The wireless age of tires

It appears that the possibility of passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in truck tires may become reality in the near future

It appears that the possibility of passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in truck tires may become reality in the near future. This technology will allow tire manufacturers to electronically establish each tire's “birth record” for inventory, service life and warranty purposes. As an added bonus, the tags should have extra memory storage to accommodate in-life programming after the tire is put into service. While most fleets would unanimously agree that RFID tags are a good thing for the industry, they would also agree that the perceived benefits still do not outweigh any cost so it cannot be added to the price of the tire.

This “include it at no extra cost” attitude has made it tough on the companies that manufacture truck tires. There are basically three ways that a tire manufacturer can attach an RFID tag to a tire: Build it into a patch and install it on the innerliner or outer sidewall; glue it directly to the innerliner; or cure it into the tire during the manufacturing process. The first two approaches are extremely labor-intensive in an industry that is focused on implementing more automation and robotics to the process so the added costs make them an unlikely long-term solution. Building the tag into the tire seems like the most obvious choice, but fleets would be amazed at how complicated the curing process is for a truck tire and how the addition of a small RFID tag and antenna can lead to big problems down the road if it isn't done properly.

Despite the numerous roadblocks and cost considerations, it appears that tire companies have finally reached the point where some of them have perfected the process and justified the costs from an internal standpoint. It takes a lot of resources to track every tire for inventory purposes and an equal amount of money to process the warranty claims. The sad truth is that RFID tags will probably put some people out of work, but the reality is that we are at the beginning of the digital age of trucking so tires are simply the next component to go that route.

Fleets will definitely be able to take advantage of the in-life programming aspects that should accompany most tires with this technology. Each tire can be assigned a unique identification number so it can easily be tracked throughout its service life. The accuracy of cost-per-mile calculations will literally improve overnight when mileage, repairs and retreads can be wirelessly attributed to each individual tire. Just tracking and accounting for the assets will be as easy as pointing a reader to the sidewall and pressing a button or two before downloading the information into a database or spreadsheet.

Fortunately, steps have been taken to help ensure that the truck tire industry collectively agrees to use a common programming language and protocol for RFID tags so fleets, service providers and retreaders will not need multiple readers to accommodate different manufacturers. There is also universal agreement regarding the physical location of the tag on the tire as well as where it should be positioned on the rim or wheel.

Even though the holy grail of imbedded RFID tags that also monitor tire inflation pressure still appear to be years away, the first generation of this new technology will provide numerous benefits for the tire and transportation industries. When tire assets are properly tracked and managed, fleets can take steps to lower operating costs and maximize cost per mile. RFID tags will make it easier and more accurate without affecting the price of the tire.

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