Not Just Kickin' The Tires

By Alex Trazkovich '10

I found out about Cooper Tire and Rubber Company entirely by
chance.  I had just completed a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering
from Northwestern University, and decided to move to Ohio to be closer to
my fiancée.  I had applied to
several companies, and my resume ended up on the desk of a manager at
Cooper.  He recognized Olin's name from
his own son's recent college search, and reached out to me. I had never
expected to work on tires, and barely knew anything about them, so I initially
responded cautiously.  However, once I came in to interview, Cooper
completely sold me, and I took the job.


I'm so glad I did.  The position is very open-ended,
hands-on, and research-driven--a great fit coming from Olin!  I have a lot
of flexibility to choose which projects I work on.  The first project I've
tackled is developing a laboratory-scale test to evaluate candidate tread
patterns for their resistance to hydroplaning.  The current state of the
art for hydroplane testing involves either computer modeling (which is time
consuming and not always conclusive), or alternately spending quite a bit of
time and money designing and machining a mold, a few weeks to mold a batch of
tires and pop them on a test vehicle, and then more time performing extensive
testing at a research facility in Texas.  


My goal is to dramatically reduce the amount of time it
takes to rate a tread pattern for hydroplaning resistance. In theory, this will
lead to better performance in less development time by allowing rapid iteration
and advancement of tread patterns, which currently just isn't feasible. I've
learned more about fluid dynamics in the past couple months than in the rest of
my life combined.  I've also delved pretty deeply into finite element
simulations, trying to validate designs for small-scale, rapid-prototyped  rubber tires that will behave similarly
enough to full-scale pneumatic tires for the purposes of the tests.  


In other words, I'm having a great time and learning a lot.


I don't feel like I would have a good chance of pulling this
off had I not been through Olin as well as some grad school.  I've been
doing a lot of digging through the literature, reaching as far back as some
NASA papers from the late 50s and early 60s, and reviewing some of the earliest
studies ever proposed about hydroplaning. This, coupled with some modeling and
physical experimentation, has started to give me the data that I need.


Other projects I have chosen to work on include:


-Attempting to characterize the microtexture of road
surfaces using a chromatic confocal laser scanner in order to better
understand why certain tires handle better on certain types of roads.


-Redesigning a machine that tests different rubber compounds
in order to determine what the lateral slip force will be in a turning tire, a
factor which plays a major role in vehicle handling.


At Olin, I majored in Engineering with a Concentration in
Robotics, and my job now is a surprisingly good fit for that background.  It's an interdisciplinary combination of
mechanical and electric systems engineering, with lots of hands-on tinkering
and out-of-the-box thinking.  As I said,
I never expected to end up working on tires, and I always thought that they
were just simple tubes of rubber.  


Now I've learned that there are literally dozens of
different materials in every tire, and that each material is exhaustively
engineered, tested, and analyzed.  There are a limitless number of tests
that can be run on tires, and tire companies have to innovate constantly to
keep up with performance and safety standards.   Cooper is a great place for
Olin engineers, since you get to work hands-on with products that people use
(and trust their lives to) every day.


I'm having a great time, and I'm so glad that fate has
landed me here.


Cooper Tire &
Rubber Company is a leading manufacturer and marketer of replacement tires.
It's the fourth largest tire manufacturer in North America and, according to a
recognized trade source, the Cooper family of companies is the ninth largest
tire company in the world based on sales. Cooper focuses on the manufacture and
sale of passenger and light and medium truck replacement tires.  Cooper
Tire & Rubber Company was incorporated in the state of Delaware in 1930 as
the successor to a business originally founded in 1914. Based in Findlay, Ohio,
Cooper and its family of companies currently operate 9 manufacturing facilities
and 38 distribution centers in 11 countries.

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Olin Employers