From the Oct. 3, 2011, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
Perhaps you read the reminiscences of “old timers” in the rubber industry that appeared in the 40th anniversary issue of Rubber & Plastics News in August.
Here is mine, which didn't make the cut in that issue because of space considerations. Such is journalism.
My college days started out as a premed. But as plans tend to morph as we gain more life experience, I shifted to chemical engineering. I still marvel how the rubber industry and tires got silently inserted into my genetic code. Early on I never gave this “unglamorous” product a thought.
However, in retrospect there were hidden events that predicted rubber could be my future.
During World War II, as a 9-year-old kid growing up in Brooklyn, I was very aware of the many shortages that were impeding the war effort. Even as kids we knew that there was a serious rubber shortfall. My personal contribution to the war effort was to roll up a rubber floor mat from our basement and use it for admission for my friends and me at the Marine Theatre on Flatbush Ave.—five pounds of rubber got a free ticket for one.
This memory was long forgotten, when in my senior year at New York University I was asked to write a chemical engineering article for the graduation yearbook. For some unknown reason I selected the synthetic rubber industry and its critical contribution to a successful war effort.
In my article, I expressed a pride that this significant chemical engineering achievement was more important to the outcome of the war than any other single technology, even the horrific nuclear event.
In preparing for graduation, I still gave tires no thought at all. My goal was Grumman, the military aircraft manufacturer.
I always loved airplanes while growing up under the flight path of sometimes disabled Grumman Hellcat and Wildcat aircraft returning from enemy submarine surveillance off the coast of New York. To prepare for the Grumman interview, I scheduled a Goodyear interview as “practice.” A few weeks later Goodyear invited me to Akron for a more detailed interaction and a tour of Plant 1 on West Market St.
As the airport limousine approached Akron, there was the distinct smell of rubber in the air. A tour of Plant 1 (about 20 of us) was the moment of my epiphany.
As a kid from Brooklyn, the most powerful machine I was familiar with was an ice cream shop malted mixer. As we walked through the dusty, smelly mill room, a major run of RSS natural rubber breakdown was under way. The smells, the smoke, the absolutely massive machinery all catalyzed my decision to join Goodyear as a Production Squadron trainee. I'm sure these same factors turned others off.
Science and art of rubber
My attraction to this industry also was driven by its heavy dependence on both science and art.
I felt the tire development and manufacture was going to be a hands on/hands dirty industrial experience that relied heavily on both empirical and theoretical approaches. This balance could give a newcomer such as myself more opportunity to contribute something significant sooner. Also, looking into the distant future, a chemical knowledge of rubber would be transferrable to other non-tire rubber products.
My very satisfactory stay at Goodyear was interrupted by the draft. Upon discharge I joined Armstrong Rubber Co. in New Haven, Conn.
The 1950s and 1960s were exciting watershed years for the industry. Rubber chemistry was moving very quickly. UOP introduced its UOP 88 antiozonants. These were our first practical opportunity to address ozone cracking as it applied to tire sidewalls and tread grooves.
It took time to gain the factory and field experience to properly use these powerful and expensive chemicals while avoiding their not so obvious manufacturing and service pitfalls. We shipped thousands of test tires into the Los Angeles area to take advantage of the ozone rich smog that was prematurely destroying tires (and people's lungs). Sometimes I thought half the Los Angeles population was riding on free tires.
The bias tire was still the basic construction, and groove cracking created a major tread design constraint. Phillips Petroleum was into a pilot plant project with solution butadiene rubber (cis-4). It was expensive and difficult to handle in the plant both from a cold flow storage problem and not being compatible to our mills and extruders.
To get our first runs, we had to hand stuff “pigs” of cis-4 blended tread compound into the extruder feed box to get a tread extrusion. Mill ratios and other changes to the hardware were painful and expensive.
I remember most clearly the fume-related headaches I got after an extrusion run. Also burned into my memory is when my hand got entangled during a butadiene run in the mill feed strip circulator that lifted me up and toward the mill before I pulled free.
The tread we managed to get was “force” assembled into the tire designs that were giving us the serious groove cracking failures. To this day I remember the “thunder clap” result. Cis-4 BR in the synthetic blend eliminated tread cracking and gave us a major increase in treadwear life. Cold weather ice/snow traction was demonstrated by being able to climb an icy hill while the standard tread would not even move the vehicle.
Testing was low brow in those days and these were the type of experiments that moved ideas into the product. When wet traction raised its ugly head, it was quickly addressed empirically without any fancy theoretical razzle dazzle.
In the '60s when Michelin/Sears and Ford brought the radial tire into the U.S. market, steel adhesion technology had not yet been fully tested in a U.S. manufacturing environment. The belted bias tire temporarily stalled the radial conversion.
This was of critical value to the U.S. conversion to true radials. It taught us how to handle the steel cord and how to create the required robust adhesion manufacturing technology since the belted bias steel tire was more difficult on the steel adhesion package than the radial steel belted tire.
I can go into the '60s excitement of better delayed action accelerators, halo-butyl, EPDM, PVI, isotropic reinforcements, and on and on. These developments all involved clean-hands lab work that often required manufacturing adjustments.
This abbreviated look into the past 50 years of my own experiences should serve to remind us of the importance of the evolving chemistry of the tire and its interaction with the design. This can only be managed by groups of compounders, design engineers and factory engineers who truly understand the product and know how to tweak the process to make everything fall into place.
A recent book I saw listed the 1,000 most important inventions that changed the world. Antibiotics were listed as well as nano technology. I was appalled to note that there was no mention of tires.
If antibiotics didn't exist, there would certainly be some sad outcomes, but the world would go on as though nothing happened. The same goes for many of these other “indispensable” inventions.
If tires suddenly ceased to exist, the world would come to a screeching halt. Tires are perhaps one of the most indispensable items that make our society work. We should all take great pride in being part of this industry.
Herzlich retired as director of tire engineering and products safety at Pirelli Armstrong Tire Co., working for Armstrong Rubber for many years before Pirelli bought the firm. A past chairman of the ACS Rubber Division, he is a consultant and is the technical editor of Rubber & Plastics News.