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Interview: Takayoshi Omae, Yokohama

Latest moves from convention-challenging Yokohama include orange oil compounds, an aggressive runflat development program and investment in R&D capabilities.

 

By John Challen

 

The Yokohama Rubber Company was founded as a joint venture between Yokohama Cable Manufacturing and BF Goodrich in 1917. Arguably the company’s biggest successes have been achieved in North America – a market it entered in 1969 – one of them being the rise of the ADVAN brand, which is now also used in Japan.

The company has built a reputation within the tire industry for advanced research and development, and speaks openly about looking at problems from a different angle to its competitors in search of the optimal solutions. One example of this approach is in compound development, where Yokohama has pioneered what it calls orange oil. “Orange oil is characterized by its function to make rubber more flexible, reducing rolling resistance, while increasing performance on different road surfaces,” says the company’s Takayoshi Omae.

It combines oil extracted from orange peels with fine silica and a blend polymer to form a nano-blend compound, which has had some impressive results when applied to development tires. The latest product to use the technology is the BluEarth-1, which was debuted late 2011 and is now available in the USA, Europe and Japan.

Another recent innovation from Yokohama is the Airtex advanced liner. This material adds a special resin to the conventional inner-liner rubber, the result being an impermeable and flexible product that is said to be one-fifth the thickness of conventional equivalents, helping to reduce overall tire weight. “This liner better controls reductions in air pressure, naturally reducing the amount of air that leaks from the tire, and also aids fuel efficiency and durability,” continues Takayoshi. “We intend to employ these technologies as widely as possible in high-value-added goods in the future, paying particular attention to the eco tire market.”

Elsewhere runflats are a key part of Yokohama’s future development strategy. “At our company, the development of runflat tires has a long history,” he explains. “One of the latest products in this area is a studless winter tire, which we launched last year in Japan. Special absorption rubber, made possible using our own compounding techniques, improves the tire’s performance on ice, and enhances dry and wet grip through excellent ground contact, conveying a sense of durability and rigidity. Our polymer technology can maintain the softness of the rubber, and it also allows our studless tires to perform effectively for the longest possible time.”

Takayoshi states that Yokohama plans to further reinforce activities for the development of runflat tires, believing it to be key to growth on a global scale. “Presently, market share of our runflat tires is low, but we expect demand for replacement tires with reinforced sidewalls to grow,” he explains.

Rolling resistance is now a hot topic in tire development, and an area where the company’s compound work is paying dividends, says Takayoshi. “With our proprietary compound technology including Orange Oil, we have managed to develop tires that have a good balance between reduced rolling resistance and improved wet grip,” he claims. “In addition, structural improvements have made a difference, such as the use of low heat rubber for individual parts.”

Like other areas of tire development, there are other companies working on this type of rubber, but Yokohama has its own agenda. “The key property of hysteresis rubber is that it generates very little heat. Because of that, hysteresis rubber is used for parts easily generating heat or where heat generation should be controlled,” explains Takayoshi. “I can’t identify specific parts because they are different depending on the type of tire. For example, however, use of hysteresis rubber for tire treads can control heat generation, reducing rolling resistance and improving fuel efficiency.”

Yokohama will also be investing further in its tire testing facilities. “We have two proving grounds in Japan, which are used during in summer and winter, respectively, as well as a proving ground in Thailand, which we are planning to expand,” says Takayoshi, who adds that the company also conducts tire evaluation at the Nürburgring circuit in Germany, and sites in Spain. “Thailand has been playing an important role for manufacturers as a production location, and as the infrastructure has become established, automotive manufacturers also are starting development work in the country.” He also points to the fact that the Far Eastern market for replacement tires is also expected to grow in the near future. “Thailand offers a good location for access to the Asian market, and a good workforce for development is becoming increasingly available.”

In parallel, simulation programs continue to be improved in Yokohama’s labs. “The evaluation of tires should involve human senses, not computers,” he affirms. “We are endeavoring for even more accurate simulations of tire properties based on the predictions we make, and increase analysis by super computer. We are conducting improvements to a variety of our simulations programs. In BluEarth-1, we used aerodynamic simulation for tire periphery, which helped us adopt a dimple design in tire wall. We are now looking at employing more dimple side designs and tread patterns to help reduce external vehicle noise.”

 

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