I cannot honestly say that I had any great desire to work in the tire industry, but I did have an interest in physics. My first years at Dunlop Tyres were spent in the compound testing laboratories and the various technical operations of compound and tire production. These experiences might have suggested a longer-term career, but it was only after a lengthy period of part-time academic studies that any real interest in how tires work was developed. I found myself working with some of the tire industry greats such as Dr Eric Gough, Dr Cliff Barson, Geoff Morton and Tom French, and I have their enthusiasm and desire for knowledge to thank for my career.
Some 40 years later I had worked my way through factory operations, tire compounding, research, the management of tire testing, and worked as general manager of truck tire development, director of research and then technical director. In retirement I was asked to become the associate editor of Tire Technology International and help launch the Tire Technology Expo and Conference, which has become the world’s biggest tire technology show. These last 15 years have been a most interesting experience and I have had the opportunity to write on subjects I was unable to comment on when actually working within the industry.
Undoubtedly 50 years is a long time even in the apparently slow-moving world of tire technology. The changes I have experienced have been immense and will surely continue at an even greater rate in the years to come as we increase the usage of ever more complex and revealing scientific equipment and develop more exact theories of how a tire performs.
Some scientific advances take many years to achieve full market acceptance. Runflat tires, initially introduced in the 1970s, are an oft-quoted example. Yet other fundamental changes occur with great speed. For example, the move from race car tire tread compounds that had to have a resilience of greater than 90% to tread compounds of a resilience of below 45%. This was an almost overnight change. The introduction of globally available TPMS has also been achieved with creditable speed.
I have had the pleasure of discussing many aspects of tire technology during the past 15 years of writing more than 100 columns and articles for TTI, and have had the added privilege of talking to others in the industry about their developments – an opportunity not always afforded the usual tire industry employee!
Over the years one learns something of the history of tires and tire materials, and particularly the characters of the people who have achieved the various major advances. Today the larger tire company groupings may wish to give the impression of each development being a corporate act of their tire research and development centers, but I believe a key individual with talent and determination is more often than not the catalyst behind a fundamental step forward.
Dunlop Tyres was blessed with a number of world-ranking tire scientists, who by the nature of things were not always recognized as such by the management. I suspect that this is often the case…
Joe Walter once selected Dr Eric Vernon Gough as one of his Legends (TTI, October/November 2006). Having worked with Gough during his later years I can only endorse Joe’s comments. In his later years Gough was appreciated on the international stage. Eric was not only a brilliant engineer, for example in the design of the Universal Rig – a forerunner of all simulation rigs (TTI, March 2014) – but was also a catalyst for ideas and an advisor to the other technical staff.
Among these was Tom French, the tire development engineer credited with the introduction of multi-siped tread pattern designs and the ‘aqua jet’ tread pattern design. The latter was of value during the transition from cross-ply to radial-ply tire designs, when there was little confidence in designing tread patterns with open lateral grooves in the shoulder ribs. French also led the team in the development of the Denovo runflat tire. Another member of that team was Tom Holmes, who was the first to recognize that radial-ply tires do experience a small change in tire rolling radius with inflation pressure changes. This led to the development of the first indirect measurement of tire inflation pressure, which is now the basis of the indirect TPMS systems.
About the same time, Dr John Walker was establishing himself as a leading tire noise and uniformity expert and Dr Cliff Barson, Eric Gough’s successor, was creating, with Gough, some of the first tire property measuring equipment. This included car and truck uniformity machines and the first measurement of tire ground plane stresses and radial force within the contact patch under slip and cambered rolling conditions. These were the early days of CAD use for tire design drawings and the writing of computer codes for the first steps in tire modeling. Who, working at that time, can forget correcting punched tape or interrupting the salary runs on the mainframe computer? Barson was one of the pioneers of this work.
A comprehensive review of Barson’s achievements appeared in TTI in March 2015 following his passing. He was a very worthy successor to Gough in pushing forward Dunlop’s theoretical understanding of tires and introducing mathematical modeling. Barson, in my view, was the outstanding tire engineer of his generation.
Each of these formidable engineers was a positive influence on my career, but it was Geoff Morton, initially the Dunlop textile expert, who exerted the greatest influence and who, as the development manager, agreed to my request to join Dr Geoffrey Lees at the University of Birmingham and conduct research on how road textures influence tire performance. Geoffrey was the first person to understand how road aggregates’ shape, size and petrography influence their packing characteristics and therefore the advantages of grading aggregates to create the desired road surface texture appropriate to the type and geometry of the road. This research led to the first ‘designed’ road surfaces and, when related back to tire technology, to the first ‘designer’ tread polymers. Both these research projects were directly linked and were the forerunners of today’s understanding and practical application to tire tread polymer design and to road-wearing course materials.
It is interesting to note that the advances of the late 1960s in the understanding of tire and road friction and wear behavior came about with the introduction of the scanning electron microscope and the ability to study rubber and aggregate behavior at the 1×10-6m scale, or micrometer scale. Today, more significant steps in our understanding are coming from the studies of polymer and filler behavior at the 1×10-9m or nanometer scale, again directly associated with electron microscopy advances.
All of the people mentioned and their inventions are stories in themselves, comparable with the first tire industry pioneers. Looking back, it is the people who are remembered and the working environment they created that encouraged freedom of expression.
Leaving research to manage Dunlop’s tire evaluation departments created the opportunity for me to work with the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) in a joint development of its proving ground. This led to the building of one of the first dry-handling circuits and later one of the first wet-handling circuits. Being head of tire evaluation was an enjoyable experience and was followed by my becoming general manager of truck tire development. Here I quickly learned that truck tires are some of the most challenging tire products. The different service conditions, the requirement for the casing to be retreaded more than once, and the need for maximum mileage in the first lifecycle demand the best of tire design and materials.
In 1989 I rejoined the Tyre Research department as research director, expanding the research program with collaborative projects reflecting the way research was expanding over a range of topics. In 1994 I was appointed technical director, retiring in 1999.
The changes in tire and material design during the coming years are already being conceived through the greater accuracy of computer modeling of the tire within its road and vehicle environment, together with the ability to see and model polymer and filler behavior on the nano scale. No doubt other established and new compounding ingredients will soon be the subject of future in-depth studies as we search for better-performing, sustainable and replenishable raw materials.
I hope we will see lighter tires, tires created with new concepts of design construction enabled by the greater theoretical understanding of the tire and the availability of new materials and combinations of new materials. Such a tire will have a built-in runflat ability. The tire will act as the key vehicle sensor to determine the appropriate operational behavior of the vehicle, and the tire will of course be able to monitor its own performance during its service lifetime. Certainly tires will not have the same compounds, tread designs or construction design as they have today, and I hope it will not be long before raw material and compounding advances enable the tire to last the average service life of a vehicle. Perhaps this is one of two or three of the big steps forward toward a greener vehicle.
It is my hope that tire performance will be assessed by different parameters, and the product will re-establish itself as the key vehicle component and justify its enhanced value based on its technical merits and hence its commercial value.
Looking back through my career and writings over the past 55 years there seem to have been two themes. The first is vehicle safety. Even today the record of annual road accident statistics is terrible, despite the many significant developments that have been achieved. The human cost and the impact on national budgets suggests that much more needs to be done as quickly as possible. It may be the cost of road transport accidents that will drive the radical changes in vehicle engineering we are now beginning to see.
The second theme seems to be one of creating the environment for innovation and rewarding the innovators. These are the lifeblood of any growing industry. Of course, good science also needs good management. It is believed to be John Ruskin who said, “There is hardly anything in this world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man’s lawful prey.” I fervently believe in the need for further scientific advances in tire technology. There is no finishing line in the race to excellence.