Materials informatics providing Yokohama Rubber with new possibilities for rubber materials
In addition to developing a new, informatics-based tyre design technology, Yokohama Rubber says it has established a development technology for rubber materials based on materials informatics. The company expects this new technology will “dramatically raise the accuracy and speed of the development of rubber materials with unprecedented high-performance characteristics.”
The new technology combines the simulation technology that emerged from Yokohama’s research into rubber material design with data generated by its research on the design, processing, analysis and measurement of existing rubber materials. It also incorporates information and knowledge exploration using machine learning, or artificial intelligence.
A tyre’s performance is significantly influence by the characteristics of the rubber compound used, including the proportions of polymer/rubber and fillers, such as silica or carbon black, as well as how these are dispersed. In 2015, Yokohama Rubber developed a simulation technology for multi-objective design exploration of rubber materials that has enabled it to run predictive simulations of the mechanical properties of virtual rubber material models, such as elasticity and energy loss, across a vast design space, including various morphologies as design factors.
The new technology employs artificial intelligence to search through the vast amount of data arising from numerous simulation results. The use of artificial intelligence makes it possible to derive the morphological design factors critical to achieving the desired performance and the related thresholds (limitation values) in a short period of time and with a high degree of objectivity and quantitative accuracy.
In addition, Yokohama Rubber reports that by using the design and processing parameters of existing rubber materials and the results obtained from their analysis and measurement, the new development technology greatly improves the precision of material searches and thus reduces prototyping man-hours required by material development. The use of a new simulation technique (coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations) also makes it possible to analyse the mechanism by which the various design factors impact mechanical properties; Yokohama comments that this could lead to new development approaches in the future.
Giving an example of how the new technology has produced tangible benefits, Yokohama Rubber shares that it was utilised to simulate a rubber material that could overcome the contradiction of achieving both superior rolling performance and high wear resistance. Yokohama Rubber found that a filler radius smaller than the certain threshold value combined with a thinner than certain bound rubber layer formed on the filler’s surface delivered the desired result. In addition, coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations unveiled the mechanism by which a smaller filler radius increased rigidity while a thinner bound rubber layer reduced energy loss.
The use of information science such as artificial intelligence makes the field of materials informatics an effective means for searching for new and substitute materials and for estimating their performance. Material searches to date have relied on researchers’ experience and intuition, but this new materials development technology will facilitate a speedier discovery of new materials with the desired characteristics. Yokohama Rubber notes that research in materials informatics is being advanced at many levels in Japan, and similar projects are being promoted in many other countries, including the United States, China and some European nations.