For Phil Mosier, manager of commercial tire development for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., it’s only when he hears the words, “when can I buy these tires?” does he know new tires in development are ready to go to market.
“That validates our performance in real-world conditions,” Mosier says. “It’s the proof in the pudding… when they get excited and want to buy our tire after the test is complete, it validates even further that we’ve hit a home run.”
According to Mosier, by the time a new Cooper tire hits the market, it has passed multiple layers of developmental, design and on-road testing – not to mention government and SmartWay verification. “For a product that looks simple in nature, it’s not simple to produce,” said Mosier.
“In the lab, our tire engineers look for innovative ways to enhance previous tire models or develop an entirely new tire,” he continued. “With the help of computer modeling and other technology, we’re are able to test new tire designs to see if we’re on our way in developing a breakthrough design. It allows us to test theoretical performance and gain surface-level insight into a tire’s predicted performance. We can also test new compounds in our compounding lab to see how they might perform and hold up over time. But, that’s just the start.”
Once a design is deemed “test ready” and prototypes are made, the company takes it to a commercial test track to get a glimpse into the tire’s real, over-the-road performance. Through track tests, engineers evaluate a tire’s performance in a controlled environment and can put on heavy miles by running it around the clock. Cooper test tracks also have built-in obstacle courses to test the tread and sidewalls on grip, durability and chip/chunk resistance, the company says.
While track testing provides engineers with the information they need to see how the prototypes are performing, they also allow for benchmarking competitive tires. The data collected is a barometer – a forecast of future performance. But to ensure performance, Cooper says it moves from the track to the road.
To see the true performance of new tires, fleets across North America test Cooper’s tires in a variety of road conditions.
“We select trucking companies that we believe will push our tires to the limit,” Mosier said. “When we trial our over-the-road tires, we look for a mix of fleets operating in all conditions – cold and snowy, mild and wet, hot and dry – pretty much any driving condition you can think of. We also like to work with trucking companies that run teams so they can put on a lot of miles in a shorter period of time,” he said. “For our off-highway tires, we turn it up a few notches. We’ll find logging, mining, construction, and other customers that constantly are faced with rugged conditions and have them put our tires to the test. We want our tires to handle the toughest conditions so that there are no surprises come production time.”
During trial runs, the company outfits multiple trucks in a fleet that run similar routes with the same average miles per month. “Oftentimes we will be evaluating multiple variations of a new tire design – there may be different compounding for example, but the same tread design,” Mosier said. “We may love the durability characteristics of one tire, yet the performance of another. We’ll then go back to the lab to fine-tune development. From there, we’ll then do another round of field testing to see where we stand.”
To ensure field tests will yield accurate results, Cooper works with fleets that prioritize their tire maintenance.
“It’s essential to work with companies that are on top of their trucks’ maintenance. If a truck is out-of-alignment, we’ll see uneven tire wear and the test won’t be accurate,” said Mosier. “To make sure the trial is going accordingly, we’ll meet with the fleets regularly to receive feedback from the company, check the tires to see how they wear, what the tread life is, as well as a number of other factors to see how they’re performing.
“When we examine our tires, we’re looking for anything that appears to strike out as irregular, or issues we notice that are common across the tires tested,” said Mosier. “If, for example, a fleet testing an off-highway tire experiences issues with cuts in their tire, it’s back to the lab to improve the tires’ cut and chip resistance.”
Information provided by Cooper Tire.