this vision are, achieving leadership position in India, creating premium products for Europe and exploring strategically important markets like North America. In pursuit of these goals, support from technology with a strong focus on ecological, economical and social sustainability is a key ingredient for success.
Apollo’s R&D is at the forefront of sustainability efforts by tyre manufacturers. Customer centric product development with support to sustainability has been central to Apollo’s growth. Considering all the requirements to ensure sustainability, Apollo’s R&D has made significant strides in developing path-breaking technology and products that exceed customer expectations.
R&D has a strong focus on fundamental research in the field of advanced and alternative materials in tyres, which aims to support sustainability efforts. We are currently engaged in numerous research projects in-house as well as in collaboration with external partners like national research institutes, universities and raw material suppliers to create the much needed technological edge to the company in areas of environmental sustainability. Some of the key projects are aimed at the development of Epoxide Natural Rubber, Nano-delaminated clays, De-proteinised Natural Rubber, Silane modified clays, New generation Silanised Silicas, Self-healing tyre etc, all focusing majorly on the three fundamental areas of tyre performance – lowering of rolling resistance, reducing the rate of tyre wear and improving wet grip, and replacement of synthetic materials with naturally occurring ones. Many of these projects are in industrialisation phase and some of the projects like new generation carbon black, to reduce the wear rate, have been already industrialised.

What are some of the top manufacturing technologies and innovations that Apollo’s R&D centres have come up with recently?

Company’s R&D centres in Europe and India can proudly showcase many technologies developed in recent times and that resulted in creating winning products. We have achieved major success in reducing the rolling resistance of our passenger car tyres and commercial vehicle tyres which resulted in enhanced fuel efficiency of the vehicles. We have developed winter products with excellent snow and wet grip both in truck and passenger car tyres for the European market.
In spite of our relatively late entry in to truck and bus radial market in India, development of three major technologies – load technology, premium mileage technology and fuel efficient tyre technology – has catapulted Apollo to the position of leadership in the Indian market. Another notable achievement in recent times is the development of low inflation Very high Flexion (VF) technology which we adopted in large agricultural products for Europe markets.
R&D supports manufacturing in developing and implementing processes that reinforces company’s sustainability efforts. Apollo has internally created a manufacturing discipline called Apollo Manufacturing System (AMS), which envisages green processes in the entire manufacturing chain and conserves precious energy. Green processes in manufacturing also helps to preserve inherent properties of materials and compounds to result in products with better quality and durability in performance.
The company also recognises the value of data in future processes and makes best use of it for extracting information that guides our manufacturing processes. This is also helping the company in its preparation towards future manufacturing methods involving automation and artificial intelligence. All the major manufacturing facilities are supported with high levels of automation which considerably reduces human interventions in intensive operations thereby increasing safety and consistency in manufacturing. Advance engineering department of R&D is constantly looking for automation areas in manufacturing and quality inspection to enhance productivity.

How has the collapsible spare tyre for high end cars ‘Spacemaster’ doing in the market? What are the other product offerings that you are planning?

Spacemaster is one hugely successful innovation by R&D for the company. This is a spare tyre concept which saves up to 60% of the volume in comparison with a regular spare tyre but in full compliance with all the latest electronic systems with no variation in driving performance. This intelligent tyre concept is fitted as standard by many car manufacturers, as well as high-end sports cars. We have this technology adopted in 15 sizes going into almost 29 high-end cars.
We are now continuing with our efforts towards complete elimination of spare tyres in vehicles through the development of products with extended mobility. Some of the projects in final stages of developing run-flat tyres and self sealing technology are aimed at achieving this objective.

What initiatives that you have launched to develop tyres that are exclusively meant for driverless cars and autonomous vehicles that offer the lowest rolling resistance possible?

World is passing through an age of disruptive changes that are happening in every field of business. These changes are particularly enabled by electronics and communication technology. Major disruption is happening in automobile sector, and tyres being the key component of automobiles, our company has taken several initiatives, that will keep us future ready. Electrification of automobiles is one such change and Apollo has started its efforts towards developing suitable products to support electric mobility which will call for high fuel efficiency with better traction and durability in tyres.
Looking further into the future, tyre needs to be a lot more intelligent and yet performing. Such tyres will be enabled by embedded sensors and aided by systems that will help tyres to communicate with vehicles. Our Advance Engineering Centre in Bangalore is leading many projects which are small but definitive steps that will eventually lead to developing of tyres for autonomous vehicles. Some of the projects in advanced stages are on low noise, enhancing RFID usage, development of advanced TPMS systems.

You are one of the few companies that have made breakthroughs in the use of alternative of Hevea such as Russian dandelion and guayule? When do you plan to productionise them?

Apollo is one of the companies which has shown considerable interest in alternatives for Hevea and participated in various projects looking into the possibilities of Guayule and Russian Dandelion in tyre manufacturing. One such project has helped to prove the viability of Guayule as a crop by enhancing the yield and quality considerably; however, the availability in sufficient quantity has become a big constraint in industrialisation.
Apollo has harvested Russian Dandelion in limited quantity in the Netherlands and Belgium and adopted its rubber in some category of tyres for testing which showed encouraging results. We are planning more tests with products from fresh harvest this year. But looking into the future, availability still looks a big constraint because of economy situation and availability of Hevea natural rubber.

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