6. Molds are generally made from cast aluminum. Pictured are two rings of aluminum that ar
7. Here is one of the many machines used to create the molds. One of the fascinating aspec
8. Here you can see a mold as it becomes recognizable during the machining process. During
9. All of the tooling for the mold-making machines is produced in-house. Here, Tall Timber
10. This is a wire electrical discharge machine and its job is to cut a mold into numerous
11. At the tire-manufacturing plant, technicians blend and mix the raw materials used to m
12. Like the tread, the sidewall stock is extruded through precision-formed dies and then
13. After being manufactured in-house, the steel-corded belts used in the tires are cut in
14. To keep a tire locked firmly in place on a rim, high-tensile bronze-coated steel wires
15. The first step to building a tire is to assemble the inner liner, bead assemblies, ply fabric, sidewalls, and anti-chafing strips. Precision laser measuring devices are used by the skilled tire assemblers to ensure that every tire meets stringent design specifications. The tire then goes to another tire builder, who applies the belt and tread assemblies. At this point, this uncured assembly is called a "green tire." After being inspected inside and out, it is lubricated and sent to the curing press. Here, it is automatically inserted into a mold where a rubber bladder inflates, forcing the green tire to conform to the mold's tread and sidewall pattern. The tire is then cured under controlled pressure and temperature conditions to bond all of the components together.
16. After the curing process, tires are automatically checked for uniformity and balance t
Building a tire is one thing, but making it work is a whole different story. Computer-aided designs and experience certainly go a long way towards creating a functional tread pattern, but there's only one way to find out if a tire actually performs well, and that is through real-life testing.
For testing to be meaningful, it must be repeatable, and Cooper's Tire & Vehicle Test Center was built in 1999 just for that purpose.
Situated on 1,000 acres in Pearsall, Texas, the facility is probably larger than the town itself-and certainly more interesting. Carson Miller is the Operations Manager, supervising four very busy coworkers in a seemingly endless ritual of mounting tires, driving, measuring, checking data, driving, changing tires, and so on.
Surrounding a 16,500-square-foot main building are three huge asphalt tracks where things like handling and longevity can be observed, both wet and dry. Perhaps more importantly, at least from a four-wheeler's point of view, there are also carefully built and maintained trail-type obstacles, as well as a relatively long trail, and a small fleet of purpose-built 4x4s to evaluate the tires on.
Not unlike the Top Truck Challenge's Mini Rubicon, Cooper has a 100x16-foot rock course-except all the rocks are immovable. There are also mud holes, silt, off-camber dirt, a hill climb, pea gravel, sand, and a concrete slope with varying degrees of surface roughness, wet or dry. In other words, if you can find it on a trail (except for snow and ice), Cooper has most of it available in a controlled and repeatable environment, allowing refinement of its tires. Plus, of course, direct comparisons to the competition. And you thought that building the tires was the hard part.
Making a tire is a complicated process, but the following chart breaks it down into 7 distinct steps.
1. Marketing concept development
2. Product development
3. Mold development and procurement
4. Prototype procurement
5. Prototype testing
6. Design certification