Technical Centers Mean More Than Just R&D to Tiremakers
Technical centers are critical to the development of tires, and to the success of tiremakers. They are a necessary part of R&D, from creating the right design and the right compounds to testing those designs and going back to the drawing board, if need be. All in the effort of creating the best tire possible.
This is, of course, why tire manufacturers have tech centers and why they usually have more than one. And, after touring one, it’s a wonder that even the most basic of passenger tires doesn’t cost $200 per.
Hankook is one of the tiremakers that has multiple technical centers around the world. Three of them, in fact Akron, Ohio; Jiaxing, China; and Hanover Germany ®“ to go along with the company’s primary R&D center in Taejon, South Korea.
Hankook, like all manufacturers, uses the knowledge gleaned from its tech centers to drive growth at the OE level, which, in turn, leads to aftermarket growth.
"We’re confronted with the same challenges as any major manufacturer. We’re trying to grow," said Ray Labuda, vice president of tire technology at Hankook’s Akron facility. "One strategy to help us grow is in OE. Our system has been setup to be successful at OE."
The South Korean tiremaker recently scored its biggest OE success when it signed a deal with the Ford Motor Co. to supply new DynaPro RF08 and RH03 tires exclusively for the 2004 Ford F-150 pickup.
Both the RF08 and RH03 were designed at the Akron facility and had to meet 27 performance characteristics.
Hankook initially opened the Akron technical center in 1992. Then, in 1996, the tech center was moved into a bigger facility. "There has been lots of investment by Hankook in the last seven years," said Labuda.
That investment means Hankook is looking for bigger things out of Akron, both now and in the future.
"I think, in the beginning, we were starting from nothing and have grown to where we are today," Labuda said. "Today, we’re responsible for OE qualifications for North American OEMs and product development for our sales and marketing guys out of New Jersey and everything in between."
In Akron, Hankook works on things like product design, material development, treadwear development, fundamental technology, wet/dry handling, vehicle dynamics, durability, NVH testing and more.
And whatever can’t be accomplished by the Akron facility such as use of a semi-anechoic chamber ®“ is handled at the Taejon center. With all the technical centers connected together electronically, data is easily transferred from Taejon to Akron, or vice versa.
"It’s great to be connected like that," said Labuda. "We can run a test in Taejon and have the results here instantly."
Akron’s development process is simple. After being given design criteria, engineers create seven to nine concept tires on computers. The design team then meets to discuss the concepts and focus in on one design, where an idea is honed into a useable, worthwhile tire.
Besides development, tires are tested using various computer models because the computers offer "an absolute, repeatable test environment and the tests take very little time." Hankook’s tests can predict contact patch shape, wear distribution and vibrations. There are also virtual vehicle tests, handling simulations, and durability and structural engineering tests.
And much of the equipment in the Akron facility was designed by the those who use them, such as Marvin Janssen, manager of tire engineering technology. Test equipment, for example, is designed by Hankook staff, built by a third party and installed right into the tech center.
Make no mistake, the Akron technical center is proud of the work it does for Hankook and it realizes its contribution equates to more than just R&D.
"Last year, Hankook achieved $1.5 billion in sales worldwide. We’ve gotten to that point without having to acquire another company," said Labuda. "And we’ve shown growth every year for the last several years."
And that growth has come without having to charge $200 per tire.