Automobiles are complex structures, made up of several different parts that contribute to the long-term functioning and efficiency of the system. From the gearbox to the engine, to the steering and suspension, to brakes, and more, each part of the vehicle serves a certain purpose.
Arguably one of the most important components of a vehicle is the tires. Tires are the parts the connect the vehicle to the surface and play a key role in making vehicles stop, steer, and move.
Considering the prominence of the components in a vehicle, the internal structure of a tire is of great importance, given that it is responsible for the strength and reinforcement of the tire. Tires are made of several different layers. The first is the outer layer that comes into contact with the road surface, known as the tread, which has imprinted patterns that help maintain vehicle directionality and maximize braking and cornering performance. Next comes the carcass, which acts as the skeleton of the tire’s insides, and holds the weight of the vehicle. The carcass is overlapped by tire cords, which secure the tire to the wheel, and are wound together at the end of the last part, the bead.
Tire cords and tire fabrics especially are key reinforcing materials for the tires and are designed to maintain the quality of the tires and improve durability. In earlier days, cotton was a prominently used cord fabric in vehicle tires. However, modern tire cord materials include rayon, nylon, polyester, and steel, among others. These materials offer several beneficial properties such as controlled deformation, high tensile strength, and abrasion resistance, which have contributed to their use as core components in the global tire cord and tire fabrics market in recent years.
Steel continues to garner interest as the preferred tire cord material
Steel first began to draw attention as a cord material in the late 1930s, when Michelin developed the first tire with steel cord plies for large buses and trucks, in order to reduce the ply-count of the tire whilst maintaining optimum strength. This development enabled the reduction of ply-counts to the two-to-four range, which in turn contributed to a significant drop in heat generation and resulted in prolonged tread life.
Over the years, radial tires began to gain popularity even in passenger vehicles. As the adoption of these tires began to rise, so did the demand for steel cords. Given that steel has higher tensile strength than rayon or nylon, the material quickly became the core tire cord material for radial tires, which require great tensile strength. Studies suggest that the production of steel cords and tire bead wires in South Korea crossed over 223.8 thousand metric tons in 2019.
Steel cords are made predominantly from strands of high-strength carbon steel and are used in the reinforcement of radial tires. These steel cords are a combination of many think wires, designed to improve the shock absorption capabilities of the tire, whilst ensuring optimum passenger comfort. Furthermore, the use of high-grade steel in tire cords can help the tire withstand high levels of stress, thereby enhancing the safety and stability of the vehicle during driving.
Strategic initiatives among industry players open up lucrative growth prospects for the tire cord and tire fabrics industry
Many key players in the global tire cord and tire fabrics market are implementing a range of organic and inorganic growth strategies to strengthen their position in the global business landscape, as well as to create new opportunities for the development of advanced tire fabrics.
To illustrate, Indorama Ventures Public Co Ltd joined hands with Jet Investment in 2018, to acquire the largest producer of tire cord fabrics in Europe, Kordárna Plus. The deal included one production site each in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, leading to a combined tire cord and tire fabrics production capacity of more than 57,000 tonnes annually.
Likewise, in May 2020, global materials solutions provider Trinseo completed its acquisition of Synthomer plc’s VP latex (vinyl pyridine latex) business. VP latex is one of the main ingredients in tire cord fabric binders and is responsible for creating a strong bond between the rubber and the tire cord during the manufacturing process. The deal included the transfer of customer lists, product recipes, and other intellectual property associated with Synthomer’s tire cord binders business to Trinseo.
Burgeoning interest in environmentally friendly and bio-based alternatives for conventional cord materials
Proliferating concerns regarding GHG emissions across the globe, alongside the rapid depletion of natural resources owing to expanding consumer demands, is prompting the tire cord and tire fabrics industry to work towards developing more sustainable options for tire reinforcement in recent years.
Modern passenger car tires consist largely of tire cords made from polyamide 6.6, which is derived from 100% fossil sources. In order to address this, PHP Fibers initiated a research project to find sustainable alternatives to polymer materials for tire reinforcement. In the study, PHP found bio-based polyamide polymers PA 6.10, PA 10.10, and PA 4.10 to be suitable candidates. These polymers contain sebacic acid, which is a dicarboxylic acid derived from castor oil, as a key building block in their molecular structure.
Upon investigation, these bio-based polyamide polymers showed distinct advantages over their fossil-based counterparts, in the form of less moisture pickup, lower density, and low to negative emission of carbon dioxide.