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BPS developing new drum for bias aircraft tires

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BPS Engineering's Mark Byerley

AKRON—BPS Engineering L.L.C. is near completion on the development of a retracting flange drum to help automate part of the production process for building some aircraft and heavy industrial tires.

The Greenback, Tenn.-based firm has been working with an unnamed tire maker to develop the drum for use in making bias aircraft tires that are fitted mainly on corporate jets, said Mark Byerley, BPS vice president of research and development, along with technical sales.

The drums currently used in making these tires typically date back 50 years or more, Byerley said in discussing the project during the International Tire Exhibition & Conference for Tire Manufacturing, held Sept. 9-11 in Akron.

“It is old, literally antique technology,” he said. “The tire builder is taking the tire and parts of the drum off and laying it on a table. Then he has to put them back on the drum for the next build.”

These are among the most difficult tires to build as the tires can have from eight to 16 plies and in most cases have dual and triple beads. Unlike a passenger car tire, where a fully automatic drum comes down and the carcass comes right off, these aircraft tires are still made using manual processes.

But Byerley said this can change once BPS Engineering's patent-pending retracting flange drum is ready to be put to use. The tire building drum, he claimed, can narrow its width, and then collapse out of the tire automatically in about 25 seconds, compared to the several minutes it takes with the present manual designs. This new technology will eliminate five steps currently done manually.

“The drum is very simple, but its collapse ratios are in the 1.4 range, which is unheard of in this type of tooling,” the BPS executive said. “For people like me who sit around thinking about tire machine tooling, this is close to the Holy Grail. I tend to feel this is a tribute to all of those souls manually assembling these types of tires.”

Bridgestone Corp., Michelin and Goodyear make these types of aircraft tires, along with some other manufacturers. Though the market is small, Byerley said there are multiple suppliers because some of the tires are used on U.S. aircraft, so there needs to be at least two vendors.

He also termed these tires as a “have to” market, because new specification tires can't be fitted on the jets without going through a complete requalification with the Federal Aviation Authority.

BPS has been working with one of the Big Three tire makers on the project for about the past year, but he declined to name which one. “The opportunity presented itself, and on this occasion we thought we had a way to fix it,” Byerley said. “In the past we didn't know how to do it. But by combining some features off of other drums and mechanisms, we learned a way to make this drum work.”

When the potential customer saw what has been accomplished thus far, he said officials were pleased. It still isn't ready for actual production yet, but should be by year's end. One thing left to be accomplished is placing a special coating on the outside of the drum to keep the tires from sticking.

In the end, Byerley said it won't be entirely ready for production until it's put in actual production to see if it works. “Even though it's run in trials, until you get the pressure of the build cycle on it, you really don't know if you have it fixed.”

Once the new drum is working on the bias aircraft tires, that can lead to other applications, including some heavy industrial tire lines used in such things as underground mining tires used in long wall coal mining. “With this type of movement, others can look at these designs and possibly apply them to other difficult tires,” he said.

BPS Engineering employs 19 and has seen healthy growth in the past several years, he said. All of the new tire plant and expansion projects have helped, as he said even some of the main tire machinery builders are using BPS tooling in some instances.