Story by:

Sricharan R

Launching its first Apollo Truck Tyre Zone (ATTZ) in Malaysia as part of the focus to provide consumers with convenient access to its products and services, Apollo Tyres is claimed to be working on an ambitious plan to set up a design studio at Chennai. It is likely to be situated within the R&D facility of the CV tyre major and help the CV tyre major to perform various visualisation activities. Said to be a part of the company’s strategy to stay agile and tap the new trends in road transportation, which will call for substantial improvements in efficient energy management, the design studio is expected to help Apollo Tyres to use various digital platforms to turn out superior products and solutions. With tyre contribution set to play an ever-increasing role in reducing vehicle carbon footprint, the design studio is expected to play a key role in activities like tyre tread design, which calls for a balance between advanced engineering and appearance. Activities such as these would mean a significant upgrade in design talents over time with the setting up a studio.

Offering a vast portfolio of tubeless and tube type tyres for CVs, passenger vehicles and two-wheelers, Apollo Tyres, by the setting up a design studio, is expected to profit from an ability to explore new markets and further strengthen its position in the markets that it is already present in. Claimed to be the 11th largest tyre manufacturer globally, Apollo Tyres, incorporated in 1972, has come to market products under the Apollo and Vredestein brand (Apollo Tyres acquired Vredestein Banden BV in 2009). Having a vast network of branded, exclusive and multi-product outlets, the tyre manufacturer, with facilities in India, the Netherlands, and Hungary, is said to spend close to 2.5 per cent of its revenue on R&D. Having clocked a turnover of USD 2.28 billion in FY2018, Apollo tyres, with an R&D center at Chennai in India, and at Enschede in the Netherlands, has 69 per cent of its revenues coming from India. Europe contributes 26 per cent. The other markets contribute the remaining five-per cent revenue.

With the design studio expected to provide a significant boost in terms of product proliferation, Apollo Tyres, according to PK Mohamed, Chief Advisor, R&D, is augmenting its abilities at various levels. “We have been upgrading our equipment on a constant basis,” he informed. Mohamed stated that the company spends every year on upgradation. Looking at elevating the (R&D) center to international levels in the next five years, Apollo Tyres, said Mohamed, “Is setting up a new design studio with various important aspects apart from visualisation. Through the design studio, the Cv tyre major is planning to utilise its digital prowess to increase productivity by a big margin. By setting up the design studio and further upgrading various R&D functions, the company is also looking at engaging talent. It will be increasing the R&D manpower over time.

Tyre engineering

By setting up a design studio within its R&D facility at Chennai, Apollo Tyres is aiming at a significant technology up-gradation. This is expected to help the company to indulge in a high level of tyre engineering. With an eye on many advanced markets of the world, the company is looking at a significant boost in all that it does. Said Mohamed, “There are three important aspects of a tyre – safety, comfort, and economy. The economy bit could be split into mileage and rolling resistance. The safety bit could be split into aspects like braking distance, traction, cornering, etc. The comfort bit could be split into mechanical and accosting comfort. If the three important aspects make a tyre a highly engineered part of an automobile, importance has to be given to technology.” Highly engineered with much involvement of technology, a tyre is a complex component indeed. It incorporates, according to Mohamed, specialised polymers to enhance safety. It also incorporates silica through a complex technological process called as tandem mixing. Apollo Tyres is claimed to be the only company in India to have tandem mixing technology.

Claimed to have invested Euro 24 million to acquire tandem mixing technology, the company, said Mohamed, has a specialised division for polymers. “There’s an extended division in the Netherlands as well,” he revealed. Stating that they have got a deep understanding of the safety aspect of the compound, Mohamed explained that inputs from India and the Netherlands are taken into account. Making highly safe tyres, the company has invested a lot in its plant in Chennai. Right from mixing to curing, Apollo Tyres, in order to reduce the acoustics and vibrations, is performing a considerable computer-aided simulation.” Much attention is being paid to the comfort aspect; to the mechanical comfort; the geometry of the tyre, and the precision of placement of the tyre. For the economy part, the rolling resistance of the tyre has been optimised such that the tyre would provide good mileage, traction, and less rolling resistance. Said Subhendra Baksi, Head, R&D PV (AMPEA), “On a tyre, there are around 16-18 components. There is much precision involved. Only around four to six inches of the tyre makes contact with the road. It is these four to six inches of contact patch that handles load transfer, braking, etc. A tyre is all about pure engineering. It is supported by chemistry.”

Stressing on the four megatrends — electrical, electronic, EVs and shared mobility — witnessed by the tyre industry that is also tackling technological challenges, Mohamed drew attention to the shift from a steam engine to an IC engine. He termed it as significant. In terms of speed, the tyre has to meet challenging requirements, he added. With the shift from the IC engine to electric systems, aspects like track, rolling resistance, noise, and durability are proving to be challenging, explained Mohamed. He stated that Apollo Tyres is well equipped to tackle such challenges and employs 220 people at the Chennai R&D center. The Enschede R&D center employs 180 people. Working on truck tyres with a focus on mileage and durability in mind, the tyre manufacturer is exploring nanomaterials. It is working with Mahatma Gandhi University and has got a patent on the subject. Having developed a nano-based compound, Apollo Tyres is looking at further developing it. It is looking for an amount of industrialisation.

The Indian scenario

Using silica tech to help the tyres that it manufactures to withstand the Indian rough road conditions, Apollo Tyres is fast shaping into a global entity where the teams at Enschede and Chennai work in close coordination. Supplying tyres to low as well as high-end vehicles, the company saw its winter tyre being rated as the number one tyre in the European markets. If this is any encouragement, the CV tyre manufacturer is closely following the rising radialisation of CV tyres in India. Of the opinion that the Indian customers look at mileage as compared to the European customers that look at traction, resistance, and mechanical comfort, Mohamed said, “There are several aspects regarding the rolling resistance of a tyre. These include sustained speed, driver habits, and inflation pressure.” Stressing on the need for good roads, Mohamed explained, “Truck radialisation is at 47 per cent in India. In the next 10 years, every vehicle will have radial tyres.” Drawing attention to a draft that has been approved by the government and is awaiting implementation, Mohamed expressed that Apollo Tyres is entering two-wheeler tyre manufacturer.

Manufacturing prowess

Setting up a new two-wheeler manufacturing facility at Baroda, Gujarat, Apollo Tyres is investing close to Rs.100 crore. Developing tyres that will address the needs of high-end vehicles, the company is looking at offering all types of tyres. The Baroda facility, once operational, will make 2000 tyres. The capacity will over time be ramped up to 4000 tyres. Selling close to three lakh tyres per month, Apollo tyres is chalking out an ambitious plan to expand its reach, and be found in all tyre segments,

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