By R Mukhopadhyay
The rubber industry is largely perceived as non-environmental friendly and it is imperative to work towards adapting the green economy; largely through the development of green technology and introduction of green manufacturing practices.
Over the past decade, the concept of a green economy has moved into the mainstream of policy discourse across the world and there is a strong case for the public as well as private sector to engage in this economic transformation. A green economy takes care of human well-being as well as social equality while significantly reducing environmental risk and ecological scarcity.
Therefore, transitioning to a green economy has sound economic and social justification. For governments, this transition would involve levelling the playing field for greener products by replacing harmful subsidies, reforming policies and redirecting public investment among others. In the private sector, this transition would involve responding to these policy reforms and incentives through increased financing and investment, skill building and innovation capacities to realise the opportunities arising from a green economy.
The automobile industry is one of the key sectors for economic growth, where sustainability is critical to ensure access to a clean and eco-friendly mode of transportation. Particularly for the rubber industry, which is largely perceived as non-environmental friendly, it is imperative to work towards adapting the green economy; largely through the development of green technology and introduction of green manufacturing practices including resource decoupling – using less land, water, energy and materials to maintain economic growth and to reduce environmental impact.
Technology innovation remains a key priority. Some of the trends for automotive and tyre industries include, sustainable tyre through introduction of green material technology with further improvement in fuel efficiency (Rolling Resistance) Safety (Dry and Wet Traction), Durability (mileage) and Comfort (Noise, Vibration, Ride & Handling).
Besides above, obtaining rubber material from biomass and recyclable avenues, greater use of modelling in performance prediction and tyre design, change in tyre design to tall and thin tires, especially to suit electric vehicles are of paramount importance towards making a green economy. In addition, technologies that include real time simulation, virtual proving ground, self-inflation technology, electrified rubber, sensor-based tyres for health assessment and fleet management can help save fuel, reduce operating cost including increased tyre life.
Use of simulation and predictive technology – Finite Element Analysis (FEA), service life prediction, etc. – are expected to contribute towards determining the reliability aspect of tyres. With the advent of high-end software, FEA tools are now extensively used for prediction of structural durability, aquaplaning, heat generation, process simulation and Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH). Advanced research is underway to understand the microscopic behavior of polymer-filler interaction using new generation simulation techniques. This in turn would help to develop ultra-high performance tyres with reduced hysteresis, improved safety and durability.
In line with the automobile industry, tyre Industry is also looking into possibilities of implementing smart manufacturing practices, which include Big Data-driven quality control, robot assisted production, self-driving logistics vehicles, production line simulation, smart supply network, predictive maintenance, machine as a service, self-organizing production, additive manufacturing of complex parts and augmented work among others.
As vehicles directly impact the environment (air quality, noise levels etc.,) and tyres are integral to its functioning, a collaborative effort is required to bring about a change of thinking and a change of culture on pursuing a green economy in the rubber industry.
(R Mukhopadhyay is the Director (R&D), JK Tyre & Industries Ltd.)
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