Actually, building them is a bit like rocket science
(Editor's Note: This is the first in a "How They Build It" series of stories that will examine the manufacturing process of the products you use on your 4x4. Down the road, we'll delve into items such as driveline and engine components, body accessories, and specialty items.)
To get a handle on the tire-making process, we visited Cooper Tires' headquarters in Findlay, Ohio. Cooper is a name that is very familiar to 'wheelers, as the company makes a slew of light-truck tires, including a variety of designs under the popular Discoverer name. Cooper also manufactures tires under its proprietary brands, Mastercraft, Starfire, Dean, and Avon. Little known fact: Cooper is one of only two American-owned tire companies.
Under the guidance of Michelle Zeisloft and Jenny Fuerst, we toured the fascinating Technical Center and then the mind-blowing Tall Timbers Mold Operations. Due to the highly competitive nature of the tire business, we didn't get to tour the we'd-show-you-but-then-we'd-have-to-kill-you assembly facility, but Cooper provided photos and an overview of the processes that happen there.
What we learned at Cooper is that there's a lot of tech and quality control integrated into a modern tire, and there's an army of dedicated professionals behind the scenes from start to finish. It's also extremely complicated. The following is a condensed version of the tire manufacturing process, which will show you the highlights of some of the steps that go into a tire. The end result is a safe, effective, and durable set of tires under your rig.
1. Our first stop was Cooper's $9.9-million Technical Center, where we met Research and Technology Manager Dave Dryden and Product Development Manager Marcus Hancock. This 49,000-square-foot facility was built in 1998, and it is home to a variety of mechanical and chemical engineers, chemists, and physicists. These folks speak a language all their own, and they can regale you with complex verbiage that'll make your head spin. This division is a technical nirvana. One of their many tools is Virtual Tire Technology, which allows them to design, test, and evaluate tires on the desktop (though they do create and test rolling prototypes here too). Some of the benefits of Virtual Tire Technology-or Vt2ech-are that it allows them to get products to market faster with lower cost while constantly improving the product. Here, Principal SUV/Light Truck Tire Development Engineer Kenneth Reuille shows us how he can perform complex tire tests on his computer-virtually.
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5. Cooper has its own highly advanced in-house mold division called Tall Timbers Mold Operations, and this stand-alone facility is where, as they put it, ideas are turned into metal. Yes, metal. Because in order to make a tire, one of things you need is a mold, and that mold needs to be cut. Here you can see the workstation responsible for creating the sidewall of a tire. As you know, there are gobs of information on the sidewall of a tire. It's these folks' job to make sure that everything that needs to be there, is there. This department, and others like it, take the proposal from the styling department and turn it into solid models so that they can supply the cam department with tool pathing to cut metal.