[what's new in:] wheels

Dec. 16, 2014
March towards the lightest wheels ever continues

While some things about wheels for heavy-duty trucks haven’t changed, manufacturers continue working on innovations that enhance durability and help fleets improve cost efficiency.  “A range of research and development efforts aimed at advancing product technology continues,” says Craig Kessler, vice president of engineering at Accuride.

“We continue to reinvent the wheel,” states Tim Myers, president of Alcoa Wheel and Transportation Products. “A mix of manufacturing, technology and metals expertise enables breakthroughs and a progression of innovations driven by proprietary technologies.”

A diligent effort to drive continuous improvement in both product and process is also in place at Maxion Wheels, notes Mark Fonte, marketing & sales manager–OE Truck. “We are committed to innovation and will soon implement a formal process that draws on the knowledge of our employee base. Through a virtual suggestion box available on a web-based platform, employees can submit concepts that can shape the design of the wheels of the future.”

Coatings for steel wheel corrosion protection and weight savings for both steel and aluminum wheels are among the latest wheel developments at Accuride. “Wheel ‘lightweighting’ is a consistent area of focus and a core process for our engineering team,” Kessler says. “Not only is it needed by our fleet customers to maximize load rates and minimize fuel expenses, it also helps reduce manufacturing costs.”

Accuride steel wheels for commercial vehicle applications include the 22.5x8.25-in. Accu-Lite featuring high-strength, low-alloy steel in models weighing 68 and 66 lbs. The company also plans new offerings in this product line in 2015.

For aluminum wheels, Accuride introduced its Duplex line earlier this year. “By improving manufacturing processes and wheel designs, we can still take additional weight out of an aluminum wheel,” Kessler adds. “More significant weight reduction, however, will come through the use of new alloys, so we continue to explore the application of the latest aluminum alloys in future wheel designs.”

Earlier this year, Alcoa rolled out the Ultra One Wheel with MagnaForce, a new proprietary alloy the company says is on average 17% stronger than the standard 6061 alloy used in similar applications. According to Myers, the MagnaForce alloy takes 5 lbs. out of a comparable 22.5x8.25-in. aluminum wheel, bringing its weight down to 40 lbs. while still meeting strength and load rating requirements.

“This innovation will shed pounds for increased payload and fuel efficiency,” Myers adds. “That’s especially important as fleets convert to wheels that help offset the weight of necessary emissions control equipment.”

Maxion’s engineering team has been working on improvements in steel wheel technology for North American commercial vehicles, including new coatings to limit corrosion and improve appearance, technologies to reduce weight, and ideas for improved wheel runout that will enhance ride comfort. Its global product line now includes the Gen35 wheel family, which the company says is 6% lighter than its former wheel generation, the result of newly applied design techniques.

“We are also developing a torque sensor system as a safety feature to monitor torque loss between the nut and stud,” Fonte explains. “This new technology combines a miniature sensor with a wireless transmitter and can be installed on basically every vehicle nut or washer. The sensor permanently monitors the torque level and as soon as a minor loss is registered, the system can alert the driver as well as inform the fleet maintenance department, including through text messages on mobile phones.”

The truck wheel manufacturing industry’s efforts to focus on product design and manufacturing process improvements, including the development and use of new technologies and materials, are leading to advantages for fleets. Included are reduced wheel weights, which can offset heavier components on late model vehicles or boost payload capacity. Running lighter also lowers fuel consumption.

Going forward, these companies also universally report that they continue to seek and develop new materials and processes to drive more weight out of wheels.

For more information, visit these websites:

Alcoa Wheel and Transportation Products
www.alcoa.com/alcoawheels

Accuride
www.accuridecorp.com

Maxion Wheels
www.maxionwheels.com

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