Tires are the most difficult products without moving parts to design and manufacture, and they’re also among the most difficult aspects of commercial vehicle maintenance for fleets to manage. A new move to use sensors to create connected tires promises to make managing them mush easier in the near-future.
That was the word from a panel of experts at the Technology and Maintenance Council’s Fall Meeting in Cleveland, on Sept. 15, which discussed why putting sensors in tires makes a lot of sense from a fleet management perspective.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
Nate Panning, connected mobility services manager for Michelin Tire North America, said the tire supplier has been working with TMC to update recommended practice 247, which outlines the guidelines for tire radio frequency identification (RFID), in preparation for these new technologies.
RFID sensors are small, passive electronic chips that can exchange data with a reader.
“I think there’s a lot of confusion about what RFIDS can do,” he explained. “They can record a time, place and purpose, and identify a tire. But, they are completely passive systems.”
According to Panning, RFID systems are tags with an antenna attached to them, which receives signals from a reader unit. That signal powers the chip and enables the chip to send its unique identification number to the reader. That data is relayed to a cloud database, and then on to a tire information service. The ID capture data includes the manufacturer of the tire and the tire’s model number.
The tire information service data system — which the tire industry is just now setting up — is a cloud space that the reader sends signals to, 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 today.
“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.”
Tire Pressure Management Systems (TPMS)
Tire pressure management systems (TPMS) use electronic sensors designed to withstand the hellish environment found inside a truck tire rolling down the highway. The sensors transmit data on critical operational factors, such as temperature, air pressure and vibration, via telematics to dealers, service providers and fleets.
“From a fleet perspective, internally mounted tire pressure management systems are more challenging to maintain than externally mounted TPMS, but they’re also more protected from weather and more accurately measuring temperatures,” Lee Demis, vice president of business development for Doran Manufacturing, told TMC attendees during the session.
Demis said that telematics providers using this technology will have an in-cab notification for the driver. It could be a simple red light, or other type of dash warning, in addition to alerts sent back to fleet maintenance managers.
“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 TMPS to get the best of both worlds a few years ago.”
ATIS compliments in-tire TPMS sensors by keeping a leaking tire inflated, preventing the sidewall from flexing and causing the tire to fail more quickly, he added.
Another benefit to in-tire TPMS sensors, he said, was the new ability they offer to collect inflation pressure history and other critical data over the life of a tire.
“Technology is changing at a rapid pace,” Demis 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 thread depth. For example, I think we’re going to see thread depth sensors come online very quickly that will complement existing sensor capabilities.”
Joe Phillips, director of maintenance for Eagle Transport, commented on the use of these technologies form a fleet perspective. He noted that using currently connected tire technologies, Eagle can now can 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,” he said. “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.”
Digital Tire Inspection Tools
Austin Crayne, business development manager for Goodyear Tire, said tire sensors constantly gather data and usually store it with a cloud-based system.
“If you start looking at all of the information coming in from inspection you can see where you have hotspots of specific serviceable issues or conditions that are identified with your tires,” he said. “So, these [telematics] programs do a really good job of pulling all that information together and allow them to have actionable insights and information that they can go focus on in and make changes to policies and programs.”
Crayne said there are three digital tire inspection tools widely in use by fleets today:
- Digital inspection tools. These are a form of manual detection using a handheld device. This type of inspection tool is be accurate and efficient, offering immediate results, he said.
- Active monitoring. This type of inspection tool digitizes data collection information using a technology with some sort of sensors. (TPMS is a perfect example of this.)
- Automated inspection. Example of this are yard/gate/drive-over systems that inspect tires.
“You can use these interchangeably,” he explains. “And it’s always good to be out there checking your tires. You have to be checking your thread, doing your visual inspection.”
Crayne added that in-tire TPMS are a good choice for fleets that don’t come back to the shop often, while automated inspection systems are ideal for vehicles that come back to depots frequently and are serviced frequently.
There are several essential things to do when rolling out a tire monitoring program, Crayne stressed.
“Do your research,” he advised. “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. The champion is someone who is going to be there from concept to testing, and there to help with change management amongst techs and drivers.”