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Problem Solvers

Superior recognized with national R&D 100 Product Innovation Award

Photo provided to the Times Observer Kyle Knotowicz, lead engineer on Superior Tire’s AgriTraxx AirCore project, with Joseph Peterson, Superior’s vice president of engineering and quality. The product earned the company a R&D 100 Award alongside entities like DuPont and MIT.

By JOSH COTTON

jcotton@timesobserver.com

An innovative solution to a unique problem has landed Superior Tire & Rubber Corp. a R&D 100 Award alongside world-famous entities like DuPont and MIT.

The award is for the company’s AgriTraxx AirCore – a high-performance gauge wheel tire intended for no-till agricultural applications.”

The R&D 100 Awards are given by the industry entity R&D World. The awards were first established in 1963 and, according to R&D World, is the “only science and technology awards competition that recognizes new commercial products, technologies and materials for their technological significance that are available for sale or license.

“The R&D 100 Awards have long been a benchmark of excellence for industry sectors as diverse as telecommunications, high-energy physics, software, manufacturing, and biotechnology.”

“Congratulations to the Superior Tire engineering and production teams that went above and beyond; all of us at Superior Tire are extremely proud of the ingenuity and creativity you contribute everyday into producing not only a better product but a better way to make it,” Joseph Peterson, Superior’s vice president of engineering and quality explained.

“This award exemplifies Superior Tire’s culture of outcome-drive(n) research and willingness to translate cutting-edge thinking into customer impact.”

Peterson explained that seeder tires used for planting fields are normally made out of rubber.

“More and more farmers are going to no till farming,” he said. That means cutting the previous year’s crop down to stubble and leaving it in the field. “They’ll just plant right over the top of it,” Peterson said.

He detailed that this approach is good for the soil, yields and fuel consumption but the “stalks are super sharp” and will tear up a rubber tire.

So engineers at Superior switched from rubber to developing a tire out of urethane. It’s about half the weight, hollow and won’t tear like rubber.

Kyle Knotowicz was the lead engineer on the project.

“We knew a simple solution, but how to do it was the fun part because we had to think far outside the box,” he explained. “It was very challenging but the process of going from an eccentric concept to an extraordinary solution was extremely rewarding….”

So how do you develop a product that’s never been invented?

“Using other things that are made and produced, trying to figure out (how we) can incorporate that production method,” he said, that can “be done into something we’ve never done before.”

“Kyle basically had to invent a manufacturing method to do it,” Peterson said.

That started with what Knotowicz called a “wooden contraption.” The parts were sourced from Lowes. Production has evolved to a computer controlled mold.

The contraption though was enough for the team to feel “comfortable going to the next step,” he said, which was developing a prototype machine and molds. And tests after tests.

That was followed by three years of field trials. “After that, (it) became ‘How can we get it into production and get high volume?'”

“We had a customer that had a Goldilocks problem,” Tony Hasselman, Ag business unit manager explained. “The ideal product could help validate no till farming as the all-around better way to produce crops by increasing yields, reducing soil erosion, and reducing expensive costs that were jeopardizing the less-common farming method.

“The hollow design AgriTraxx AirCore improves mud shedding and reduces tire weight for cost and freight benefits.”

He said there are about 5,000 of these tires in the field currently.

The award is validation of all the work that has gone into the project.

“(We are) really excited to be in that group, especially as a small local company in Warren,” Peterson said, noting that entities also recognized include DuPont and MIT. “We’re pretty pumped to be on that list with some of the big companies. We’re pretty excited.

“(It is) also nice to see something on the list that is practical,” he said. “We’re helping a guy farm.”

Knotowicz called it a “good group team effort,” highlighting involvement by sales, engineering, operations and mold making, saying everyone had a hand in the process.

“Our innovations have led us to expanding into new opportunities in molding technology which the company will be investing in with a completely new product line in second quarter of 22022,” Hank LeMeur, CEO of Superior, said. “We’re always looking for creative minds to join our team – our doors are always open to those who want to make a difference.”

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