It takes a bullet and keeps on rolling.
And now a small Akron manufacturer and design firm is hoping to produce its award-winning military run-flat tire here in the city that is synonymous with tire making.
Yes, there are still potential bumps in the road before American Engineering Group, or AEG, on Grant Street, gets a go-ahead and contract to start tire production for the U.S. military.
City officials, meanwhile, are rooting for the company.
American Engineering Group’s top executives are confident that what they have trademarked as the Pressure Zero Tire, which has been years in development, has the right stuff at the right price to save military lives under very trying conditions. They also think they may have come up with the most innovative tire design since the radial that also has commercial potential.
“We’ve been focusing on getting the military applications going,” said Jon Gerhardt, AEG technical director. “We see this as an opportunity to save some of our military people’s lives. They’re in scary situations and if we can get them out of there, that’s our goal.”
AEG, founded in 2000 by experts in polymers and other materials, has a good track record in designing and developing products for a variety of industries, including an advanced biomedical hip implant. (Another current project involves developing a football helmet designed to prevent concussions.)
Gerhardt said AEG first designed and created a run-flat light truck tire for military application several years ago. Early testing involved shooting the tires and then running them on vehicles on a farm in Hartville.
“It worked and still carried load,” Gerhardt said.
But the next step, phase two or pre-production prototyping, stalled because of lack of funding by an AEG customer, Gerhardt said.
“It sat for, what, three years about,” he said.
Then an office within the Defense Department came calling, looking for a lighter run-flat tire than what the military currently uses on some of its vehicles.
“Our system does have a reduced [weight], 10 to 15 percent lighter for the whole system than what they currently had,” Gerhardt said.
A lighter run-flat tire system is important because that in turn would allow military vehicles to carry more payload, said Mark Fox, a Defense Department spokesman, who also is an engineer and part of the military’s AEG tire testing program.
The military needs its vehicles to keep moving even if tires have been shot, Fox said. “The tire has to survive longer than a typical ground vehicle, in harsh conditions,” he said.
AEG’s tire is made in part with corded carbon fiber and a lightweight, flexible internal metal skeleton. The design won a top award at a recent military trade show.
The military tests and evaluations of 100 tires will continue until the end of the year. If AEG’s design passes, the military wants production tires in the field sooner rather than later.
An eye on Akron
While AEG’s test tires have been made by a niche manufacturer in Pennsylvania, should the military award a contract the company ideally wants production versions made in Akron.
“Our plan is to manufacture locally,” said Abraham Pannikottu, AEG’s operations manager. “There are experienced people here who are very good at building tires.”
That interest in creating a new Akron tire factory has caught the attention of city officials.
“We’d like to see them manufactured here in Akron,” said Sam DeShazior, deputy mayor for economic development. “We’re rooting for them. They have gone to all the right places. They need the green light.”
He said his office has been talking with AEG for about five years about its run-flat tire, with current discussions involving finding a production facility. The factory initially would employ about 20 people who could produce as many as 1,000 tires a month — and then scale up depending on demand.
Akron, once known as the Rubber Capital of the World with numerous tire factories, is home to one Goodyear NASCAR race tire factory and one Bridgestone factory that makes Firestone-brand IndyCar race tires.
“This is something that’s really special,” DeShazior said. “If the government actually buys it, we say, Why not make it here? ... We’re waiting and we’re optimistic that we have the expertise to do that here with local talent and local producers.”
Gerhardt and Pannikottu said the military is testing tires that fit a range of vehicles from ATVs to pickup trucks to something that goes on the new, Hummer-like Advanced Light Strike Vehicle.
“They had a list of requirements,” Gerhardt said. “We had to run 12,000 miles on their routine of courses.”
Some of the testing involved running vehicles on the Ohio State vehicle test track, Pannikottu said.
“Basically, what we have to do is take the tire, shoot it, and run 30 or 60 miles,” he said. (Pannikottu and Gerhardt said they weren’t the ones who had the fun job of shooting the tires using a 7.62 mm caliber military rifle.)
Test vehicles had to be able to run 30 miles with two tires shot out and survive other difficult challenges.
“It passed all of those tests,” Gerhardt said.
AEG’s design keeps pressure on the sidewall cords even if there’s no air inside, meaning the tire can still carry weight. With tires, “the thing that carries the load is not the air pressure,” Gerhardt said.
“We’ve already tested, so we know it works,” Gerhard said. “And once [the military is] happy with it we’ll be getting, hopefully soon, orders for tires for the military.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ