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Located at Ford's Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, the dedicated tire team works closely with Ford's Chassis Engineering and Vehicle Engineering functions, as well as leading tire companies, to test new compounds, new tread designs and other innovations.
The three key attributes to any road tire tread are traction or grip, wear and rolling resistance. The challenge to building a better tire is that often improving one attribute may compromise another. A tire with better grip, for example, may have a higher rolling resistance and therefore, energy consumption.
“We are developing our own in-house expertise on tire materials and compounds,” says Dr. Cynthia Flanigan, technical leader of elastomers research. “And through our research we want to be the catalyst, working with chemical and rubber suppliers as well as tire manufacturers, to pull new technologies and solutions through the industry.”
Flanigan and her team are focused on the materials aspect of tire construction. While the actual recipes of these complex systems are often proprietary, the Ford research team seeks new technical advances for tires in the future. The mandate to become more engaged with tire suppliers and manufacturers and to better understand the benefits of low-rolling-resistance tires has been under way since after the last spike in fuel prices in the summer of 2008.
“Based on the feedback we received from chemical suppliers and tire companies, Ford is now at the forefront of understanding tire technologies on a deeper level and pushing hard for new technologies,” Flanigan says.
Flanigan’s group, which is part of Research and Innovation, was formed in October 2009 and works with Ford's Vehicle Engineering and Chassis Engineering teams.
Ford has developed technologies for soy-based seats, and this team is applying these concepts to tires and other rubber products. The research team has already developed patent-pending technologies for EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer – used in weather stripping) rubber using bio-oils.
Ford research into other rubber parts could provide new solutions for tires.