Rolling with Sustainable Technologies with Chris Helsel

June 8, 2021

Chris Helsel is responsible for a global network of tire technology, innovation, research and product development operations, focused on creating industry-leading solutions for consumer, commercial and off-the-road vehicles, in addition to aviation and racing. Mindful of the inflection point in mobility, Helsel and his team operate with duality, working to enhance Goodyear’s core tire product while innovating “beyond” tires to enable the evolution and future of movement.

John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States, and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast! This is a very special edition. Today, we’ve got Chris Helsel. He’s a Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer from Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, the great and iconic brand. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Chris!

Chris Helsel: Thank you! Excited to be here.

John: Chris, thank you for your time. I know you’re super busy and you’re sitting today in Ohio. I’m sitting in Fresno, California, as we hopefully make our way through this tragic period in world history, this global pandemic. Before we get talking about Goodyear Tire and all the important work you’re doing there with your colleagues, I’d love you to share with our listeners you’re backstory. How do you even get here?

Chris: Sure! Thank you. I feel like I’ve never left Ohio, but yet I have. So I actually grew up outside, Cleveland Ohio, on the East Side…

John: Got it.

Chris: …in the suburb Wickliffe. I went to high school and then I went to Cleveland State. I’ve got an undergrad in mechanical engineering and I had the opportunity, at that time, to work for Standard Oil of Ohio, who’s now BP. Once again, I have Ohio in the name given. I got introduced to some computer modeling techniques, where you could actually design things without having to build and test.

John: Wow!

Chris: And then from there, I progressed into different industries. The Nuclear Navy, I’d work at Babcock & Wilcox in Barberton, Ohio. I worked for Goodyear Aerospace. At one time, doing some work on wheels and brakes, again, using that technique. And ultimately, I found my way to Goodyear in 1996 when we are bringing those kinds of people on to do tires. So my career here started doing the simulation of racing tires, and then, just continue through technology and product development, and an opportunity to live overseas, run a business. And then, one day, I found myself a CTO and it which I’ve had for a bit over 3 years.

John: That’s really cool. So I have to ask you this first, because we’ve all grown up with the Goodyear brand. For one reason or another, because of our love of cars or whatever, it’s such an iconic and amazing American brand, have you ever been on the Goodyear Blimp?

Chris: It’s funny you should say that because I have my 25 year anniversary this June at Goodyear. I have saved that opportunity for that. I’m getting it lined up through my communications guy and it’s going to be how I celebrate my 25th year.

John: That is just a wonderful way to celebrate! There’s not a time that I drive up and down the 405 Freeway when I’m in Los Angeles. I passed by somewhere, I think, in the Torrance area. I’m headed north. I look over to my right side, and I see the Goodyear Blimp park down like, that would just be-Talk about one of the items on a bucket list, that would be just so much fun to go up in that. So good for you, you’re going to get to do it this year.

Chris: Thank you. Yeah, it’s one of those things. We actually brought it to CES in 2020, January 2020. It was part of our event. We had a nice event there. We rolled out some of the work we’re doing. We’ll come to talk about beyond tire space and part of it was you could get a blimp ride.

John: Wow!

Chris: It could be arranged.

John: Talk about the showstopper. That’s a way to bring people on board with what you’re doing over in CS. Because that’s such a big crowd and you have some of the greatest brands on the planet there to set yourself apart. I can’t think of a better way. That sounds like fun. Hey! For our listeners and our colleagues out there, we’ve got Chris Helsel with us, today. He’s a Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Goodyear. To find Chris, and his colleagues, and all the great work they’re doing, you can go to www.goodyear.com.

I’m on your website, right now. I love your website. It’s colorful. It’s informational. It has a lot of great information about what we’re going to talk about, today. So talk a little bit about tires, they seem like, for a Layman like me, they don’t look like they changed that much over the years. But talk a little bit about since you’re the Chief Technology Officer. Tell us how they’re really changing and changing for the better.

Chris: Right. I’ll break it down really in 2 areas. One, I’ll just call tires, right? Which you say, well, that’s obvious, but that really is the physical tires you know it today. For that, what you really need to understand is how many different materials go into a tire. A lot of people think what it is, it is an injection-molded, you pour in his black stuff and outcomes a hardened tire. But actually, there’s a lot of materials that go into a tire. So if you think of the multiples of polymers, and the fillers, the reinforcements, it could be steel, they can be nylon polyester. Tires have more than 50, sometimes up to a hundred different components actually in them that come together to form a tire as you know it.

The important part about a tire to always remember is, it’s the only thing that connects your vehicle with the road. And it does that through 4 palm-sized patches, basically, that carries all the load that has to happen to make your vehicle traveler[?] sign on your trip in a safe way. In that area, there are all kinds of innovations in materials. Some of them are like sustainable materials. We use soybean oil instead of petroleum, has been one of the bit innovations, and one that we use both, not only because the sustainability play, but it really gives you better performance, in particular, in traction. Traction, being so important for your stopping distance, your cornering capabilities. Sustainable materials are really exciting area.

The second area is really how do you design the tire? For that, we’re doing a lawful lot building on- When I first came to Goodyear to do, which was computer modeling, we’ve actually invested in full-scale simulators. If you could imagine, cutting the hood off of a vehicle and the trunk off of the vehicle, and you put it on these huge actuators surrounded it with a 270° screen, that’s almost two and a half stories high and total immersion is though you’re driving on the road. We’ve invested in that in Akron and we’re now bringing that online on how we design tires without having to actually build and test. We committed to our second one in our sister Innovation Center in Luxembourg.

So, those are the 2 areas in traditional tires to really highlight. The technology that’s coming, that wouldn’t have been the technology we would have had, let’s just say, a short time ago.

John: So excuse my ignorance. Goodyear, I know to be such a big brand. Obviously, the brand is over a hundred years old now. Where does it fall in terms of size, in terms of other tire brands on the planet?

Chris: A lot of people think of Goodyear. They do think of some other big brands, right? You’ve got your Michelin, your Bridgestone. Clearly, we all compete and we compete in these big areas. We are the biggest in the Americas, and North America, and then, compete in the top three around the world.

John: Throughout the world.

Chris: We are a very big player, obviously, in tires. And we’re really excited about what we’ve announced, which is our combination with Cooper Tire which is only going to increase our scale, all the more.

John: What is an exciting position for you to be in though, because it seems like in a world that we all get to, even today, you and I are talking over the zoom call when they spend less and less traveled because of the pandemic that we’ve all faced. Everyone leverages technology. For being the Chief Technology Officer at a company that’s a legacy company and leverage technology to take it to its new future, talk a little bit about that. How many teams of people do you have under you and how open is a legacy brand to changing evolving while you still want to maintain, of course, the great things that made you the great brand that got you to where you are today?

Chris: Sure. Maybe, to give a sense of the scale of my team, right? We’ll talk first, on the technology side, we’ve go to market regionally. So I have a product development leader for each of those regions, we have 3 regions. Then to feed those folks, those areas that I just described the new materials and things, prior to their even starting their product development. I have a leader who’s developing technology ahead of time. Okay? Then, the whole side that I haven’t even mentioned yet is what we call our be on tires[?]. And in that space, we have a couple of leaders who are doing two things, one in the market: They’re learning. What are some of the new needs for future mobility? And when you think of future Mobility, it’s hey, consumer vehicles, your Individual Car ownership. Some of these Trends have been slowed a little bit. Some are accelerating, but they’re still very much here with COVID. Fleets of vehicles instead of Individual Car ownership, autonomous driving, connected vehicles where they can actually transmit information and data. And then electric vehicles in terms of replacing internal combustion engines. And in that space, when you think about an exciting area as much as our traditional tire area for innovations exciting, we’re really doing some cool things over there. Maybe two of them that I could talk about would be first, our AndGo digital platform wherein you basically, we call it the Vehicle Readiness platform, you can put your connected vehicle on there and we can schedule. Today, we can service out of our own footprint, over 60% of all your service needs. And then, we could connect others in, in order to serve the rest of those needs. And we’ve been growing that platform significantly. We’ve got some announcements out there, some of our great customers, who are trying that service. People like [inaudible] who are shaping this new mobility. In the other area is tire intelligence. And that’s basically, how do you put a sensor in a tire? Collect real-time information and use that in order to drive both better maintenance for tires. But also, how do we take that to drive even better vehicle performance?

John: Is that sensor already in use or not yet commercialize?

Chris: So we’ve got it out in Pilot. We’ve done millions of miles on these sensors. Actually, we use spine sensors quite a bit, is in the commercial truck arena. They’re not necessarily tire mounted, but they are there to monitor temperature pressure. And from that information, we can actually predict and prevent downtime incidents by noticing the trends that are coming in those data as they’re put through some of our proprietary algorithms. The cool thing is, it’s great to give people a signal, but what we can then do is connect you into our footprint of service locations where we have thousands of them, right? In region. In fact, in the U.S. anywhere, you have a service need for a tire. We can have you up and running in under 2 hours. Anywhere of the entire U.S. So, it’s kind of taking that model into this emerging consumer mobility area. Enabled by a digital platform to do it, as well as sensors on the tires themselves.

John: So it’s really more of an ecosystem opportunity. Where they sell the tires to the new consumer but then, you also get to talk to them during their use of them. And if they need repair get to also take care of that need. So you’re keeping them in the Goodyear ecosystem.

Chris: That’s exactly right. Because one of the number 1 ways in which everybody listening here, can get the most out of your tires. Including the best performance, simply keeping the right amount of air in them. And that belief are not happens very infrequently. Most tires are running around without the exact proper inflation. So, just that job in and of itself, makes tires last longer, perform better and safer.

John: And those last two initiatives that you mentioned, they’re coming out of your innovation labs? Is that where the community…

Chris: That’s correct! Yeah, the way to think about that is they both come out of some of our traditional innovation centers because we do have to connect into data of the tire. Characteristics themselves to do things like, the where prediction. But we’re doing an awful lot in like San Francisco. So, an example, there was- We started only a few years back with a couple of people. Go learn about the ecosystem where all the innovations happening. Who are the people putting together these shared fleet type concepts. And what we did was start making those connections and we started to identify what our potential jobs we can uniquely do In this idea, Vehicle Readiness is a big one because tires are one of the number one reasons that a fleets can do its job seamlessly. So, being able to help them anticipate those issues or respond quickly when they happen, it really helps their efficiency which of course, is there a cost? That’s a big deal for fleets.

John: I read in some of the information on Goodyear when I was preparing for today’s interview. Of course, when Goodyear started back in 1890s, there was no such thing as we know it today as Silicon Valley. But you actually, now, as part of your technology initiative, you actually have an office in Silicon Valley. Is that true?

Chris: That’s correct. We grow in that office more than tenfold. And so, we actually have in market, they’re the people who are then collaborating. As well as that we really do a lot of the programming on our digital platform. Because you get access to some of the best talent around with respect to doing that type of work. [crosstalk] [inaudible] it give the access to the customers and access to the talent. And we then blast to get some good one on both sides.

John: [inaudible] Well, let’s just say great engineers. You’re actually competition against Google, Facebook. Now you’re in the hunt because you’re over in Silicon Valley.

Chris: There you go. It’s one of the ways in which, even though we’re a hundred years old, you might think of us- Hey, we’re one of those original startups and we’re starting up again.

John: I love it. That’s exciting. Chris, what are the big movements right now when we turn on CNBC and Bloomberg and any of the other business channels, Wall Street Journal or New York Times Business? This ecosystem of ESG investment, or for lack of better terms also known as a circular economy, the shift from the linear economy, to the circular economy, can you share some wisdom as to what you’re doing? Goodyear informs us that tires are no longer going to be just part of the linear economy. That what you’re doing in terms of your innovations are also preparing the Goodyear tires to be part of the circular economy in the future.

Chris: Sure. So I’ll start with what are these tires are made out of, right? And I mentioned I work on Soybean. We’ve also done work on some of the fillers. Silica is of one of the strong fillers that’s used to bond to the rubber or the polymer. That’s what gives its stiffness and its resilience etc. And so for there , we use what’s called rice husk silica ash. Basically, it is the husk of rice. So the discarded waste is then turned into an ash which can be made into the silica. And then, that silica can be reclaimed and we use it, of course, in tires. So there’s things were doing to use and connecting to other industries’ waste products in order to tournament ours. Even our Soybean isn’t competing with the bean[?] for food. It’s actually a part of the byproduct from the process of processing soybean. So, we’re being very cognitive of where did those sources come from? So there’s one area. The other areas, how can we recover tires at end of life? Now, while people don’t know, but the majority it’s over 90% of tires are reclaimed at end of life and repurposed. However, what we’d love to be able to do is repurpose from back to at least equal, right? So, if we could find ways and there are some startups that we’re partnering with and working with to break those end of life tires back to their fundamental building blocks, the oils, the resins, the fillers, the part polymers. And then repurpose them back into the next generation tires. We’ll really make that progress on that circular economy, right? Because the majority of as we think about sustainability comes from our product. We make lots of those products, right? And so the more we can do that, the better. One thing that people may not realize that even happens day and day out today is on the commercial tire side, how much of a tire is we used multiple times in its life through retracting? So, retracting is a huge part of our business model when it comes to commercial trucks. That tire is sold new once. And then it can be reused two more times by taking the old tread off and only replacing the tread. So those tires, although maybe in first life only may go a couple of hundred thousand miles. You can actually redo that a couple of two, three, more times through life, sometimes almost nearing a million miles on a parts of that tire. So that’s another way in which we do participate, even today, in circular economy.

John: I never even knew that. How often is that happen out of the percentage of 18-wheelers or trucks that we see on the road today? Is that happening to 10% of the tires that are being used today? 20%? What are the what are the best guest that you can give without having to be perfectly exactly force.

Chris: So, you happen to be talking to somebody who ran our retread business. So that looks like comes to North America. The two front tires to steer are always new, okay? It’s the tires than those steer tires will last about a hundred fifty thousand miles. You then take those, you buff off the old, you put a new tread on. You put them in the drive. They’ll go about 250,000 or so miles. Then you go buff those off and put them in the trail and they could last let’s say another hundred fifty thousand. Although trailers don’t run day in day out, there’s more trailers and there are tractors. Okay? And so, actually the majority of tires on trailers are retread. At least F, I would say of your drive tires are retread. So, more than half the tires in the drive position in the trailer. So on an 18-wheeler, 16 of the tires, 50%, I would say is my good estimate of that are retreaded at any given time.

John: So really from a commercial perspective, you guys are already in a big part of the circular economy from that perspective. From a commercial down to just a man on the street or a woman on the street, like you or me are regular cars, not able to leverage that same retreading. Technology is not part of what happens today?

Chris: Yeah. One of the big enablers to that, to make it happen, with our great customers like a J.B Hunt, Schneider, or a rider is the fact that in the United States, 80% of truck tires are only two different sizes. So therefore, you’re able to keep using those on truck unit to truck unit. If you think of the proliferation of new trim levels and things on cars, you don’t have that consistency. Correct? The second thing is the carcass of the tire. So not to get too techie geeked out on the tire technology, its steel and it is designed for that in a truck tire. Now, in per tire you do have a steel belt which you have fabric plies because they are more designed for single life use. So, only passenger type tires that you see, that are significantly retreaded is everything you see on the post office. Those post office vehicles because they’re under a controlled environment by large. They don’t go overly high speed. They do use significant retreading as well.

John: No kidding. So, going back to the issues of sourcing materials like you mentioned of soybeans. And then also working with different joint venture opportunities on people who can take a tire and recycle the material efficiently and get it back into your ecosystem, given those balancing act of those two things will turn in materials and then also recycling materials and the circular economy sense. How much of a Goodyear tire today compared to 90 years ago, 80 years ago, 70 years ago are made out of either sustainable materials or recycle materials? If you were to say, what percentage today are?

Chris: Yeah, sure. Today, if you look at like our weather-ready type of product. It’s about a third [crosstalk] [inaudible] sustainable type material. That’s correct. And we’re very much on track. We’ve laid out for ourselves a challenge of a bold goal is to demonstrate. We could make a hundred percent one by the end of the decade. Now, that’s not saying we’re going to sell all of our tires being a hundred percent. But to show it’s possible. And the reason I say that is you got to understand in order to really make it mainstream to where we could have a hundred percent sustainable recycled tires. Just think of the huge supply chains that we have to set up. Total new partnerships, a start-up as to get to the point where they’re providing the millions and millions and millions of pounds of materials and things that go on tire, right? So, you just got to figure somebody like, go to even. We make let’s say approximately a hundred fifty million tires, average weight of about 20 pounds a piece. We ended up it’s ourselves consume. Three billion pounds of materials, right? So, just to get the supply chain set up and that’s just us, let alone the whole industry. It’s going to take a while, but it’s going to start by showing it’s possible and we want to be the first one to say it’s possible. And that’s why we laid out that moonshot goal of a 2030 demonstrated.

John: I love it. For our listeners and viewers who have just joined us, we’re honored to have Chris Helsel with us today. He’s the Chief Technology Officer of Goodyear. To find all the good things that are doing a Goodyear and Chris and his colleagues go to www.goodyear.com. Chris talked a little bit about the differential when you’re thinking of technology. The race car business, which we all grew up with, which we all still love in America and around the world versus dealing with the new ventures that have gotten so much of our minds face now like a Tesla or any of those other great new brands that have come out to help our environment improve. How does that work with from the seat that you sit in?

Chris: Sure. I would say this, I’m going to go back to my- I’ve introduced this idea of tires, which is our classical innovation. Then this be on tires and its really required. We almost have this dual innovation set of tools. One is very much when you think of a tire it is a safety product. And we run that and it’s got to be at scale that we could do things in a very traditional kind of stage gate process, right? Where we start out, here’s the attributes of the product and you’ve got to get alignment of all your investments. So that out the end you can make it very large scales. These products that time and time again are going to be in performing the safe way, right? Again, I go back to it’s the only thing connecting you to Earth, that I think is really important to think about. When we get into though the area of like I describe this and go for the intelligent tire. If you’ve ever heard of The Lean Startup, it’s a hey, we got to get to a real minimum viable product. So let’s get there. So we can quickly test it and then maybe we put it out in a beta version and then we update it. And so, it’s a very different mindset. It’s very inquisitive experimental because we just don’t know what you don’t know. So, we basically have to have [(26:27)]those capabilities in order to work in innovation today. Because on one side to do like IoT, Internet of Things, Internet of Things type of innovation, it’s learn fast. It could be we create something. We try it. Somebody says that’s interesting but it really doesn’t solve my problem. Well, on the tire life, we have pretty good predictability of what it is that we need. Because we have good insights into the market. Because the market is pretty mature. So we need both of those sets of skills.

John: Got it. Hey, as I mentioned at the top of the show, we’re still on the other side of working our way through science is winning on this pandemic. What were some of your greatest lessons learned on how you navigated Goodyear through the pandemic and what lessons learned you’re going to take forward and how has that affected your supply chain?

Chris: Yeah, I would say the number 1 thing that many of us learned, I can give this example, we were sitting in a senior leadership meeting talking about how we are going to test out whether Microsoft teams was going to work for some small percentage of our people to prove to ourselves, we could start working remote. And then I remember by the end of the meeting, we are getting phone calls, saying different countries in Europe are being shut down etc. By the end of the meeting said we’re just going for it. It really did perform. I mean, we’ve given a lot of accolades to our IT group and probably other people have do that. This stuff was much more ready for prime time and we gave it credit. And so I’d say, one of the number 1 thing we talked out and learned is, sometimes we should just go for it, right? We think if we hadn’t just gone for it, we’d probably still be arguing if the pilot was successful today. I’m joking. But I think that’s a leadership lesson learned, right? And I think that’s one of the things we want to hold on to. That decisiveness, that agility, I think those are a couple things for everybody to hold on to.

John: People talk about supply chain disruptions and we’re all working our way out of it in different industries, some affected more than others. Did it affect your supply chain or you’re in good shape right now?

Chris: So interestingly, I know this might sound strange to some folks, but my title is Chief Technology Officer. The senior vice president is actually a global operations. So I actually have responsibilities who are decentralized group of procurement and its quality etc. And then, doing that on the daily basis with our regional businesses, right? So we’ve very much partner. It’s a matrix responsibility and I’ll tell you, the challenges are out there, the challenges are real. But what we’ve found is our team performed pretty darn well. They had gotten ahead of getting some of what they needed to do, the shipping that they needed to do. They had previously booked some containers. We had it some increase safety stocks and things. So, knock on wood, so far we’ve had no lost production, been able to keep our plans up and running. And good job by, I’d say some of the operations team to keeping our people safe while they’ve been up and running. So, I’m both sides of the COVID threat and the supply[?] So far, we’ve been able to keep the trains on time.

John: I love your moonshot goal. I love by the end of the decade, you’re going to try to make tires fully out of recyclable materials. You’re at a third now, approximately sustainable and recycle material. Chris, 25 years, you’re there. But you seem to have the energy and the excitement of someone who just into this thing 3 or 4 years. What gets you out of bed right now? What’s in the future for Goodyear besides the moonshot goals that you’ve shared with our listeners?

Chris: I would say, we talked about the tire intelligence and I guess I should say this, I’ll start out because you got to be a little bit- You and I started our conversation with the family. I love all my children the same, so I get up in the morning because I love my supply chain folks. And I love my innovation body but you can’t pick who’s your favorite child, right?

John: I love it.

Chris: What are the exciting things? I think is, when we talked entire intelligence, where I didn’t get the conversation with you so far, is the job beyond monitoring is how the tire can become actually an active sensor. And I’ll go back to that idea. The tire is the only thing touching the road. And what really important to know, at any given time, is that tires sticking or slipping? Because if it’s slipping you want breaking action occurring, you want practicing it at happening etc. Through those automated systems. So one of the areas we’re also working is, how can we have a smart tire talking to a smarter braking system? We’ve proven already that as a tire wears, it breaks, it takes a little longer. Its characteristics change. We can recover almost a third of that by integrating just knowing the current state of the tire with breaking. And now, if you take that concept to know what’s happening at that interface, how can we inform the future autonomous driver, right? And then autonomous system is counting on, what’s happening at that interface? If we can inform that system of exactly what’s going on. Boy, we can help unlock a new use cases for autonomous driving, maybe instead of only being able to drive under ideal weather conditions. Like today, which is really a great engineering achievement. How about under wet conditions or snow conditions because you know better exactly what’s happening at that interface. And then, I’d even take it further if we’re the ones you know what’s going on on that interface, right? It’s one thing to know it’s cold outside. So maybe the roads need treatment, but it’d be another because our intelligent tire rolled over that road, that only for this hundred feet does the road really need treatment. So let’s go prioritize that. And we can inform maybe infrastructure maintainers or provider. So I think there’s a lot of other cool things we could do because of two things we’re working on. The fact that we’re the only thing touching that road. Secondly, in the intelligence that we’re trying to add to that. Now, those are moonshots to for us. But I think, that kind of really gets you going, right? That we could really take safety to a new level.

John: So that’s a one-two punch. What you’re saying data collection from the tire touching the road and collecting all the data. And then the data analytics event who it informs and how it informs them.

Chris: You got it, you got it.

John: Brilliant. Now give me like get moonshot. I love it that you’ve already put it under that umbrella. Well, you said on the recycled tires, hopefully, by the end of the decade. Hopefully, there’s no guarantees, we know big hairy goal. How about that? How many years do you think where you’re talking about that moonshot project?

Chris: You will see this year. The intelligent tire released for doing the monitoring.

John: Wow!

Chris: And then, what you will see, I would say before 2025, 2027ish, the tire actually being a sensor. That friction work is still under- We’ve got some promising avenues to pursue on that.

John: Well, wonderful. Chris, thank you for your time today. I really hope I get to meet you one day and I want you to know that you’re always welcome back on the Impact Podcast to share all the new innovations you do in Goodyear. For our listeners and viewers to find Chris, his colleagues, and all the great works that Goodyear is doing, go to www.goodyear.com. Chris, you are making a huge impact and making the world a better place. And thank you for joining us today in the Impact Podcast.

Chris: Thank you.

John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by the Marketing Masters. A Marketing Masters is a boutique marketing agency offering website development and digital marketing services to small and medium businesses across America. For more information on how they can help you grow your business online, please visit the marketingmasters.com.