Tire tracking goes high-tech

by James Menzies

ORLANDO, Fla. – Michelin has developed a new tire tracking and monitoring system the company says can save fleets hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The eTire system was recently unveiled in Orlando, Florida, after years of testing with some unnamed U.S. fleets.

The system consists of an in-tire sensor, which is coupled with a sensor dock on the inside of the tire wall.

The sensor weighs less than one ounce, meaning it won’t disrupt a truck’s balance.

A fleet can then scan the tire using either a handheld or Drive By Reader (DBR) device which records each tire’s air pressure, temperature and ID number.

That information can be accessed over an Internet connection by fleet managers who can then utilize the information to better manage their tire program.

“The eTire system delivers the benefits of true, cradle to grave tire tracking and air pressure monitoring using radio frequency transmissions,” explains Mike Tolman, e-commerce products manager with Michelin Americas Truck Tires.

“We can now deliver the information fleets need to make decisions that impact their fleets every day.”

The in-tire sensor provides quick and accurate readings of a tire’s pressure, taking the tire temperature into account as well.

“We measure the temperature inside the tire and we compare that to the ambient temperature outside and then we just do a simple calculation which gives us the cold equivalent pressure,” says Tolman.

This is a major safety advance, since hot tires often record a tire pressure as much as 12psi greater than the actual pressure.

Therefore, it’s not uncommon for a dangerously deflated tire to go undetected since it would often fall within the acceptable limits if measured while still hot.

For fleets that always insist on taking readings while the tire is cool, the waiting game (while the tire cools) can now be eliminated thanks to this new technology.

The ID number each sensor is equipped with is also an important feature, says Tolman.

“By having a unique ID number, we can now track each individual tire electronically,” he says.

Once mounted, a sensor is able to remain attached to that individual tire for the life of the tire – including retread cycles.

When the tire is disposed of, the sensor can be re-attached to a new tire and the old information will be archived while the sensor immediately begins recording the new tire’s data.

That’s one of the reasons Michelin decided to make the sensors battery-free.

“Batteries and the high heat associated with the retread cycle don’t mix very well,” says Tolman. So, with no batteries to worry about replacing, what powers the sensor?

“The power source is generated off the DBR or the handheld reader, which triggers the sensor to wake up,” says Tolman.

Most of the time, the sensor is inactive, and it only begins recording data when prompted.

While Michelin recommends fleets install the permanent DBR in addition to having the handheld device at the ready, it’s not always necessary to have both methods available.

Smaller fleets may want to consider the cheaper option of using a handheld reader at all times.

However, the handheld reader must be docked and it takes a bit longer to scan each tire individually.

The handheld device consists of a screen and touchpad, with a wand designed to reach in between dual tires to get an accurate reading of each tire.

Finding the sensor is easy, as the eTire logo is prominently displayed on the outside of the tire wall at the precise location of the sensor.

“This whole system has been designed around the dual configuration,” says Tolman.

The DBR, on the other hand, reads each tire instantly as the truck is driven through the readers, and a light indicates to the driver whether or not there’s a problem.

By the time the driver is out of the truck, details about the problem can be accessed.

Michelin has created a user-friendly Web-based interface called BIB TRACK which allows fleet managers to view the latest data recorded by the sensors.

“BIB TRACK is essentially a complete 100 per cent tire tracking program,” says Phil Arnold, also an e-commerce products manager with Michelin.

The BIB TRACK program is where the information is stored and accessed, and Michelin says it virtually eliminates the tedious data entry requirements previously required by most tire management programs.

The program can generate reports such as total cost summaries, location summaries, tire inventories and tire mileage.

And since it tracks a tire over the course of its life, the program also allows fleet managers to weed out tires with repeat problems.

For instance the program features a ‘low air count’ category that indicates how many times a particular tire has been found to be underinflated.

Rather than sending a driver back out on the highway with a potentially unsafe tire, a fleet can replace the tire knowing it has developed a continuous leak.

“It’s designed to capture those tires that are sneaking under the radar,” says Arnold.

While Michelin engineers masterminded the eTire system and the company’s dealer network will be the driving force behind it, the eTire system is applicable to any brand of truck tire.

“The ITS is designed to be used in any commercial truck tire, it doesn’t matter if it has our name on it or not,” says Arnold.

Although it’s commercially available immediately, Michelin’s dealer network has yet to place a price tag on the system.

While the installation of a DBR – and even the handheld reader itself – won’t come cheap, the company is hoping to offer the sensors at a cost of less than US$30 each.

It may just be a matter of time before truck stops and dealerships have the readers available for use, but in the meantime a large fleet may find it a worthwhile investment on its own.

For now, it’s the larger fleets that stand to gain the most from this system.

Michelin compiled a cost savings chart indicating a fleet of 2,400 trucks and 4,000 trailers stands to save more than US$640,000 per year.

That tally is drawn from figures submitted by one of the system’s test fleets.

That number could increase if insurance companies see eTire as a true safety advantage and offer reduced premiums to company’s implementing the system.

For more information about eTire, contact your local Michelin dealership.

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