TIRE TECHNOLOGY LEAPS AHEAD

November 8, 2006 Vol. 2, No. 23

There’s a lot of engine news to relate this time out, but I’m going to focus mostly on tires here. That’s because a rather busy day spent at Michelin’s test track and headquarters in South Carolina last week yielded an awful lot of interesting news. I’ve written about a couple of new things from the tire company’s arsenal in the product items attached to this newsletter, but I had to leave space for others. So I’ll suggest you look at the December issue of Today’s Trucking for a bit more than I can deal with here.

Let’s start with something that isn’t on the market quite yet, namely the second generation of Michelin’s eTire system with its all new sensor patch. Like the original introduced in 2002, eTire II aims at local and regional fleets whose trucks return to a terminal daily. With a sensor patch and RFID tag inside each tire, a drive-by radio-frequency reader ‘sees’ individual tires as they enter the terminal and automatically reads their pressure. A handheld reader is also available.

“Pressure maintenance and tire tracking continue to make the top of the wish list of most fleet maintenance managers,” says Marc Laferriere, vice president of marketing for Michelin Americas Truck Tires. “The ability to offer accurate, temperature-compensated, automatic pressure measurement is what we are seeking to attain.”

Temperature compensation allows the eTire II system to identify vehicles with slow leaks as they re-enter the service terminal. Such slow leaks could otherwise be hidden by the higher temperatures of the tire and you end up with the dreaded morning flats that can disrupt operations.

Developed by Michelin’s research arm and Honeywell Sensing & Control, the eTire II system includes the sensor patch that is applied to the interior of the tire’s sidewall, the two reader types, and the ‘BibTrack’ Internet-based tracking software that allows a fleet to monitor its tire assets from multiple terminals.

The handheld reader has been redesigned and ergonomically improved, but it’s no tiny little Palm Pilot. The drive-by reader has also evolved and is now more powerful and more robust than the eTire version.

The sensor patch is what’s most different. It now weighs less than half an ounce and contains two main components — an RFID module and a battery-free pressure/temperature sensor. It’s so small and thin — with a thickness equivalent to a few sheets of paper – that you won’t find the tire balance problems that sometimes cropped up with the previous sensor. It’s also reliable and fast, says Michelin. If there’s a downside here, it’s that the new system is not backwards compatible, but Michelin says it will continue to support the original version.

So when do we see eTire II? “We are now ready to start limited production and test for market acceptance,” says Laferriere.

Among the other innovations shown by Michelin was one I first talked about this past June, a self-regenerating tread for both new and retread tires. I know more now. Part of what the company calls Durable Technologies – a mix-and-match ‘chain’ of technical breakthroughs – the self-regenerating mechanism will get a whopping $500 million investment over the next five years.

One key to it is the so-called ‘raindrop sipes’ molded into the tread surface that automatically create new, enlarged grooves as the tire tread wears. So the more a tire travels, the more it self-regenerates. It’s based on raindrop-shaped cylindrical channels hidden at the base of the double wave ‘Matrix’ sipes at the center of each tread block. When the tread is about two-thirds worn, the Matrix sipes gradually open to create new lateral grooves in the middle of the tread block. It means the tire delivers more consistent levels of grip and improved safety throughout its tread life, which should encourage maintenance managers to remove the tires at a lower tread depth, thereby providing additional mileage. These raindrop sipes can be found on Michelin’s new XDA5 drive tire currently in a market evaluation phase. It won’t be ready for sale until fourth-quarter 2007.

And then there’s similar self-regenerating technology available now through Michelin XDA Hypersipe retreads. It’s a patented tread design and siping technology that molds tread features on the top and bottom of a Pre-Cure tread band. Sipes molded into the bottom of the tread appear as the tire wears, providing improved worn traction over the life of the retread. The bottom sipes appear at approximately half tread depth and last down to the final usable 32nd of tread, which means the retreaded tire can be removed from service later in life while also providing performance benefits right to the end.

And another patented Michelin feature is the Infini-Coil casing architecture — a continuous steel cord is wrapped around the crown from side to side that, if unwound, would measure more than a quarter mile! It aims to optimize rolling circumference uniformity and give the tire serious endurance. Because the casing is more robust, tires can be made wider, with smaller diameters and longer lifespans.

In certain tire sizes, Michelin says its Infini-Coil Technology can increase tread life, improve retreadability, increase load capacity and provide additional payload per axle. It’s used in all X One wide single tires.

So enough with tires for the moment. Instead, a few words on the testing that’s going into 2007 engines.

At Detroit Diesel, work began on the 2007 MBE 900 and 4000 engines back in 2003, when the first prototypes hit the test stands in Michigan, Germany, and Brazil. Much of the effort since then has been directed toward strengthening the product line, says DDC, not just gearing up to meet the ’07 EPA rules.

The testing program started with test cell dynamometers, and as the reliability and durability testing phase draws to a close, some 20 engines are now being put into a customer demonstration program to get further evaluation from end users.

More than 10 million miles have been accumulated on MBE 900 and 4000 engines during the reliability testing phase, including summer and winter trials.

Last winter, the MBE engine team took test trucks through Minnesota and Finland to check out cold-weather performance. The engines successfully regenerated the aftertreatment systems even in these extreme cold conditions, we’re told.

Test teams wrapped up their summer work this past August. It was conducted in the Nevada desert for the high-ambient cooling system testing, Colorado for high-altitude testing, and high-humidity HVAC testing was conducted in Texas and the southwest. Testing was done on both interstate and urban routes.

“Now that these prototype parts have been re-designed, the customer demo program can be put into full swing,” explains Larry Dutko, EPA ’07 program director for Freightliner LLC. “If any further refinements to the MBE 4000 and MBE 900 are required based on input from customers who are running the trucks in their everyday operations, we will make every effort to implement these improvements before year end.”

And back to tires for just a bit before I leave. One of the items I included below describes the anti-splash rib high on the shoulder of the new Michelin XZA2. Does it actually work, you might well ask? Yep, it really does.

I took a few laps in both a car travelling beside trucks with and without the anti-splash rib, and then in the trucks themselves, through a deep puddle on the Michelin test track. The splash didn’t reach windshield height with the car running just a few feet off the XZA2-equipped truck’s right corner. And it went over the roof with the other one.

Sometimes the simple tricks are the ones that work best.

This newsletter is published every two weeks. It’s a heads-up notice about what’s going on with trucking technology as well as what you can see at www.todaystrucking.com where you’ll find in-detail coverage of nearly everything that’s new. Plus interesting products that may not have had the ‘air play’ they deserved within the last few months. Subscribe today!

If you have comments of whatever sort, please contact me at rlockwood@newcom.ca.

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.


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