You must know that tyres are one of the most crucial parts of an automobile, as they majorly command the final control and safety of your 2-wheeler. Auto enthusiasts know the importance of tyres when it comes to uncompromising performance which is a collaborating result of each and every component that goes into a vehicle, including tyres. But have you ever thought how tyres are made? How much engineering goes into making a basic tyre? Or what kind of tests a tyre goes through before being certified fit to use? This is exactly what we were invited to experience at the TVS Srichakra plant in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
Personally, I have never been to a tyre factory, even though I have often wondered how these rubber marvels are made. The TVS Srichakra plant we visited is located in the beautiful city of Madurai, which apart from having mesmerizing temples, also have a pleasing weather which is such a relief especially for the Delhi people like me who mostly choke on smoke and dust.
TVS Srichakra Limited is a part of the highly reputed TVS Group which is the largest auto ancillary group in India. The fact that the company produces 2.5 million tyres every month from both of its plants in India, and its pan India presence of over 3000 distributors and dealers, simply proves that they are one of the clear leaders in Indian two and three-wheeler tyre market. The company also exports various category of tyres including Motograder & Agricultural tyres, Skid Steer and Multipurpose tyres, Industrial Pneumatic tyres, and Farm and Implement tyres to over 70 countries all around the globe.
Inception of a new product begins as soon as demand arrives from the market. It can be of a kind already present that needs to be altered as per request, or it can be an all-new product specifically made for a new arrival in the motor market. Whatever the case may be, tyres are designed based on the purpose they serve. Whether it is a commuter, or for a high-performance motorcycle, the design and the tread pattern is determined based on its use. The ultimate tread pattern and design of the tyre is finalized only after rigorous studies and reports are done which also include examining various 3D designs of how the tyre is expected to look in its production avatar.
An aspect that might make tyre designing slightly tougher in India is the fact that Indian roads are abusive on tyres and suspension of a vehicle, unlike in the developed countries where roads are far flatter, free from undulations. Tyre makers have to take care of the fact that their products will have to go through far more abusive working conditions and hence coming up with products that can withstand such harsh roads, under comparatively warmer environment, balancing safety, performance, and economy at the same time, sure can be challenging.
As soon as raw materials are received from the TVS certified vendors, it goes through quality tests that are conducted taking random samples from the raw inventory. If any defects are detected during this initial stage, the entire raw material batch is canceled and sent back to the vendor, though it is rare.
Every different tyre requires a different mixture of compounds, depending upon its purpose. The percentage of each compound in the final composition is strictly tested and selected based on the R&D conducted far before, in the research stage. The mixture then goes through a number of production stages which gives the compound mixture sheet type shape. Specific parts of a tyre is made using these sheets. After the rubber is produced, it is further sent to the tire building machine as seen in the image below, where a skilled worker builds up the layers make a tyre. The product that comes out after this stage is called a ‘green tyre’ which is the penultimate form of a tyre. After which is goes through the curing process which is the process of applying pressure to the green tyre that gives it’s the final shape and strengthens the tyre material which have been soft till this time of manufacturing. After curing, it goes into moulds that draws tread patterns on it. The tyre is then kept inflated for quite some time that helps it retain its permanent shape, this process is known as Post Curing Inflation (PCI).
Talking about the quality assurance and implementation, the company has made sure to strictly exercise all the possible quality tests at various levels in both pre and post-production cycle. Aforementioned, not only is the raw material checked strictly in order to meet the manufacturing standards but also is the final product tested throughout to ensure high-quality standards, for example, out of the batch of finished products, a random unit is selected which runs on different tests (endurance tests, inflation tests, balancing test, bead test and more).
Real world track test:
The company has been working continuously to improve current products and at the same time launch new products as per the market demand. I also got a chance to put my hands on some of the brilliant products on a TVS Tyres test track located with a few kilometers of distance from the factory. The company also uses this track to rigorously put the upcoming products to its limits and thus improve. There are a number of tyres in the portfolio but below are the ones I got to test on the track.
Honda Activa: 90/100 – 10 (Conta 350 M), 90/100 – 10 (Conta 350 M);
KTM 390 Duke - 110/70 – 17 (Protorq CF), 140/70 – 17 (Protorq CR);
Honda Shine - 80/100-18 (ATT 525M), 80/100-18 (ATT 750K);
Bajaj Platina - 2.75.17 ATT 525 EUROGRIP, 3.00.17 ATT 525 EUROGRIP.
The best part about this test session was taking riding lessons from the super talented ex-Moto2 test rider, Hide Okamoto, who not only opened up about every bike-riding tip he could offer but also about how he has been involved with TVS Tyres over the years. Mr. Hide has been riding since the age of 17, and since has never looked back, has quite a number of feathers in his hat, from breaking several speeds records back in 2000s to competing in BAJA1000 World Championship.
Starting off with the Protorq CF and CR tyres on the KTM 390 Duke, I was happy to see that the tyre took no time in warming up and gaining good grip on asphalt. I was the first one to get my hands on it soon after Mr. Hide did a single lap on it to warm up the rubber. It was not hard to see the tyres were sticking to the ground brilliantly. I did not more than 2 laps of the track and the control it provided on the turn after turn was confidence inspiring. Talking about the Conta 350 M on Activa, I am happy to report that this is a good commuter focused tyre which should be comfortable to ride on, will provide good stability through corners, should be safe in terms of average braking speeds and will help in improving the fuel economy. Out of all, I did find that this tyre along with the rest I tested proved to be exceptional on the first two parameters, while the rest can only be further tested in the real world.