Truck News


Air on the side of caution

AYR, Ont. - When out-going President Bill Clinton signed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act into law in December of last year, he threw the spotlight on a safe...

AYR, Ont. – When out-going President Bill Clinton signed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act into law in December of last year, he threw the spotlight on a safety technology that has existed for years but has always been underutilized: tire pressure monitoring devices.

The new legislation, commonly called the TREAD Act, was inspired by the recent rash of deadly SUV accidents. It mandates tire inflation monitoring devices be installed on all new motor vehicles, including heavy trucks, manufactured in the U.S within three years.

That means if you’ve never dealt with tire monitoring devices before, you’re going to get to know them really soon.

Paul Flabbi already knows all about tire monitoring devices. As the director of sales and marketing for Ayr, Ont.-based J. Howlett Services, Flabbi has been selling automatic tire pressure systems to trucking industry clients for almost six years. He says although it’s tragic that it took several fatal accidents to force the new law, at least it will wake-up the motoring public, especially the trucking industry, to the importance of time pressure.

“Lots of trucking companies like to think they do a good job of maintaining proper tire pressure, but not many would put their hand on the Bible and swear that it is getting done,” Flabbi says. “When it’s cold in the winter, and the ground is muddy, do you think drivers really want to get down there with a tire gauge and check their pressure?”

The Vigia system Flabbi markets was originally developed in Argentina, where it has been employed on buses and in the construction industry for more than 20 years. The system is also quite common in Europe. Using a network of hoses attached to the wheel hubs, the system kicks in when it detects a loss in pressure of 3 lb. below the pre-set level on any one tire. The driver is immediately informed of the loss in pressure through a light and gauge display in the cab while the air system automatically re-inflates the problem tire to the correct pressure. The re-inflation system is more complex than the kind envisioned by the TREAD Act – which only requires that the driver of the vehicle be notified of tire pressure loss – but Flabbi points out that a truck driver with a bad tire may be a long way from the next service facility.

“These systems require no driver intervention to ensure the tires have the correct pressure,” Flabbi says. “They make monitoring tire pressure a no-brainer.”

Since January of 1999, ArvinMeritor, in partnership with Pressure Systems International Inc. (PSI), has been marketing an automatic tire inflation system for trailer applications. The PSI system, as it is called, uses compressed air from the trailer air system to inflate any tire that falls below a pre-set pressure while the trailer is moving. The PSI system is designed to maintain air pressure at a constant and proper level. Trailer tires are especially susceptible to low tire pressure problems because they are not in the shop being serviced as much as tractors, therefore the tire pressure tends to get checked less often.

Tire inflation systems first gained acceptance in forestry and construction vocations.

Extremely high tire costs combined with hazardous operating environments made the systems a natural fit.

“We studied what causes rubber to shred from truck tires and found that, in 85 to 95 per cent of cases … most tire failures were caused by under-inflation,” says Gary Schultz, production manager for Dana’s Spicer Tire Management Systems.

He says the Spicer system uses a sensor on each tire that signals a warning light in the cab of the truck if the is a 10 per cent drop in tire pressure.

Along with enhanced safety, tire-monitoring systems can also help fleets and owner/operators alike cut down on the cost of rubber, which, of course, is just behind fuel in terms of operating expenses. Tires are designed to deliver optimum traction and life if operated at the correct tire pressure, Flabbi argues. It only stands to reason then, he says, that under-inflated tires will deliver less than optimum performance. That equals higher operating costs.

“For every two pounds of pressure a rolling tire loses, its operating temperature increases by 5F, because softer tires produce more friction,” Flabbi explains. “That’s why you see all these shredded recaps on the highway, it’s the heat that breaks them down.”

Flabbi says it costs about $1,200 to outfit a tandem trailer unit with the Vigia system. A tractor and trailer (total five axles) combination will cost about $2,600.

In a report published by ArvinMeritor entitled Issues and Trends, Bob Zirlin, director of marketing, worldwide trailer products, writes: “A 10 per cent under-inflation of a trailer’s tires can cut their usable life by 16 per cent. If the tires are under-inflated by 30 per cent, their life can be cut by as much as 55 per cent.”

Using a variety of industry research sources, ArvinMeritor as even broken down the cost impact of under-inflated tires into various categories. The company claims that a trailer outfitted with its tire pressure monitoring system will realize average annual cost savings of $200 in terms of reduced tread wear; $150 in terms of maintenance; $300 in reduced fuel consumption; and $350 in avoided on-the-road tire service calls.

Clearly, the move to tire monitoring devices as standard equipment has already begun. SmarTire Systems Inc., a Richmond, B.C.-based company that manufacturers a tire pressure monitoring device that warns the driver of low pressure via a radio frequency, recently signed an exclusive supplier deal with a division of Cleveland, Ohio-based TRW Inc., one of the largest independent automotive suppliers in the world.

SmarTire president and chief executive officer Robert Rudman says his company is “taking strategic steps” to expand its product development and marketing activities for the commercial vehicle market.

“Commercial vehicles will represent SmarTire’s primary market,” Rudman said when announcing the TRW deal. “And now with unprecedented demand for tire monitoring, plus expanded access to the trucking industry, our product development and marketing programs are shifting to this lucrative market.” n

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