HUNTERSVILLE, N.C.—Tire and auto makers always are looking for expanded, more realistic data in the tire testing process, according to James F. Cuttino. He's hopeful their search will end at his doorstep.
Cuttino is on leave from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, where he has been director of the North Carolina Motorsports and Automotive Research Center for the last 10 years, to put together a tire testing consortium that will support Camber Ridge L.L.C., a proposed state-of-the-art tire dynamometer plant to be located in the Charlotte, N.C., region.
Camber Ridge won't be your standard tire testing operation, he said.
The facility, equipped with a custom-built dynamometer system, and possibly two, will target needs identified by tire and auto makers, and racing teams, according to Cuttino, president and founder of Camber Ridge. Its capabilities, he claimed, will be unmatched anywhere else in the world.
“We're trying to do something really special at Camber Ridge that goes well beyond typical tire testing,” he said. The site won't be a one-size-fits-all center, but will be tailored to the individual testing needs of companies.
Tire performance plays a significant role in determining the safety and handling of a vehicle, he said, which has resulted in extensive testing needs at tire and original equipment plants.
Testing machinery the firm is developing “will provide dynamic loading capabilities, measure large driving and braking forces, provide high rate of steer events, and allow high slip rates at speeds up to 200 miles per hour,” said Cuttino, who is based in Huntersville.
Other options may include wet traction; traction in various terrains; determination of true rolling resistance; noise, vibration and harshness studies; and hardware-in-the-loop studies.
Meeting the challenge
The idea to create the plant came about after Cuttino was approached by an original equipment manufacturer nearly two years ago about pulling together a consortium to advance the state of the art in tire testing.
After discussing industry needs with that manufacturer and other industry leaders, as well as the racing industry, he realized “there was a real market need for a highly focused, confidential facility that could provide data for the next generation of tire challenges.”
Tire testing equipment has made major advancements over the years, and current testing companies do a good job meeting traditional industry needs, Cuttino said.
But he believes there are three relatively recent developments related to tires that for the most part haven't been addressed: New mandates handed down by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the auto industry calling for it to deal with key issues, such as rollover and accident avoidance; advances in simulation capabilities that need dynamic tire data; and the increasing speed and torque ranges offered by the racing industry.
All require a new and better testing system, he said. After investors stepped in to fund the project, Cuttino began working on the formation of a tire-testing consortium; meeting with equipment makers to create custom machines to test tires; sharing the firm's business model with companies in the industry to get their input; and putting together a summary of the testing facility's strengths, needs and potential impact.
“The facility will have several unique qualities, many driven by mandates from NHTSA, such as FMVSS 126 protocol to prevent rollovers,” Cuttino said. “Auto companies have an interest in gathering dynamic tire data to improve simulation capabilities, reduce time to market and reduce prototyping costs. Data are also needed for new operating environments for tires brought on, for example, by hybrid and electric vehicles, where torque is maximum at take-off rather than once they are under way.”
The racing community is interested in gathering drive torque and braking data under racing conditions, such as at 180-200 miles per hour, Cuttino said. It also is looking at additional capabilities, including examining suspension/tire inspection.
The right fit
Creating the right machine or machines for the advanced testing plant is the key to whether this project will be successful, he said. The company has six different machine concepts it's considering, and it's possible it could decide to go with two rather than one, Cuttino said.
He plans to custom-build both the machinery and plant to the specific needs of affiliates and “create partnerships that reflect their business needs.”
Camber Ridge is in the advanced stages of discussions with several potential partners; it handles each one on a confidential basis. It will include universities in the mix to help conduct research, and develop capabilities and technologies. A meeting of interested participants is scheduled for late March, Cuttino said.
The plant will have a work force of 20 when it opens, and will expand as Camber Ridge grows, he said. Tire testing is its principal focus, but ultimately the firm's goal is to turn ideas into opportunities “for companies to build productive working relationships, tap into new research, and meet their design and performance goals,” according to Cuttino, who will remain with the company after the business becomes a reality.
With demand for productivity rising, competition becoming more intense and safety a growing issue, “I am confident of the value that Camber Ridge brings industry,” Cuttino said. “This capability will happen sometime—it must to keep up with the demands of the auto industry.”