French tyre manufacturer Michelin has been working in partnership with the University since 2006 to develop tyres with a better grip on ice-covered roads.
French tyre manufacturer Michelin has been working with the University on a research collaboration since 2006 to gain a better scientific understanding of the underlying mechanisms of friction of rubber on ice and snow. The aim is to make their tyres grip better on snow and ice covered roads.
For more than ten years, Dr Jane Blackford in the School of Engineering has been undertaking research on ice friction, including a successful collaboration with the Great Britain women’s curling team that won the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Research in Dr Blackford’s group is based on ice ‘as a material’ and draws on approaches from materials science and metallurgy to understand large-scale behaviour from knowledge of the fine-scale structure.
From a technological perspective, tyres need to perform a variety of functions, such as grip, wear resistance, low noise and reduced fuel consumption. While the UK uses tyres designed to operate in all weather conditions, virtually all other countries in Northern Europe, as well as North America and Japan, use tyres designed specifically for winter conditions. This means there is a huge market for winter tyres. Working with Michelin, Dr Blackford’s research group test the friction of rubber on snow and ice, looking at factors that influence performance such as temperature, velocity, load, ice or snow characteristics, rubber compound properties and tread patterns.
The results identify which rubber compounds and tread patterns have the highest friction under specific conditions. This data in itself is useful for Michelin. However, with deeper analysis, the group aims to understand why the friction varies, which will enable Michelin to develop better tread pattern solutions and tyres in the future.
The group tested model rubber blocks with simple treads on its linear friction tester, based within a multi-chamber cold room, which typically maintains temperatures down to -15°C. Michelin then tested tyres made from the same rubber with the same tread pattern on a regular car with ABS brakes at their test centre in Finland. The agreement between the two test methods was excellent.
“The experimental expertise about ice and snow of our partners at the University helped us significantly in the development of efficient testing methods,” explained Joël Foucard, Manager of Michelin’s Tyre Performance Analysis Department. “This joint research effort is contributing to the acceleration of our R&D on ice and snow grip.”