Never mind autonomous trucks; we need autonomous tires. We need tires that maintain their own pressure, report tread wear and balance issues, and report when the truck is out of alignment. Imagine how long a tire would last if it looked after itself with all appropriate diligence. (Imagine how long tires would last if we looked after them with all appropriate diligence...)
We’re not likely to see such a tire anytime soon, so in the interests of taking some of the “chore” out of maintenance chore, here are a few tools we’ve come across that promise to at least ease the burden by making the process easier, more accurate and less time consuming.
By doing nothing more than driving over a plate in the ground, you can have the Pneuscan system by Ventech check tire inflation pressure and record tread depth by reading the footprint of the tire. The system can be installed at any indoor location, such as an inspection lane or the entrance to the tire shop. Readings taken as the tires pass over a set of sensor plates embedded in the ground send data to the head unit, which displays the readings. They also can be uploaded to a tire management database and printed.
Based on fleet tire parameters pre-inputted to the database, if results are within specified tolerances, a green signal tells the operator the tire is cleared for driving. A red signal indicates the tire requires service. The system uses license plate recognition to determine the unit number.
Pneuscan won’t reinflate the tires for you or change out worn tires, but it speeds up the triage process, quickly identifying the tires in need of attention.
Most of the more comprehensive tire pressure management systems on the market today also offer tire data upload capabilities, relieving the maintenance department of the hassle of yard surveys. When trailers are out in the field and inaccessible to maintenance department observation, the data-sharing can help identify tires in need of service such as inflation. They won’t tell you how much tread is left on a tire, but mileage records and install dates can help predict when a tire might need to be changed. Like other maintenance database software, these systems won’t do the work for you, but they will alert you to a problem before it becomes a mission-crippling and costly roadside repair.
A more hands-on approach comes courtesy of Love’s new TirePass program. Drivers stopping at one of Love’s 75 TirePass locations can have a thorough tire inspection and inflation top-up done while they fuel. A Love’s tire technician will measure tread depth, visually check the tire and wheel assemblies and check tire pressure. Tires found to be below the desired pressure will be re-inflated. Love’s says it will not re-inflate tires found be 75% or less of the desired pressure for safety reasons (a run-flat condition), and will instead recommend an inspection to determine the problem.
The initial inspection is free; subsequent inspections are $5 each for the truck and trailer. Printed reports are also generated and can be uploaded to fleet maintenance departments. These inspections are best done at the beginning of the driving shift when tires are cold and accurate pressures can be measured.
Lighten the workload
Of course, all the preventive and diagnostic technology in the world still won’t eliminate the need for tire maintenance. You can, however, lighten the workload somewhat with a few clever tools. With technicians in short supply, the tools you supply could make the difference in a hiring situation.
Tire changers from the likes of Ammco-Coats, Atlas Equipment, Ranger, Tiger and Hunter can help prevent technician injuries and wheel and tire damage.
Hunter’s new TCX625HD Heavy-Duty Tire Changer, for example, can manage any size truck tire, including wide-single tires, and mount them without scuffing the rims on the floor or risking damage to the bead area of the tire.
If you’re topping up a set of tires already mounted, the Mobile Tire Pressure Equalizer from IPA Tools lets the technician attach the air chuck and then set a target pressure; the system does the rest. The device is portable and can be used anywhere close to a 110-volt power supply.
Performing wheel alignments is another matter altogether, but diagnosing alignment problems has never been easier. Infrared and laser systems from Bee Line, Hunter, MD Alignment and others can be mounted on the truck and the checks performed even while there is other work being done to the truck, like an oil change. According to Hunter, about 7 out of 10 trucks suffer some sort of misalignment, and since alignment can affect driver satisfaction, fuel economy and tire wear, keeping the truck on the straight and narrow pays off in more ways than one. The more alignment checks you do, the faster the equipment pays for itself.
And then there’s the question of wheel balancing. Some fleets prefer using external weight, and there are several machines available that do a very good job at that from Bee-Line, Hunter and others.
Or, for balancing on the fly, internal compounds such as Counteract, Equal, Magnum and others take all the work out of the process. You could easily afford to balance all wheel positions on the truck, even those oft-neglected trailer tires.
While automation is great, close visual inspections of tires are still required. None of the systems mentioned will detect cuts and damage to sidewall and tread areas. It’s great to minimize the technician’s workload, but don’t let them get sloppy when it comes to visual inspections.