SEOUL, South Korea—Artificial intelligence is allowing Hankook Tire & Technology Co. Ltd. to drastically cut tire compound development times.
A new approach, called the Virtual Compound Design System, provides what the company calls "predictive models for tire compound properties" in a program that can cut the development process in half, the tire maker said.
"The purpose of the current VCD is to help researchers develop compounds more efficiently. VCD systems are constructed to give compounding recommendations to the developers, which helps them with the first-round verification process," Bon Hee Ku, senior vice president, chief technology officer and head of research and development at Hankook Tire & Technology, wrote in a recent email.
"The information is then passed back to the VCD after the actual compounding, which is also then processed by the AI system as part of the big data. So, as data continues to grow, artificial intelligence will become smarter, leading ways to new possibilities to support the entire research development process," he wrote.
VCD predicts compound characteristics and determines the "most optimal combination of materials through artificial intelligence analysis," Hankook explained. This approach uses data, rather than actual testing, to help create tire compounds.
Consumers might take tires for granted, but creation is not easy. That includes the development of tire compounds, which combines more than 15 different materials, Hankook said, including natural rubber, synthetic rubber and carbon black.
Different tire compounds have different characteristics depending on variables including temperature, facilities, how materials are combined, the ratio of materials and pressure, the company said.
And with those variables, typical compound development can take anywhere from six months to three years using a traditional approach.
If artificial intelligence is introduced in the process, that time can be cut in half.
VCD uses what Hankook calls a 'digital twin' of real-life objects to test and develop compounds. Cloud computing platforms including Amazon Web Services and TensorFlow from Google are used.
Work on the project dates to 2015 and began as an internal effort. After progress, the company then started collaborating with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology last year to advance the effort. That cooperation saw a significant improvement on data analysis accuracy, which the company indicated is now more than 95 percent.
"This year, we are doing test runs with various compound developers and will improve the AI system based on feedback. Starting next year, we will gradually apply the AI system into our actual compound development process. We plan to complete our Virtual Compound Design technology by 2023 and it will be an essential part of the tire development process," Bon wrote.
VCD, he noted, "allows us to efficiently approach compound development, saving time and money. Our developers are always testing various compounds to create optimal products for our stakeholders. By applying Virtual Compound Design, they will be able to test their theories and create samples more efficiently, allowing them to dive more deeply into their research."
Now that Hankook has proven success in using artificial intelligence in tire compounding, the company plans to expand that approach to the entire tire development process. That includes material selection, design, testing and production. The company also sees a future in using "data-based innovative technologies based on accumulated data throughout the tire industry ecosystem."
While the tire company is looking to AI to advance its development approach, Bon believes there always will be a need for the human element in the process.
"While Hankook is a future-oriented company dedicated to innovative technology, our core values are rooted in tradition, so we believe there is a need for both," he wrote.
"Our top priority is always to develop and deliver the safest products for our customers. The value of VCD is that it adds efficiency to our current work, and we will continue to use the latest technologies available to enhance future research projects," Bon wrote. "At the end of the day, we believe that incorporating both future and tradition is still the smartest way to go."
Hankook, in early April, indicated the implementation of an automatic inspection system based on artificial intelligence technology and digital sensor at a car and truck tire factory in Geumsan, South Korea.