Tires have a story to tell, and sensors will listen

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Tires don’t have moving parts, but they can be difficult to design and manufacture. They also present some of the most difficult fleet maintenance challenges. But sensors and connected tires are promising to ease future management needs.

That was the word from a panel of experts at the Technology and Maintenance Council’s fall meeting, as they discussed why putting sensors in tires makes a lot of sense from a fleet management perspective.

Cooper tires
(File photo)

The latest electronic sensors are designed to withstand the hellish environments inside a rolling truck tire, and they can transmit data on critical operational factors such as temperature, air pressure, and vibration.

From a fleet perspective, internally mounted tire pressure management systems [TPMS] are more challenging to maintain than externally mounted TPMS, but they’re also protected against the weather and can more accurately measure temperatures, said Lee Demis, vice-president of business development for Doran Manufacturing.

Demis said the technology now makes it possible to warn drivers about emerging tire issues. And those in-cab warnings, maybe as simple as a red light, can be triggered just as alerts are also sent back to fleet maintenance managers via telematics.

“We’re definitely seeing more of a conversion,” he added. “Historically fleets would run TPMS or automatic tire inflation systems [ATIS] or nothing at all. We started seeing this gradual shift of fleets utilizing both ATIS along with TPMS to get the best of both worlds a few years ago.”

ATIS complements in-tire TPMS sensors by keeping a leaking tire inflated, preventing the sidewall from flexing, he said.

Another benefit to in-tire TPMS sensors, Demis said, was the new ability to collect inflation pressure history and other critical data over the life of a tire.

“Technology is changing at a rapid pace,” he added. “These are things coming down the pipe very quickly. We look to those types of sensors to measure vibration, additional points of reference for heat, or tread depth. For example, I think we’re going to see tread depth sensors come online very quickly that will complement existing sensor capabilities.”

Austin Crayne, business development manager at Goodyear Tire, said tire sensors constantly gather data and usually store it within a cloud-based system. “If you start looking at all of the information coming in from inspection, you can see where you have hot spots of specific serviceable issues or conditions that are identified with your tires,” he noted. The telematics programs draw the information together and lead to actionable insights that can guide fleet policies and programs.

Digital inspections

Crayne said there are three digital tire inspection tools widely in use by todays’ fleets:

  • Digital inspection tools — a form of manual detection using a handheld device. This helps fleets be accurate and efficient. And the results are immediately available.
  • Active monitoring — digitizing data collection by using technology with some sort of sensors. TPMS is a perfect example of this.
  • Automated inspections – Systems that gather data as the tires roll through a gate or drive over a system.

“You can use these interchangeably,” he explained. “And it’s always good to be out there checking your tires. You have to be checking your tread, doing your visual inspection.”

Crayne added that in-tire TPMS are a good choice for equipment that doesn’t often return to the shop, but said that automated inspection systems are ideal for vehicles that frequently return for service.

There are several essential things to do when rolling out a tire monitoring program.

“Do your research,” Crayne said. “Go look at the technologies and vendors and providers that are willing to work with you. They can give you a recommendations and support. You also need to have a ‘champion’ in the fleet who takes this on as their mission — someone who is going to be there from concept to testing, there to help with change management amongst techs and drivers.”

RFIF guidelines

Nate Panning, connected mobility services manager at Michelin Tire North America, said the tire supplier has been working with TMC to update RP 247 RFID guidelines to prepare for these new technologies. These include radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors – the small, passive electronic chips that can exchange data with a reader. “But,” he cautioned attendees, “I think there’s a lot of confusion about what RFIDs can do. They can record a time, place and purpose, and identify a tire,” he said. “But they are completely passive systems.”

According to Panning there are three main components of RFID-based systems:

  • Tags with an attached antenna sending signals that are received by a reader unit. That signal powers the chip, and also sends an identification number with its other data.
  • Hardware-wise, the RFID tag receives a signal from a reader in a SGTIN 96 format, with a unique item identifier for each tire. That data is relayed to a database in the cloud, and then on to a new tire information service. The ID capture includes who made the tire, and the tire’s model number.
  • The tire information service data system — that the tire industry is just now establishing – is a cloud space to which the reader can send signals, and then directs the signal to the right cloud database so users can scan a tire.

“Because the information contained in these database [not the RFID chip], it is easier to keep it standardized and have more backward compatibility,” Panning explained. “But once it is in place, you can potentially link a lot of different types of data; track and trace physical tire assets; manage inventory, logistics, and service provider work; and optimize the performance of your tires by tracking them over their service lives.”

These capabilities, as basic as they are, Panning said, can be transformative for fleets struggling with tire management. “That’s the beauty of RFID,” he said. “It is born with the tire. It is the birth certificate of the tire. And it stays with the tire, transmitting data, until the day the tire goes to the scrap heap. It is a complete cradle-to-grave history of that tire.”

Proactive tire management

Joe Phillips, director of maintenance at Eagle Transport, noted the technology has helped his fleet proactively manage tire issues. “We can identify problems before they become a catastrophic event,” he said.

Phillips said Eagle is now using both ATIS and TPMS on about 60% of its fleet, and that the systems bring different benefits to its tire management program. “ATIS can help if you’re on the road to get it to back to the shop. TPMS is how we track tire life at all times.”

Eagle is now looking to expand its tire management program with additional technology, Phillips added.

 “We’re not looking at least one management software integration,” he said. “We’re also looking at vibration sensors, because the wheel end has the ability to collect a lot of valuable data. And we want to collect as much data on our tires as possible.”

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Jack Roberts has been covering the North American trucking and transportation industries as a journalist since 1995. A licensed commercial driver, Roberts has emerged as a leading authority on new and advanced logistics and vehicle technologies, including autonomous vehicle systems, battery-electric trucks, and hydrogen fuel cells. Roberts is a graduate of the University of Alabama and lives and works in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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  • Tire sensors give trouble in minivans and light delivery trucks and are very expensive to maintain and replace. Cost is too high for smaller fleets and owner ops of taxis . I do not see how will be cheaper in big trucks.