Meeting current, future needs
Smithers evaluates tires and wheels in Suzhou; Shawbury, England; and stateside in Ravenna, Ohio. The company offers product and hose testing in Suzhou; Shawbury; Lansing, Mich.; and at its Akron locations.
Tire testing abilities in Suzhou include endurance and high-speed analyses, plunger and bead unseating measurements, oven-aged durability testing, rolling resistance testing, air permeation testing, government compliance testing, burst testing and competitive benchmarking.
Wheel evaluations include radial, rotary, impact and corrosion analyses.
But there are unique capabilities at Suzhou that distinguish the facility, even from Smithers' other locations.
"When we moved to the new facility, we added some new capabilities," Read said, including a new slip and camber angle tire durability machine. "We also expanded our IPLR chamber to accommodate truck and bus tires in addition to passenger and light truck tires."
The new tire durability testing machine provides dynamic camber and dynamic slip angle controls from +/-5 degrees, with a maximum speed of 217 mph and a maximum testing load of 6,614 pounds.
The Suzhou facility increases Smithers' testing space in all three areas (tire, wheel and product), but specifically in product testing by about 90 percent, with the ability to measure pressure, vibration, temperature, fatigue, burst, leak, vacuum and impulse parameters.
"Our product testing lab is equipped to work with a large range of products," Read said. "Our team has significant expertise in automotive hoses and fluid transfer systems, including brake lines, fuel lines, coolant hoses and more."
There is no doubt that the onset of the electric vehicle revolution will change the testing requirements for Smithers once again, and the forward-looking company is preparing for that event horizon now.
On the heels of opening a medical device testing lab at its Akron headquarters, Smithers has done the same in grand scale overseas with Suzhou.
"We are in the process of evaluating and pursuing several testing capability and capacity investments to support EV-specific tires, hoses and fluid transfer systems," Read said. He added that these additional capabilities include dynamic ozone and low temperature endurance testing for tires and biaxial testing for wheels—additions the company said will be confirmed for customers as they are finalized.
Adapting to shifting industry
EV tires will be significantly different from their legacy, internal combustion engine counterparts, Read said, since the vehicles they support will weigh 20 to 30 percent more due to their battery-driven powertrains.
For manufacturers, this means EV tires must have a higher load carrying capacity while producing fewer carbon emissions.
"We expect to see the percentage of tires with XL ratings increase," he said. "Additionally, more weight on a tire generally leads to greater noise, so tire manufacturers are working toward reducing noise generated by the tire to ensure a more pleasant driving experience."
There is an oft-mentioned performance triangle for tires, between wear resistance, fuel efficiency and traction—and usually, each of these points on the triangle has an inverse relation to one or both of the others. When one is increased, another often decreases.
EVs will have higher vehicle torque, which means the tire, in concert with electronic stability control, calls for greater traction capabilities. Greater weight and torque means faster wear, which calls for higher abrasion resistance in tire treads.
"Lastly, improved vehicle range and fuel efficiency is a major priority of the EV industry as well as consumers," Read said. "The tire represents 20-30 percent of an electric vehicle's total energy consumption, which means optimizing the tire is a key strategy for improving fuel efficiency in EVs.
"OEMs are working to improve rolling resistance and aerodynamics of tires in order to maximize efficiency."
On the hose and brake line product side, the transition to electric vehicles has significant ramifications as well, Read said. To wit, a vehicle with a standard internal combustion engine commonly uses six different hose assemblies, whereas an electric vehicle only has three. In addition, EV hose systems are in a much different configuration—and not in the engine compartment as IC engine hose systems tend to be. Rather, EV hose systems run from the front of the vehicle, around the battery pack, to the rear of the vehicle.
"One of the most critical operations affecting electric vehicle performance is temperature management and energy consumption relative to those functions," he said. "Hoses play an integral role in maximizing efficiency and maintaining safe operating temperatures throughout the battery compartment."
Enter the need for a critical elastomer testing and certification company like Smithers, which can validate these EV operating conditions separately from legacy engine conditions.
"This makes for a much longer assembly and requires larger testing chambers and custom fixtures that can accommodate it," Read said.