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National Tire Center Eyes VIR

A National Tire Research Center may soon be on its way to VIR, according to Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Executive Director Mike Sexton.

Sexton said late Tuesday afternoon the IDA is working on an Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant for a tire project at VIR, and the Tobacco Commission is providing $5 million from its Research and Development (R&D) fund. 

According to Sexton, the study for the project indicates there will be 183 jobs created in the area as a result of the center’s location at VIR. 

“This is an important deal considering the fact that GM is offering 20 years of commitment to the project and considering the fact that if a tire company wants to run on a GM car, they will have to come and test at VIR,” Sexton said.

An executive summary of the National Tire Research Center proposal submitted to the Tobacco Indemnification Commission in June outlines the broad mission of the NTRC to build a base of research, engineering education, advanced testing and technology transfer that will significantly impact industrial practice and productivity through advanced materials and intelligent tire technologies.

According to the summary, the scientific and technical impact of the center can be summarized as follows:

1) A functioning National Research Center that applies new emerging technologies to tires that will result in significant advancements in fuel efficiency and tire performance; 

2) The NTRC will educate many engineers in tire and vehicle technology related topics, short courses, distance learning and site visits. This will have a direct impact on the tire and automotive industry as well as a direct and indirect impact on the local economy.

The equipment purchases, the cost of construction or modification of a building to house equipment and personnel, and expenses for initial operations necessary to make the NTRC a reality will cost $15 million.

Virginia Tech will cover necessary personnel and facility costs ($2.8 million) as well as $2 million toward the equipment purchase of the two testing machines, according to the summary. 

General Motors will provide $5 million at the inception of the project as pre-payment for their use of the facility over the first five years of its existence. 

According to Sexton, the local community has committed a contribution of $200,000 toward the project. 

The research team proposes that the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission provide the additional $5 million to make the NTRC a reality in Southside Virginia, the summary stated.  

Inherent in this strategy is the development of generations of well-trained engineers and technicians with an experimental viewpoint to complement theoretical understanding, the summary stated.

Southside Virginia has an economy traditionally based in furniture and clothing manufacturing, tobacco farming and motorsports.  Although the manufacturing and tobacco farming sectors have dramatically declined in recent years, motorsports and its associated automotive technologies have grown, and there is opportunity for additional growth, according to the summary.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), teaming with the Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR), in partnership with the General Motors Corporation (as well as a yet-to-be-disclosed tire manufacturer as a key supporter), proposes to establish an NTRC in Southside Virginia.

The proposed center will generate more than $12 million in testing and research expenditures within five years and create up to 183 new jobs in the local economy by 2020, the summary stated. In addition, the NTRC will help ensure the long-term viability of one of the area’s premier manufacturing facilities.

The establishment of an NTRC that conducts independent testing, research, and assessments that complement research and development performed by tire manufacturers will dramatically increase the time devoted to advanced research focused on green technology in tires, according to the summary.

Tires are known to exhibit less rolling resistance when, for example, silica is integrated into the rubber compound. This results in tires that are significantly more fuel-efficient. To secure fitments with various original equipment manufacturers for tires featuring high mileage/low emissions (green technology), tire manufacturers need access to tire testing machines that exceed the capabilities of existing state-of-the-art technologies in tire testing facilities, it further stated.

According to information included in the summary, the Center will house a new force and moment machine designed for light truck and race (LTR) tires. The new machine will allow researchers to reproduce events such as the federal regulation for vehicle stability, FMSVV126. 

The capability of the NTRC, when complete, will allow greatly reduced risk of technical innovation by reproducing on-road maneuvers with the tire, the summary continued. 

The center also will incorporate a rolling resistance machine.

Combining the two test machines, the tire suppliers and auto manufacturers can accelerate the development of green tire technology through mathematical simulation models that will be built based on the data collected, it concluded.