Manufacturer works with farmers to come up with tire compounds that work
Mark Dimit of Grinnell, Iowa, was held up by six flat tires in no-till corn fields during the 2010 planting season. Though his tires were roadworthy, the treads weren’t tough enough for corn stubble in no-till fields.
Through the equipment manufacturer, Titan got involved in designing and manufacturing a tire that would handle safe highway speeds without heat buildup and provide corn stubble protection. The result was Stubble Guard, a six-ply, 10.00–15 implement tire using the bulletproof material Kevlar. Dimit had no flat tires during the 2011 planting season. While Titan responded quickly, though, not every collaboration is an overnight sensation—it’s a game of trial and error.
"Typically, it takes about two years or more to develop and bring a new tire to market," explains Jay Ogden, tire engineering manager for Titan International, Inc. Although the steps for making a tire haven’t changed in 100 years, a new chemistry set is used to create each new product.
Developing rubber compounds for tire production that solve tough challenges is like baking chocolate-chip cookies, says Marty Morrow, a formulation chemist with Titan.
"We have to make a tire that does what the equipment operator wants, and we experiment until we come up with the right compound recipe to produce that tire," he says.
Rolling along. The basic recipe of rubber, oil and carbon black is combined with a host of other materials to take into account the different functional parts of the tire and address tough operating conditions such as heat buildup, roading equipment and tracking corn stubble.
For example, the tread needs to be tough, resisting wear and tear. The sidewall needs to be flexible, but resistant to cuts and aging. Mix in a little of this and a little of that, and voilà—you have a mixture of compounds that will hopefully create a tire that meets designated performance standards. "No single compound does everything," says Scott Sloan, engineering product manager."It’s all about compromise. We have test tires out running constantly with different compounds."
With nylon bands and bronze-coated bead wires, the rubber is pressed, baked and blown into a mold under intense steam pressure, producing an engineered rubber doughnut that is designed for a particular piece of equipment and operating conditions.
Emphasizing the need for farmer input and manufacturer collaboration, Sloan adds, "Spending time and money on tires, looking for a brand that works, is not an economical option—stubble, for example, affects all brands of tires."
The future might hold radical design changes that revolutionize our farm equipment, but for now, manufacturing breakthroughs are keeping pneumatic tires relevant. "Fifteen years ago, people said tracks would make tires obsolete. We’re still here," says Skip Sagar, Titan/Goodyear sales rep.