Research and Development

The focal point of the Pirelli Group’s growth strategy is its capacity to innovate products and processes and assess new opportunities stemming from its continuing research activities.

The expenditures for R&D activities borne by the Group, and completely expensed to income since such expenditures do not meet the requirements for capitalization established by accounting principles, amount to Euros 156 million, equivalent to 3.3% of sales.

With regard to the tyre sector, which incurred costs equal to Euros 145 million, in addition to its traditional R&D work focusing on the development of new top-of-the-range products (e.g. UHP, Winter, Runflat, SUV and motorcycle tyres), increasingly, more attention is being paid to reducing environmental impact, by exploiting technological components and cutting-edge know-how. To achieve this, there has been intensive research in the area of materials, modeling, profiles, tread designs and processes.

The sphere of open innovation (technological cooperation between Pirelli, its most technologically advanced suppliers and customers and numerous universities around the world) resulted in some important discoveries in 2008. The Piedmont Region, the Province of Turin, the town of Settimo Torinese, the Politecnico University of Turin and the Pirelli Group signed a collaboration agreement with the aim of developing research and innovation programs under the project to build a new Pirelli industrial hub in Settimo Torinese. An important part of this activity will be achieved through the Politecnico University of Turin. In particular, according to the agreement, the new technologies on which Pirelli is focusing its research activities in the tyre sector will be introduced to the Settimo Torinese hub.

They include the latest generation of MIRS technology, a development of the robotized tyre-production process which guarantees high-quality and uniform products, TSM (Twin Screw Mixing), a new material compound process with a high level of quality and reliability, and the Cyber Tyre, the "intelligent" tyre of the future, equipped with sensors able to transmit useful information for driving and control of the vehicle. 2008 saw the first working prototypes of the Cyber Tyre, developed by a team of more than 80 engineers and researchers from some of the world’s leading electronics development companies and some of the most distinguished universities in the world (Berkeley, Politecnico University of Milan, Politecnico University of Turin).

Mounted on cars, these tyre prototypes demonstrated their capacity to relay important information to the driver and the vehicle’s control system: for example, the maximum friction available in an almost free-rolling situation (before braking). Furthermore, the foundations were laid for sealing strategic agreements with leading companies in the automotive segment to manufacture the electronic components of the Cyber Tyre on an industrial scale, and to develop new functions which will improve safety for car drivers and passengers.

The Pirelli Group and the Politecnico University of Milan signed an agreement to create a chair, funded along with five PhD research scholarships over a ten-year period, on the subject of “The Chemical Bases of the Technology of Rubber and Rubber Composites”. The aim of the new chair is to promote the study of innovative materials and the application of nanotechnologies to develop a new generation of tyres.

The Silvio Tronchetti Provera Foundation and the University of Shandong in Jinan in China signed a research agreement to study a new generation of "green" tyres. Researchers from the university will work together with the Pirelli Group’s R&D department in China to create tyres with low rolling resistance, in order to reduce vehicle fuel consumption.

This project fits into the framework of the Pirelli Group’s longstanding commitment to R&D activities to develop tyres that are ever-more environmentally compatible. The agreement between the Italian company and the Chinese university also includes two joint research initiatives with respective goals of realizing more consistent compounds and studying low-temperature tyre vulcanization.

In the sphere of car tyres, in 2008, Pirelli’s R&D department came up with two new products: the Cinturato and the Sottozero Serie II.

Thirty years after, the Pirelli Cinturato, a modern high-tech revisitation of the tyre that made history in the world tyre industry, is back on the market (manufactured in the P4 and P6 tread models) with new technological content. It is an environmentally friendly tyre (the side of the product is marked with the ECOIMPACT icons) with high performance and safety which, thanks to innovative technologies, offers:

  • lower fuel consumption: the new Cinturato tyres reduce rolling resistance - that is, the energy dissipated when the tyre rolls on a road surface - by 20%, ensuring lower fuel consumption and fewer CO2 emissions for the same level of performance. When the new Cinturato was being designed, Pirelli introduced innovative solutions covered by Pirelli patents for a new structure, compound and tread design);
  • a reduction of up to 4% in harmful emissions: in advance of the European regulations that come into force in 2010, Cinturato tyres have a tread with no aromatic oils, a critical factor for the environment especially in the dust generated as particulate, one of the main causes of urban air pollution; in fact, as the tread is consumed, it releases particles into the atmosphere containing potential pollutants;
  • better mileage: the compound used in the tread of the new Cinturato has been strengthened by elements such as silicon that improve the mileage of the tyre without compromising its road-holding properties. What’s more, the whole geometry of the tyre has been redesigned, from the sides to the tread, so as to balance rolling resistance, mileage and safety. This has improved the average mileage of the new Cinturato by 30% and, for the average motorist, is equivalent to changing tyres every four years instead of every three. It also means savings in terms of energy, raw materials and CO2 emissions in production;
  • an important contribution in terms of acoustic comfort thanks to the tread design which lowers the internal and external noise levels of the tyre.

The new Cinturato has been chosen as original equipment for the most popular models of leading automakers such as Fiat, Mercedes, Peugeot, Volkswagen and Seat.

Pirelli’s concern for the environment is matched by its concern for safety. The new Cinturato range has a tread design that gives better road-holding around curves in all weather conditions and ensures that the vehicle performs well on wet road surfaces, especially during braking, even in the case of small and medium-size vehicles.

During tests last summer when it first appeared on the market, the new Cinturato P4 proved to be by far the best in its category, passing even the most severe tests conducted by the German Automobile Club (ADAC). The test, conducted on 18 different models of tyres of different makes, saw the Cinturato P4 in first place in all five of the test parameters (resistance to wear, performance on dry and wet road surfaces, comfort and rolling resistance). It performed particularly well in the resistance to wear test, where it proved to be streets ahead of all of its competitors. The U.K.’s most popular and authoritative consumer magazine rated it as the best choice for people who intend to change their tyres.

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Breuberg, Germany - MIRS production process

On the other hand, the Sottozero Serie II, launched spectacularly on the Plateau Rosa glacier, is the new Winter tyre. In fact, the new series has considerably improved its performance in terms of aquaplaning, internal and external noise and handling on dry road surfaces.

The Ultra High Performance tyre for premium sports cars beat the competition hands down in the tests conducted by Auto Zeitung, Sport Auto, Sport Auto Tuning Spezial and Power Car which, unanimously, voted it the top tyre in the segment (4 unrivalled victories in the 4 tests devised by the German specialized press).

With regard to development, close collaboration continues with automobile manufacturers. A list of the final homologations obtained by Pirelli in 2008: the Alfa Romeo 8C Racing and Mito, the Bentley Arnage and GT Coupé, the Ferrari California, the Ford F150 pick-up and the new versions of those all-American cars, the Ford Mustang and the GM Camaro, the new Jaguar XK, the new Lamborghini Gallardo (presented at the Geneva International Motor Show), the Mercedes GLK, and many other top models made by Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Fiat, Lancia, Land Rover, Peugeot, Porsche, Saab, Seat, Volkswagen and Volvo.

In the sphere of motorcycle tyres, Pirelli launched the Diablo Rosso in the ‘Hypersport’ segment, also the Racetec Interact (under the Metzeler brand), the Diablo Scooter, the Scorpion Trail (a new on-road tyre for Enduro motorbikes, designed specially for asphalt, yet maintaining the excellent off-road performance of its predecessor, with a new revolutionary tread design), and the Night Dragon for the Custom segment, presented at the Daytona Bike Week.

In the sphere of Truck tyres, Pirelli launched the Gommoncino (thus called because of its broad, low profile): the new ultra low FH85 Amaranto designed for directional axles on long-distance haulage trucks, offering increased capacity per axle in terms of volume and load.

Other activities in the Tyre sector include the completion of a feasibility study about recycling reject tyres generated by the various factories. The aim is to analyze whether or not the recovery of energy and/or the materials that can be reused in the production of similar tyres is economically viable.

Various processes and the investments they would require are being assessed, together with the quality and performance in compound of products recovered from scrapped material.

In real estate, R&D activities focused on supporting ‘Eco-building’, that is, erecting buildings with a high standard of environmental sustainability, quality and efficiency in terms of energy consumption. Efforts focused on the following areas:

  • using materials from renewable sources, with the identification and possible development of products containing natural and renewable materials with low environmental impact that have been or can be recycled;
  • rubber in self-compacting concrete, through a study program to establish the mechanical properties of matrices containing rubber granules derived from end-of-life tyres.

Pirelli Labs has developed and patented a product for acoustic insulation from footfalls/overhead noise. This product is made with recycled rubber (made from end-of-life tyres) and a special water-based binder, called SILEREX™ (a Pirelli patent).

SILEREX™ guarantees excellent acoustic performance and, since it is made with materials with a low environmental impact, will contribute significantly to the development of sustainable, environmentally-friendly building.

On September 1, 2008, Pirelli signed an agreement with the company Project for Building S.p.A. in which Pirelli granted a non-exclusive license for the industrial exploitation of this product.

As far as other businesses are concerned, development continued of a system of intelligent antennas for wireless video systems within the sphere of broadband access. One of the advantages of this type of antenna is the high degree of integration and improved radio coverage. Another significant element is the fact that the system consumes less energy, due to the presence of sectorized antennas which do not have omni-directional propagation.

The campaign involving the measurement of photovoltaic systems based on different technologies installed at the Telecom Italia telephone exchange at Naples Barra was completed. The work was conducted within the sphere of the partnership with the ENEA Research Center at Portici and Telecom Italia.

Pirelli is involved in the development of a solar tracker which will be larger than the first prototype. While maintaining its low visual impact, it will also be suitable for land installations of conventional photovoltaic modules in large-scale photovoltaic plants.

In parallel, CPV (concentrated photovoltaic power) has been selected as the high-efficiency innovative technology on which to focus development. This technology has high potential to reduce costs compared to consolidated photovoltaic technologies. Photovoltaic cells are used with an efficiency rating of up to 40% but with surface areas that are 500 to 1000 times less, thanks to the use of low-cost plastic lenses.