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Sensor kisses Tyres

They are the exotics amongst tyre developers: the employees in the Systems Development department. They install intelligence in the commercial vehicle tyres of Continental.

They sit at the table of the all-glass Skyroom in jeans, casual shirts and fleece jackets – through the window, the open foyer of the Tyre Research and Development Center of Continental in Hanover-Stöcken can be seen below. From time to time, a few colleagues come by and greet them – they all know each other here. Although the four system developers don’t really have all that much to do with tyres. They find electronics much more exciting – and how it can be used to teach commercial vehicle tyres to ‘speak’. The idea of ‘marrying’ an electronic sensor with the tyre is one they have had for many years. However, like any good marriage, there is also a lot of hard work involved in the development of a good product.

Should the sensor be equipped with a battery or not? And how can it be attached to the tyre so it is not in the way during fitting? As is the case in a software startup, project manager Adrian Cyllik and his colleagues worked as a kind of special unit within Research and Development on the ContiPressureCheck: a system that electronically measures the tyre pressure of truck tyres and warns the driver before a breakdown occurs. Countless ideas were developed and rejected again, umpteen individual components were fully tested, and endless specifications were written. A complex product emerged from this with three dozen components. Each part may appear trivial on the surface. However, everything is well thought out and perfectly coordinated.

With a headset and split screen

“Everyone dealt with their components but, of course, they always had to fit into the whole system,” Adrian Cyllik recounts. Close coordination was necessary to achieve this, whether this was with colleagues in their own department or from the other divisions of Continental, which delivered many of the components. “We often worked with headsets and a split screen on which we could see the work of our interlocutors,” according to the mechanical engineer with a doctoral degree. Even communication problems were solved in this way. When an Italian supplier did not understand a technical instruction concerning the software development from Hanover due to a lack of English skills, Siva Sankar Surisetti promptly took control of the mouse and translated his concerns into computer language. This young man from India studied automotive engineering in Germany, wrote his thesis at Continental, and never left.

This collegial exchange was also reciprocal. When unforeseen problems arose in several tests, some colleagues spontaneously arrived from Regensburg: Experts from the Body & Security department at Continental Automotive who work on the electronics systems of passenger cars. Cyllik’s team worked closely with them time and again on their mammoth project – culminating in a week of brainstorming when unexpected problems emerged shortly before the production ramp-up. And as it turned out, successfully. Shortly afterwards, the ContiPressureCheck system came onto the market. Since then, it has been installed in more and more trucks.

From the creative powerhouse into the outside world

“The experience of developing all the components for a system ourselves has shaped us,”Jörg Hanna says. The electrical engineering graduate is the architect of the ContiPressureCheck. He developed, implemented, and reviewed its functions, which are contained in the software. Hanna’s mission was, however, not yet fulfilled: Today, he helps customers of Continental around the globe to integrate the intelligent tire pressure monitoring system into their fleets. Unlike passenger cars that are already equipped ex-works with an automatic air pressure check, when retrofitting commercial vehicles, it is unknown precisely where the customer will position which components. Because every vehicle type is different. “Therefore, our solutions must be flexible,” Hanna explains.

Jörg Hanna gets his ideas from the outside world. Two years ago, for example, he visited a public transport bus operator. It was not worth integrating the ContiPressureCheck system into the buses because they returned to the yard every evening. Meaning it was still possible to measure the tire pressure manually – theoretically. However, on a practical level, it often took too long for the customer: removing the tire cap, applying the pressure gauge, and noting the measurement value... Hanna was able to convince him with the new handheld reader from Continental, a part of the ContiPressureCheck system. With this, the customer only needed a quarter of the time for the inspection, and he also no longer had to get his hands dirty.

Adhesive, magnet or what?

However, Jörg Hanna had another, much bigger idea: Each new tire is now to be equipped with a sensor; however, unlike with the ContiPressureCheck, there is no receiving or display unit on the vehicle, but merely a simple receiver in the operator’s yard that is connected to a small computer. And the customer can access the data within seconds from the comfort of his PC.

Good ideas from the system developers are also required to continue to improve the existing ContiPressureCheck components. “The installation must be as simple as possible in order to rule out sources of error from the outset,” Andrea Scher points out. The automotive engineer is the fourth member in the Systems Development department, and has worked at Continental for 20 years. He gives an example of optimizing the potential: “The supplied handbook explains how the rubber container for the sensor and the tire must be cleaned before they are joined with adhesive.” This is too complicated for some customers. Scher is investigating a simpler solution: Perhaps a magnet that is secured to the carcass, or a foam material holder that is firmly fixed in the tyre. Andreas Scher and his colleagues have a plethora of ideas. Finding the perfect solution is only a matter of time.