Technology typically evolves at a rate that society can accept. In some cases, great ideas are ahead of their time so they fail at inception only to see the same basic concepts reborn years later with great success. There are no formulas that predict when or if new technology will succeed. A small number of companies are willing to accept the risks that come with innovation, while the majority are more comfortable with letting their competitors overcome the growing pains before jumping in. Being first with technology creates a tremendous competitive advantage if the market is ready to embrace it.
When wide-base single tires were first introduced over a decade ago, only a couple of tire companies made the investment to create the market. The concept of replacing duals with a single tire wasn’t necessarily new, but it hadn’t been expanded to replace traditional tractor and trailer applications so there was some natural skepticism related to making the switch.
Fast forward to 2017 and most of the major tire companies have wide-base single tires because there are a lot fleets that are experiencing the bottom-line benefits they can provide. I say “can” because there are an almost equal number of fleets that appear to be switching back to traditional duals. For some fleets, this technology was a major technological breakthrough; for others, it was an idea that looked good on paper but does not work in the field.
A recent announcement from a major tire manufacturer regarding radio frequency identification (RFID) in its full line of truck tires represents the potential for a groundbreaking shift in asset management. Technology for electronic tire tracking has been available for years, but the missing link was broad-line implementation that makes it more or less accessible. Once again, I have to clarify my point because the current broad-line RFID inclusion is still directly tied to the manufacturer, so it’s not like any fleet can go out and purchase a reader to utilize the benefits.
RFID in truck tires has countless benefits. Asset tracking is streamlined when tires have unique electronic IDs that can be linked to tread depth measurements and inflation pressure. The simplicity of scanning the RFID tag to create an accurate and up-to-date history of the tire and the casing cannot be overstated. Fleets can link tires to vehicles, service providers, and retread plants to determine if there are any anomalies or irregularities. Accountability reaches a new level because no one can hide from the data that is recorded and reported to the fleet. If someone in the supply chain is not performing, electronic asset tracking will identify the problem faster and more accurately.
“Being first with technology creates an advantage if the market is ready to embrace it.”
Like the introduction of wide-base singles, the question is whether the remaining tire companies follow suit and enter the RFID game. The dominoes have been in place for years; now it looks like the first one has fallen, so what happens next is anyone’s guess.
Fleets will be the ones that determine the future of RFID. If trucking companies start experiencing success in the form of cost savings, reduced downtime, and increased performance, then they will pressure other suppliers to follow suit. On the other hand, if it takes longer to recognize the benefits and fleets are unwilling to incur the accompanying fees, then it could be years until it becomes standard.
Everyone is going to be watching as the RFID era is born. If the dominoes start falling like I think they will, then one or more tire manufacturers will follow suit with similar introductions in the coming months or years. Unfortunately, I also believe that the technology will remain proprietary, so the only way to take full advantage of the benefits will be through the manufacturer.
But progress is still progress and in the highly competitive truck tire and retread market, it won’t be long before another tire company makes a similar announcement with similar plans to strengthen the relationship between fleet and supplier.