For global tyre major Michelin, India seems to grow in importance not only as a market but also as a global engineering base. Dr Arun Jaura, who took on the role of managing director, Michelin India Technical Centre recently, tells Autocar Professional's Sumantra B Barooah about the current and potential future role of the tech centre and trends in the tyre industry.
What are the key roles of Michelin's India tech centre?
One of the key visions of the Group is to be close to the customer and close to the region where we serve the marketplace. With that in mind, we have we have our research and engineering place here in India. We serve not only Asia but also Africa and the Middle East from here.
At this point, the idea is to support the bus and truck market that we have and the plant in Chennai. I think the important thing for us as a company and as a Group is we want to be able to provide service and solutions for our customers in terms of improvement in mobility and also look at sustainable mobility solutions as a Group.
We have also inaugurated a materials laboratory in June 2017. This lab, spread across 3,800 square metres, is where we carry out a lot of materials research that is relevant not only to the region but also to other markets.
How big is the India tech centre team currently, and how is the facility likely to evolve?
The way it was done was we did a lot of hiring from the Indian ecosystem. We then sent our engineers overseas for training. We sent them to the USA and Europe for long-term stints because the tyre industry is a very specific process- and material-oriented and it's also that a lot of materials/ mechanics go into tyres. Knowing just the mechanics and the materials individually doesn’t help; what is important is knowing the interaction between these things.
We recruited a number of engineers from premier institutes in India, we took them overseas and trained them. In 2015, we officially inaugurated the engineering base here in India. We have big plans to grow obviously because the market is growing and our activities are growing. Right now, we support Michelin plants in China, Chennai and Thailand.
When would the activities here go beyond commercial vehicle tyres to include passenger vehicle tyres too?
We have seven centres globally and all of them conduct research in engineering in all verticals. It's a matter of time where we will also start touching other segments. As we expand the scope and also the activities here, we will be growing to other segments for sure.
What are the new trends in the tyre industry, and new technology advancements at Michelin?
Our (Michelin's) DNA is essentially safety, fuel economy, reliability and sustainability. If you look at our tyres, we have the best radials and low- rolling resistance tyres.
As a company, we spend a lot of effort on R&D and testing. Close to 1.8 billion kilometres is the cumulative distance that our tyres are tested for every year. To put it in perspective, it's equivalent to going around the world every 12 minutes!
This scale is also there in terms of the number of different certified measurements and testing that we do – we conduct about 700 tests on every tyre. We actually perform both these analyses at a nanometric scale and we do tests on tyres. Specific to India and Asia, the big emphasis, of course, is towards fuel economy.
One of the big trends in the tyre industry, even at Michelin, is moving towards connected tyres. Connected tyres are something that we really go far ahead, not just connecting amongst the data that we capture but also the data for the user, driver, and the consumer. He or she can actually estimate what is happening in the tyre, and when it's time for rotation, replacement. TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System) was a big trend in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In connected tyres, you can do a lot more, including measuring the tread wear level.
(This interview was first published in the November 1, 2017 print edition of Autocar Professional)