Intelligent truck tires

Dec. 16, 2014
Technologies await fleets willing to adopt cost-saving measures

During a recent trip to Germany for the Tire Technology for Commercial Vehicles Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting several European tire professionals. As the only American in attendance, I spent a lot of networking time explaining how the North American market operates. One aspect that the Europeans had a hard time understanding was the fact that large U.S. fleets could control which components (and tires) are specified on new equipment.

Market drivers were a constant discussion topic during my adventure overseas as most of the conference attendees know very little about the second largest economy in the world. My presentation on truck tire labeling requirements raised a number of questions regarding the identification of low-rolling-resistance (LRR) tires and the popularity of the SmartWay program.  Most attendees had never heard of SmartWay, so they were amazed at how a voluntary government-sponsored marketing campaign could launch the sudden popularity of LRR truck tires in the U.S.

My reasoning for calling the popularity of LRR truck tires “sudden” is based on the fact that by my last count, the number of SmartWay-verified truck tires more than doubled between 2013 and 2014 while the number of companies that offer SmartWay tires almost tripled.  I believe the LRR movement is here to stay regardless of fuel prices and actual environmental/economic benefits.

But one area where truck tire technology remains at a standstill is radio frequency identification (RFID). My European counterparts were shocked that despite the millions of dollars in tires and retreads that large fleets manage, there is virtually no interest in RFID. And when we discussed potential cost benefits, it was even more difficult for them to understand why the North American truck tire market has not embraced the advantages of electronic tracking and recordkeeping.

Equally puzzling was the lack of popularity for traditional tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS). I explained how automatic tire inflation systems (ATIS) have basically taken over the trailer market and why they will never do the same for trucks and tractors. Apparently, ATIS is not very popular in Europe because attendees were fascinated by the simplicity and effectiveness of using the air brake system to provide a constant supply of inflation pressure to the trailer tires through the axle.

During the passenger and light truck Intelligent Tire Technology Conference held concurrently, I listened intently to discussions on the prospects for attaching TPMS sensors inside tires. And while it definitely represents a lot of “blue sky” thinking, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would revolutionize the truck tire industry. Putting sensors in tires allows manufacturers to use energy harvesters, so there is no battery life to worry about. And since the big fleets have so much influence on the manufacturers, it shouldn’t be difficult to convince the tire and truck companies to agree on a universal platform.

Of course, cost would be a major factor, but if the sensor could last the life­span of the new tire and subsequent retreads only to be removed and reattached to the next new tire in order to repeat the process, fleets would only have to buy them once. Surely, the return-on-investment concerns would be completely eliminated if a TPMS sensor lasted forever. Undoubtedly, there will be a few sensors that bite the dust as the result of an impact that instantly deflates the tire, but the remaining run-flat scenarios could become a thing of the past with ATIS for the trailers and intelligent steer or drive tires that notify the driver when they are losing air.

Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Kevin Rohlwing

Kevin Rohlwing is the SVP of training for the Tire Industry Association. He has more than 40 years of experience in the tire industry and has created programs to help train more than 180,000 technicians.

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