Looking into the Future of the Tire Industry - International Elastomers Conference

By: Kedar Murthy

In October, Glenn and I attended the International Elastomers Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. This conference marked the second industry show the Lehigh team visited after being acquired by Michelin Groupe France.

The annual event remains popular, with over 1,500 attendees making their way through the exhibitions and technical paper presentations. There was a mood of cautiousness by many due to recent China trade tariffs and an impending slowdown in the US automotive market. I was interviewed by reporters from Rubber and Plastics News and European Rubber Journal to help clarify Michelin’s acquisition strategy and our plans going forward.

Michelin acquired Lehigh in October 2017, and since then, it has been a great honor to be part of the world’s leading tire company. Michelin has a renewed vision, and recently branded themselves as a sustainable mobility company”. The company is serious about solving the world-wide end-of-life (ELT) tire problem. Its view maintains that there should be multiple options and markets for reuse of ELT tire rubber. Bringing old tires into new tires is a real concept, being practiced by seven of the top ten tire companies in fifteen countries and forty-six tire plants, with Michelin planning to extend this to all its plants as well as make micronized rubber powder (MRP) a standard ingredient in global tire development.

This begs a burning question: “Will Michelin allow Lehigh to sell MRP to the other tire companies?” And the answer is YES - this is a key part of Michelin’s future strategy. In fact, there is a lot of interest by smaller and medium-sized tire companies in adopting MRP around the globe to drive cost reduction. The use of MRP will allow a tire company to reduce its compound cost by 30-40 percent without compromising safety and performance but many tire companies are still unable to understand this simple value proposition. Michelin does!

At 194th Technical Meeting co-located with the International Elastomers Conference, Peter Hetzel of Michelin North America, delivered a presentation titled, “Micronized Rubber Powder A High Value Sustainable Solution.” He reiterated what was revealed during this year’s Movin’ On event: Michelin is using MRP to help meet its 2048 sustainability goals, which include 80 percent usage of sustainable materials in new tire production. Peter noted that Michelin’s purchase of Lehigh Technologies allows the tire manufacturer to better leverage the advanced technology that Lehigh offers its customers. Peter also discussed three compound design studies during the presentation, all of which were focused on 20 percent loadings over formula weight:

  • When evaluating MRPas opposed to conventional reclaim materials in tread and sidewall compounds, MRP offers tire improvement performance properties. Compounds containing MRP exhibited significant improvements in hysteresis, fatigue life, and tensile properties over those containing reclaim. The study also cited a 15 percent improvement in tire wear with the use of MRP.
  • Michelin conducted research on MRP particle size effects on tread compound performance evaluating products produced with 30 mesh, 30-80 mesh and 80 mesh screens. Results indicated significant improvements in stress-strain properties with the finer particle size 80 mesh product (Lehigh’s PolyDyne 80).
  • In the third evaluation of MRP, truck tire tread performance parameters were evaluated comparing the reference compound to compounds containing 20 percent 80 mesh MRP with and without compound adjustments. Michelin concluded that with formula adjustments and comparable wear, rolling resistance and wet traction could be achieved versus their reference compound.

We would like to thank Michelin and Peter for their presentation that further represents independent customer validation of the research done at the Lehigh Technologies Applications Development Center. As we have done in the past, we remain committed to assisting all our tire and rubber customers with the successful implementation of micronized rubber in their products for improved sustainability and reduced cost.