The mission statement for the Center for Tire Research—better known as CenTiRe—is relatively simple and straightforward. The industry/academic collaboration seeks to provide "first class technology, development, research and solutions" to its member partners, mainly tire makers, along with Ford, GM and a couple of the testing firms in the business.
Within that overall mission, the center also looks to increase the quantity and quality of professionals prepared to work in the tire and automotive industry, something the tire and rubber sectors have been trying desperately to achieve in recent years.
From all accounts, CenTiRe has been doing a good job meeting those goals.
The center receives some of its financial support and guidance from the National Science Foundation, which oversees dozens of such academic/industry research centers in a wide variety of sectors across the U.S. But the majority of funding for CenTiRe comes from the relatively modest annual fee of $40,000 paid by each member industry company.
Virginia Tech and the University of Akron are the schools involved in the center, which is headquartered at the VT campus in Blacksburg, Va.
The basics of how the research consortium works is this: the industry members say what research they are interested in the schools pursuing; CenTiRe issues requests for proposals; faculty members then propose projects to meet those needs; and the industry members decide which proposals will get funded. The projects generally last two to three years, have at least one faculty member and a number of students on a team that is overseen by mentors from the member companies.
The research is dubbed "pre-competitive." That means they are more fundamental in nature and don't address anything that would be proprietary to any one company. The findings are available to all member companies to use in the manner they see fit, such as taking it as a springboard to pursue further research that may find its way into future tire technology.
For companies, it's a way to leverage its R&D resources, as the NSF has strict guidelines on how much universities can retain to cover overhead expenses. One tire maker official likened it to seeing all the movies at a theater for the cost of one ticket.
They also get to have regular contact with some of their potential auto industry customers, who in turn can keep abreast of upcoming technology for its critical tire and rubber parts needs.
The universities, for their part, are able to get their students access to working closely with industry professionals, learning the nuances of an industry that often doesn't get the credit it deserves for all the technology that goes into its products. There already is a track record of students involved in CenTiRe getting hired by the member tire companies.
CenTiRe still is in its infancy as an organization, but thus far it definitely has earned a passing grade.