With limited opportunity to walk the Mid-America Trucking Show due to the number of press conferences and the vast number of exhibitors, it was gratifying indeed to turn up an innovative new technology that could transform a fleet's tire maintenance.

Called Pneuscan, the device reads tire pressure and tread depth as a vehicle rolls over it at speeds up to 16 mph. Using the in-ground sensor strip, a fleet can keep track of tire pressures and no longer require drivers or technicians to get out the gauge and stick the tires one at a time. Not only does the system detect the tire pressure and display it for the driver, but it also recognizes the vehicle by reading the license plate, and then exports the values to a fleet's tire management software as an Excel file.

Ventech, the company marketing the Pneuscan, says it will work with customers to make sure the data exchange is seamless and the tire information gets where it is needed.

The system, which has been available in North America for less than a year, is already installed at several fleets. According to Ventech Sales Manager Ed Santorella, fleets with vehicles that can cross the sensor every few days have the most to gain, as the system can spot slow-leaking tires before they become a problem. Already four bus companies are using the Pneuscan system to great effect, he says. So far a single trucking company has signed up for the system, but there are 20 more being readied.

The strip in the road surface is made up of a series of load sensors. As the tires roll across the sensor strip, the Pneuscan measures the weight on each tire and the area of each tire contact patch. From the data, it calculates the pressure in the tire. For the two wheels on a dual pair, it calculates the individual tire pressures and can differentiate when one tire may be at a low pressure, and the weight is transferred over to the fully inflated tire.

The information is displayed locally on a display board for the driver. Flashing lights indicate the status of the readings, and a red light means a problem. The driver can then take the vehicle to the appropriate lane to have pressures verified, have the tire aired up or have it replaced.

While this is an excellent way to detect tire problems, it is the management side of things that caught my attention. A maintenance manager has almost daily reports on tires that are underinflated and can act in real time to address the problem. Since the device measures tread depth, the system can also flag tires that are ready for removal and retreading. And the fleet manager can be confident that the carcass (casing) of the tire is in good condition because it has always been correctly inflated.

The system is not inexpensive, as you may imagine. But even $80,000 should see a swift payback given the cost of roadside service, with tire problems being the overwhelming cause of trucks being stranded by the side of the road.

The systems are best installed in a shop, says Santorella, or at least under a cover to protect them from overheating in direct sunlight. He thinks such systems could be installed in truckstops, where drivers could pass over them much the same as they do over weigh scales. The truckstop could develop a revenue stream by reporting back to fleets or diverting trucks for tire repairs in its own shop.

The system might also be a boon to heavy-haul operators with trucks and trailers running on multiple axles. You can see just such a setup at the Ventech web site www.ventechusa.com. The device has no limit to the number of axles on a vehicle it can measure and display.

The Pneuscan comes from Germany, where several hundred installations include many bus fleets and truck fleets since it was introduced there in 2007.

From the May 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.