At the Cutting Edge
construction of the Grand Prix tyres is in Akron, Ohio, Goodyear’s Technical Centre in Luxembourg is the nerve centre of a global operation that oversees research and development in every country of the world with the exception of the North American continent. Despite being thousands of miles apart, the liaison between the two centres is very close. Long gone are the days when each Goodyear satellite was separated by a crackling telephone line, lengthy postal sevices and the intermittent cable, for nowadays there is instantaneous communication between every continent via desk-top compute’ terminals. The Luxembourg Centre was opened in 1959 and is situated beside one of the half dozen Goodyear tyre manufacturing plants in Europe. It rapidly outgrew its early capacity of acting as a technical support for the European market and soon took on the responsibility of product development, manufacturing support and training for all 43 manufacturing plants outside
the USA and Canada.
Naturally research into compounds is one of its core functions, and indeed it is very strong in the whole area of polymer development, but that is not its sole role. Contrary to public opinion, tyres are a high tech product forming an important part of any vehicle whether it be passenger car of earthmover, juggernaut or jumbo. No matter how advanced the vehicle is, its only contact with the road is through those small patches of rubber which amount to only a few square inches at any given time. It is the efficiency of those points of contact upon which so much depends and into which Goodyear applies so much research. While one department of engineers concentrates on designing new tread patterns using three dimensional computer models capable of pinpointing every aspect of the design, other members of the staff are working on compounds, sidewall structures, durability, roll stiffness etc, all pushing the boundaries of tyre technology to keep pace with ever more complex vehicles
they have to fit. The role of the tyre does not end there however, for as far as Goodyear is concerned, the day is not far off when it will be an integral part of a car’s information-gathering system, expanding well beyond its present role as a safety and energy-absorbing component.
It is in this pioneering area that motor racing, and Grand Prix racing in particular, is providing once again useful feedback. While Akron is the source of Goodyear’s racing tyres, all the information is fed across to Luxembourg so that everything relevant can be fed to the engineers working on the next generation of road-use tyres. Better tyre heat resistance and the development of the low profile tyres for high performance cars are just two recent spin-offs.
The Eagle VR, for example, is one such tyre which has evolved with the knowledge gained from track experience. Developed initially as a Formula One race Lyre, it was adapted to fit the Chevrolet Corvette. Such was its success on that model that it became a trendsetter not just in the United States, but in Europe as well.
The amount of information in Goodyear’s data bank in the States is now quite staggering with regard to racing, Formula One in particular. The details of all the teams which run on Goodyears are carefully logged and the cars ‘tested’ on a computer simulator around three dimensional circuits. There is nothing like the real thing, however, to prove a tyre’s compound, which is why Goodyear continually hold tyre testing days throughout the year, regardless of the season. Contact with Goodyear users is very close indeed, but the use of a telemetry system within any
car, so as to be able to trace a tyre’s performance as it circumnaviagtes the track, has not yet been installed. Although a thermo-vision camera is in laboratory use, the equipment at present is too bulky and therefore too impractical for everyday use. As soon as the cameras are developed into smaller units, they will doubtless be installed on various cars. With this knowledge, and the experience gained from years of producing tyres, Goodyear would like to have an even closer relationship with car manufacturers. As Walt Curtiss, General Director of the Luxembourg Technical Centre puts it: “Historically designers have said ‘hey, we need tyres’ and the tyre companies have had to rush them a product to fit. It may not have been the most ideal to bring out the car’s virtues and it certainly has not been the most efficient way of doing things. The whole thrust nowadays is to levelop a capability where we can really get into bed, so to speak, with the manufacturer at the prototype stage. With mathematical models we can begin to play ‘what if games and prepare a better optimisation package at a point before the tooling and
experimental work is undertaken and we would let them have the same facility so they can call-up our tyres. We can then get together and decide on the combination. That, however, is quite a long way down the road, but it will be of real value to the automotive people and Goodyear are at the leading edge of that capability.
“We have more success with smaller companies, such as with Ferrari, Lotus, Porsche, where we’ve had a long relationship, than with the larger companies where the approach has been ‘you know about tyres, and we know about cars’. You have to develop some credibility where they believe that you know what you are talking about. You have to go through phases and then you have to demonstrate that you have the tools. We’ve been going through that with many different companies.
“At the moment they use a base tyre, like our new NCT-2 for example, which is so good that it is ideal for any vehicle. There may be some construction and compound changes, but otherwise it is perfect.” Other problems component suppliers have to face is that most manufacturers today keep their stock down to a bare minimum. This “just in time” policy together with the decreas ing time span between new models bring their own
pressures, and yet they are ones that Goodyear relish being well positioned to cope with these demands, being “well ahead of the game” according to Curtiss. In the quest for further information, over half a million miles a year are logged by the Centre. Apart from their own fleet of vehicles, commercial
operators are contracted to run on Goodyear rubber who compile comprehensive reports while the Company itself employs racing drivers to test the tyres to the limit on its own test tracks situated in both Luxembourg and in the south of France. Despite its name the Technical Centre does not just limit itself to technology, but also provides the Company with a strategic and political overview. Obviously the opening up of western Europe in 1992 is the subject of minute scrutiny, but
so too are the Japanese and, most recently, the developments in the Iron Curtain countries with all the implications. Located where it is, the Technical Centre has a very cosmopo litan composition. At present, for example, people from 33 different countries are working alongside each other providing “a real pot of synergy” according to Curtiss, who then goes on to say that: “The key is to bring everything together in a system that is really going to bring some
efficiency and some improved effectiveness. That’s what we focus on here at the Technical Centre.” There is no doubt that not only is Goodyear at the forefront
of technology on the race tracks of the world, it is also at the cutting edge in every aspect of its industry.
Letters, June 2011
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