Tires have been a well-kept secret for decades. The amount of technology that goes into tires is incredible, but most of the public doesn't even realize it.
To them, tires are still round and black, as the saying goes. But considering the wide range of applications the products have to serve—from light vehicles to commercial trucks to agriculture equipment to enormous off-road vehicles—it's clear that tires are high-tech in every sense of the word.
And engineers, chemists and technical staffs at tire tech centers around the globe—including a significant number in the Akron area, keeping the region as an important player in the industry—continue research and development into making further improvements.
It's clear from those who run the technical centers that there are more than enough projects to keep them busy. Furthermore, the R&D efforts have to focus on a variety of activities, many of which can have divergent goals.
Tire developers must listen to the requests of OEM customers as well as trends they see in the aftermarket. It's also a must to balance the needs of R&D aimed at getting products to market quickly with working on projects that have a long-term focus.
And despite the fact that tire manufacturers have worked to improve rolling resistance for years, it remains a front-burner issue as car makers continue to struggle to meet federal fuel economy requirements.
Much R&D also is focused on materials as tire firms look toward the ultimate goal of having a fully sustainable tire. There is work on a number of fronts to develop alternatives for natural rubber that someday can find widespread use in tire production, not to mention a search for synthetic rubbers that are not based on petroleum.
This doesn't even mention that ongoing changes in society impact the future of the tire industry. From the advent of ride sharing and autonomous vehicles to an aging population that might want different properties from their tires, and even a generation of millennials who don't like to drive as much.
If only the general public knew all the work going on behind the scenes, they'd see that tires are much more than round and black.