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Goodyear Designers Get Edgy When Creating New Tires

Dodge Durango Hemi RTAKRON, Ohio, Jan. 7, 2003 -- When someone is "on edge," that generally means they are nervous, angry or a bit impatient. When design engineers at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company become "edgy," it only means some innovative tire designs are on the way.

These "tread artists" are constantly challenged to devise appealing -- but functional -- adaptations to the traditional rubber donut that carries millions of vehicles from Point A to B.

Goodyear tire designers work their magic to develop products that achieve the near-impossible. Their handiwork results in tires that last longer, withstand potentially damaging obstacles and provide high-speed performance better than ever before. They have made possible everything from the unique center-groove Aquatred design to amazing tires that can keep a vehicle rolling even when all air pressure has been lost.

Sometimes, seemingly "wild" tire designs succeed. The unconventional idea is not a closed door to Goodyear tire designers. To succeed in developing exciting new products, they have to work on the edge -- a technological edge.

"We still use ink on paper for some idea-sketching, but our design work is completed on computer," said Bill Egan, Goodyear's chief engineer for passenger tires. "And while we experiment with many breakthrough -- even crazy
-- designs, the very specific detail work is always documented in intensive drawings via specialized design systems.
"

"As a company, we must work on the edge to attain great things. As designers, we must develop concepts that may or may not work at any given time. But sometimes, yesterday's impossible idea becomes possible today through technology -- by working on the edge."

That's how Aquatred and Goodyear's EMT (run-flat) tires were developed. The wildly different tires evolved from Goodyear's involvement in auto racing and its concept tires on tomorrow's vehicles at worldwide auto shows. Both
are areas where the company works on the edge.

In the early 1980s, Goodyear produced a prototype tire similar to what would become the Aquatred for General Motors' Aero 2000 concept car at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida. It was the first tire with an aquachannel center groove to pump water from beneath the tire for optimum wet-weather traction.

The question of whether consumers would buy a tire that offers superior wet traction on their family sedan seems irrelevant now, since millions of Aquatreds and its generations of successors have been sold.

Product differentiation and creativity in design, as evidenced by Aquatred, sells in the marketplace. Innovation in product design -- setting Goodyear tires apart from the rest -- is a competitive advantage that translates into greater sales in the fiercely competitive tire industry.

Working on the edge has benefits. In recent years, Goodyear has been able to break down design barriers to open a new world of potential performance advantages. Previously, curvature of tire's design was impossible on the computer. Now, the tire's inflated profile can be created on the screen, even allowing early-stage "testing" to occur on the computer. Without Goodyear's customized three-dimensional software to design potential new tires, tire designers, engineers and mold manufacturers would have had to draw and carve all new models by hand.

The "future-world" computer tools Goodyear designers have at their disposal allows them to create tire designs that rival some of the best of the automotive realm. While vehicle "artists" are devising the coolest new concept cars, their counterparts in tire design are stretching the envelope, too.

Goodyear personnel have devised actual tread patterns displaying snakeskin, the Porsche brand shield, rocks and lightning bolts. It's interesting to note that one of the company's earliest and most successful designs was the diamond-shaped tread of tires like the Goodyear All-Weather Balloon.

"Anybody can decide to sketch an image onto a tire's tread," said Egan. "It's our job to try some of those images, but make certain the tread design would be viable in terms of performance and wear, along with being realistic in terms of manufacturing. In other words, is the design worth making and using in the real world? Is it more than just a pretty face?"

"Once we sketch a tread pattern on the computer screen, the software analyzes its performance attributes, such as raction, footprint on the roadway and tread element stiffness as the tire rolls. The Goodyear-developed software actually tests a prospective tire's feasibility before one is built," Egan explained.

Despite the obvious challenges and pitfalls in using a new process, the more powerful computer network and software has helped Goodyear shorten its concept-to-market cycle considerably. The process also allows Goodyear's designers to test several candidates on the computer, saving the time and money involved in physically building test tires.


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