Keep on rollin’

by Andrew Snook

Checking inflation pressures regularly is key to making tires last in rugged vocational applications.

Few things take as bad a beating on jobsites as the tires for fleets of heavy equipment. So, what can operators and fleet managers do, in terms of tire management, to ensure their operations run as smooth as possible? Well, the most important item on the to-do list – which, in many cases, is often overlooked – is to properly manage the air pressure in the tires.

“Air pressure is the killer of the tire industry – air pressure and speed,” says George Brown of Professional Tire based in Gander, Nfld., who has 45 years of experience in the tire business.

He says getting operators to manage their air pressure on a regular basis can be a big challenge, thanks partly to the technologies now available in the equipment. Before sensors were installed in trucks to help drivers maintain their oil levels, operators would regularly monitor them. Brown says that kind of diligence has become a thing of the past.

“Now they’re all relying on the gauges and the lights, and it’s the same thing with the tires,” he says.

Brown says this challenge is largely a generational difference between veteran drivers and young operators.

“Some of the old truck drivers I know can take a small baseball bat and from the thump pretty well tell your air pressure from within five pounds,” he says. “But some of these young guys, they go around and kick the tire and they think it’s great, but the tire could be 50% underinflated…I get about 5% of my commercial guys that really maintain their tires, and you can tell when they come back to the shop with mileage. I can see it.”

Brown says air pressure inspection should be performed once a week, but in some cases, you’d be lucky to get the tires inspected once a month. He adds that the owner-operators tend to be more diligent in checking the air pressure than company drivers, due to the financial ramifications of poor tire management coming directly out of owner-operators’ pockets.

Operator awareness

Keeping an eye on your surroundings, especially in heavier applications, is also vital for prolonging the life of the tires.

“Operators have to be aware of their surroundings – their work area,” says Mark Montico, account manager of the mining and commercial division for OK Tire’s location in Timmins, Ont.

“An example of that more in the mining side and in the quarries is if an articulating truck leaves and material falls out the back, the operator needs to pick that up. That spillage can’t remain there because that spillage will eventually just puncture tires,” he says.

Being aware of the type of material your tires are regularly travelling on is also very important.

Tim George, customer service and logistics manager for the aggregates division at Lafarge Canada in Edmonton, Alta., says the quality of the roads can vary greatly from one site to the next. George spent many years in Fort McMurray, Alta., before coming to Edmonton, and he says the roads at the Fort McMurray sites were definitely different from the roads in Edmonton.

“The 20-mm down here, and the pavement our guys are running on here, get them a little more use then they would in a dusty setting like McMurray,” he says, adding that the way an operator drives their truck is also very important for prolonging the life of the tires. “It’s like your car. As fast as you drive, your brakes, your turning – all of those things – slow and steady wins the race, and preserves the tires.”

George says his company’s main priority is preventing the roads from being damaged, so they keep the speed in their pits limited to 10 or 20 km/h. Lafarge’s Edmonton operation also makes an effort to keep roads smooth and free from any loose materials and waters them regularly.

“We just maintain the speed and regulate, and have designated haul lanes for them,” he says. “We definitely try and control the speeds that way.”

George adds that the age of the pits can also play a factor on the wear of tires on hauling trucks.
“Most of our pits are long-term pits, so those roads are tire-friendly,” he says. Greenfield grounds are soft, it wears a little harder.”

Perfect match

Tire matching is also important to optimize the life cycle of the tires.

“If one tire is worn and the tire across from it fails and is now disposable, putting a new tire on and the OD (overall diameter) is not the same, then the tire will wear out faster,” Montico says.

Preventive maintenance is key

When managing an equipment fleet, knowing when to replace your tires can make a huge the difference in preventing costly downtime. In George’s situation in Edmonton, where Lafarge subcontracts out its aggregate hauling fleet, he recommends to operators that they replace tires before they encounter an issue.

“It’s better to replace it before it goes,” George says. “We do try to get our guys to err more on the side of caution. I always tell them it’s $200 per hour now or $2,000 per hour later.”

You get what you pay for

There is a wide array of tires that fleet managers can choose from, and many of them offer technologies that can assist with preventive maintenance – such as tire pressure sensors. But for many contractors and fleet managers, buying decisions are dictated by price.

“The biggest thing, for my guys anyways, is they go for price,” George says. “It may not be the best available tire out there, but when you’re replacing, a $1,000 tire will pop a hole same as a $300 tire. That’s kind of the mentality of a lot of these guys.”

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