"Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops."
—Henry Brooks Adams
AKRON—Jerry Potts has always appreciated this quote, and it says something about the former president of Test Measurement Systems Inc. that academics are as important to him as business.
With more than five decades in the tire testing industry, 30 of them at TMSI in Akron (the company began in 1991), Potts retired this year to focus on GRP Dynamics L.L.C., a technical and business consulting firm in tire and vehicle testing.
The former president of the Tire Society remains in the classroom at the University of Akron as well, offering Introduction to Tire Mechanics to students as he has for the last 46 years. He has seen generations go through his classroom, watching students turn from newbies to industry retirees.
"We've touched base with all those generations in teaching tire mechanics, where many students came in as newbies," Potts said. "They get our point of view on tire technology, how the industry is going and where technologies are moving.
"We emphasize knowledge in differential equations—they don't think they need that, but they do. We have influenced their thinking and the thinking in the industry."
Now his students span all levels of the tire industry, from sales and executive veterans to retirees.
Students disappeared with the onset of the pandemic, so the class has not been taught recently, though Potts said he hopes to return to teaching two to three classes per year.
"I enjoy both the professional and the academic side," Potts said. "I pursued advanced degrees to become a teacher and professor. On the tech side, I became more and more interested especially in research and development."
Research and development is the interface of academia and industry, Potts said, whose work has always angled toward testing as it relates to a tire systems and control relationship.
TMSI made large-scale testing equipment for the rubber and auto industry, multi-million dollar machines that are 60-feet long and test tire components and tires themselves using plank angles to analyze slipping, cornering force and handling performance.
This is the sort of extensive tire testing equipment that is employed in all types of air bag and crash test dummy analysis.
His current company, GRP Dynamics, is on the consulting side now. Potts also previously worked at MTS Systems, renowned in the tire testing equipment industry.
Growing up in the Midwest, Potts attended university first at Wichita State University from 1961 to 1966, earning a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. He then attended Kansas State University, where he obtained a master's degree and doctorate degree in mechanical engineering.
What drew him to the tire testing side early on were motorcycles.
"The first thing you hit with tires is a bump," Potts said. "I think it was probably motorcycles that drew my interest initially. From age 14 and on I've been interested and played with motorbikes. In high school and college I rode to school on a motorcycle.
"And it always confounded me that it vibrated so badly. The more I learned, the more I became intrigued with vibrations and bump transitions."
In 1970, Potts started working for Firestone in research and development where he furthered his knowledge of tire testing.
Now, his customers chiefly are OEMs (coming to his consulting firm through tire companies in some cases) who wish to establish some kind of testing regimen. Customers come from across the globe, with an increasing number from a burgeoning tire industry in India.
"The middle class wants cars, and the industry is growing there," Potts said.
When Potts entered the tire industry, he said he considered it to be "safety pin technology"—as if it did not ever need to change.
"But over time, it keeps improving and it keeps changing," Potts said. "It is not revolutionary, but it is evolutionary. Property-wise, rolling resistance and lifespans are getting better."
And Potts said changing tire technology means the industry will remain as accepting as ever to engineers of all backgrounds.
"People getting into the industry may think they have nothing to do," he said. "But they do. Researchers and developers have something to achieve. As the vehicle changes, tires will have to."