Tire engineers know that without the products they labor over, trucks would be immobile. But they also know fleet buyers expect them to provide tires that cost as little as possible to own and use.

And while most anyone around trucking for any length of time knows truck tires are more than round and black, few outside the tire companies themselves really know what goes into making them beyond rubber and steel.

According to a trio of Goodyear engineers, much work today is actually being directed at reducing the development cycle for tires — so that new features and products can come to market much faster.

On top of this trend for Goodyear are Joe Zekoski, director of commercial & farm tire technology; Tim Richards, team leader of advanced engineering for medium truck tire development, and Bob Benedict, senior R&D associate for vehicle systems.

“The message we all want to get across,” says Zekoski, “is the way we develop tires is changing rapidly and for the better.”

Richards elaborates, saying “a lot more is being done with computer predictions of performance as well as by conducting a variety of lab tests early on in the development process-rather — than build the tire first and then test it on the road.”

The engineers say the recently launched G395 LHS long-haul steer tire benefited from this new, from-the-ground-up approach to development. A — key feature of the G395 is its “tire within a tire” design-as its original tread wears down, angled groove walls across the footprint are exposed to increase traction and handling.

“What is driving these developmental changes,” says Richards, “is the time element. To design and build the tire and then run it for 100,000 to 200,000 miles and re-evaluate it after that is very time-consuming.”

“Our goal,” says Zekoski, “is to shrink that time element to get product to market faster yet still produce an excellent product. So far, we've achieved a 50% reduction — having cut the development time for a new tire from several years to less than two. But our focus,” he adds “continues to be on helping the end user lower their costs per mile.”

Richards says the key target in all this is increasing performance consistency. “For example, the G395 is built with our new IMPACT (Integrated Manufacturing Precision Assembly Cellular Technology) manufacturing process, which is more uniform to make performance in actual use more consistent from tire to tire.”

“There are some 41 components in a truck tire,” Zekoski notes. “Using computerized tools has helped us make the resulting tire more robust in demanding truck service.”

According to Benedict, Goodyear has capitalized on a relationship it has with the Sandia National Laboratories (www.sandia.gov) in Albuquerque, NM, to help improve its truck tire design efforts.

He says the government-funded lab is charged with helping U.S.-based industrial firms benefit from advanced computer modeling technology.

“We are the remaining major US-based tire company so we have a unique relationship within our industry with Sandia,” Benedict points out. “It means we can bring rocket science to the tire industry.”

However, that doesn't mean Goodyear sat around waiting for the lab to hand it goodies. Its engineers had to roll up their sleeves, too. “We've had a relationship with Sandia for ten years now to co-develop world-class analytical computational abilities that we could integrate into our product development processes,” Benedict explains.

In addition to benefitting from this enhanced development process, the G395 is the first product to be produced exclusively with Goodyear's IMPACT technology. “This manufacturing technology,” says Zekoski, “has many tire components pre-assembled before they arrive at the tire-building machine.”

“Such a precision approach to assembly,” he continues, “minimizes the number of splices required and reduces the amount of product handling to improve quality. It takes tire uniformity to a new level.”

And while the customer may not see that difference in the appearance of the tire, the Goodyear engineers say they will benefit from it, mile after mile.