Helping Your Customers Make Sense of Ag Tire Technology [Audio]

Helping Your Customers Make Sense of Ag Tire Technology [Audio]

Titan International's Scott Sloan explains how dealers can best help customers with ag tire tech on the market today.

Over the past three decades, ag tire technology has evolved. No longer do your farmer customers have one choice for their tractors, sprayers and other equipment. With the proliferation of SKUs, the same size comes with different technology, and as a tire dealer, your job is to keep track of the technological differences between tires and how they’ll help or hinder your customers’ operations.

To help us differentiate ag tire technology in the market today, Scott Sloan, global ag/LSW product manager for Titan International and a 20-plus-year tire industry veteran, joins us on the podcast today. In this episode of What’s Treading with Tire Review, presented by AAPEX, Scott explains the difference between IF and VF technology, how to use it and other Goodyear tire tech as well as what to expect in the future of ag tire construction.

EPISODE OVERVIEW

  • What IF and VF ag tire tech does and how to use it (0:56) 
  • How tire dealers can be an educational resource for their customers around ag tire tech on the market (6:25) 
  • The meaning of LSW in ag tire tech and the science behind how it works (10:12) 
  • How Titan’s UFT technology is looking to simplify ag tire sizing and tech for farmers and dealers (18:49) 
  • What Scott sees as future trends in ag tires (21:40) 

Subscribe to the audio podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Google Podcasts. You can also read the full interview below or what the video version of this interview here.

Maddie Winer, Editor, Tire Review: I’d like to do a deep dive into some ag tire technology, notably IF and VF technology. IF stands for increased flexion and VF stands for very-high flexion. But for those listening who aren’t super familiar with these terms or maybe have heard them but don’t totally understand them, can you describe what those two technologies mean?

Scott Sloan, Global Ag/LSW Product Manager, Titan International: So, the technology has been around for about 25 years. Essentially what that is, it’s deflection technology. I always like to explain that if you have a conventional tire that carries 100 pounds at 100 psi, with an IF tire you can actually carry that same 100 pounds at 20% less inflation pressure, so at 80 psi. VF is actually at 100 psi, you can carry 60 psi or 40%. So IF is a 20% reduction in inflation pressure and VF is actually 40%.

It allows manufacturers to be able to run higher loads at lower inflation pressures. It was kind of driven out of the sprayer market. The self-propelled sprayer is where it was really first introduced.

Winer: So, obviously load and inflation are a big part of optimizing ag tire technology for farmers and dealers, but I know IF and VF technology is an investment. How can dealers help their ag tire customers optimize their investment in these types of tires?

Sloan: To be perfectly honest, there’s a place, a time and a machine for IF and VF. You’re absolutely right, it costs more. We do a lot of training. We just had 300 of our dealers and service guys in training them on this very topic. The IF and VF technology works great for applications where the tire is actually operating in the higher end of its inflation pressure range.

I mentioned self-propelled sprayers. The conventional tire is a 380/90R46, and it was a 168 load index which was the industry standard. That was at 78 psi, which is extremely high inflation pressure for an ag application. With the advent of IF and VF, we are able to drive those inflation pressures down to 64 or 49 psi, to be able to carry that same load—12,300 pounds is what a 168 load index is—but at a lower inflation pressure.

That’s pretty significant. But where it may not be as much of a value, and you can debate it, but a conventional tire that already runs at six psi, based on the load tables, there’s really no reason to spend an extra 25% on the tire when you can’t get one more psi of inflation pressure out of the tire.

Farmers don’t really understand it. Even some tire dealers have trouble understanding it. They’re offering the stuff on tractors that don’t necessarily need it. So that’s where we go in and just make sure that they’re getting a value for the extra that it takes to purchase an IF or VF tire.

Winer: So, does IF and VF technology allow for a little bit more tire longevity when carrying those heavy loads?

Sloan: No, not necessarily. Again, IF and VF is a deflection technology. So from a longevity standpoint, the tires are similar to conventional tires, if not the same.

But the applications that support higher loads and smaller air chambers—combines, grain carts, these things. You got these new X9s out on the field, we’ve weighed them up at over 100,000 pounds. That’s a big machine with tires and you have a lot of air in there. So if you can reduce that inflation pressure from, say, 50 psi to 30 psi, that’s pretty significant on like a combine application, where a mechanical front-wheel drive tractor, they’re running anywhere from the nine to 12 psi range. Is it really worth 25% to throw some IF or VF tires on there? I don’t know. You could say that it is, but we’re trying to sell tires, but at least we want to make sure they’re getting the right tire for the right job.

Winer: So, this technology serves as an opportunity for a tire dealer to be that educational consultant and work with a farmer customer?

Sloan: Yeah. That’s what we teach. When people come in, I can give them the whole spiel on IF and VF. They’re totally impressed with it, but they’re not going to run out and change every tire on their farm to IF and VF tires. We’ll be really realistic about that.

What they can do, and what we train our dealers to do, is whatever they have on their farm now, I think they’d be very surprised at what they can run their inflation pressures at. They’re probably already overinflated on their conventional tires. A tire that you could be running at six psi, maybe they’re running at 22 psi. Just knowing that is a huge advantage to that farmer. If they understand that, they could be running that much lower, as opposed buying that IF for VF tire. So if you’re not managing [IF and VF technology tires], it’s not a value.

That’s the hardest part with farmers. I always kid, “How often do you check inflation pressures? I mean, you get up in the morning, you check the gas and the oil. Do you check the air in the tires?” And they all laugh. It’s usually once a season when they roll whatever piece of equipment out of the shed, they stick a tire gauge in and say, “Nah, that doesn’t look so bad. We’ll go ahead and run it.” But when it starts running low, what do they do? 90% of people look at the sidewall of the tire and it says “max inflation 35 psi” or whatever it is, and fill that tire up to max inflation pressure when they could probably be running it at 9 psi. There’s just a very big disconnect between the farmer and what he thinks the tire should be running.

That’s where our dealer network is very important in educating those end users. We hold a lot of seminars with end users just for that fact. IF and VF are great, and I always tell people we handle it and we sell it, but if you really look at your operation, you could probably be doing yourself a big favor just by managing it.

Winer: So you talked about dealers being a consultant for farmers on this technology. But for the farmer, what advantages do IF and VF tires yield for them? I know soil compaction is the thing I hear a lot in the ag tire industry.

Sloan: That is exactly the whole concept for IF and VF, if you let the air out of the tire, the tire footprint grows, so you’re carrying the same load but it’s over a larger footprint. That’s more square inches on the ground, which equates to less ground-bearing pressure, which then equates to less compaction.

That’s the whole name of the game is trying to put as little pressure on the soil as you possibly can throughout the season. A few pounds of air here and there can make a big difference.

Maddie Winer: Now, Scott, there are other abbreviations that exist when it comes to ag tire technology. For Titan, in particular, I know LSW is one. Can you describe what that means and how it works?

Scott Sloan: Yeah, I actually built the first LSW prototype back in 1997 at this factory [Titan’s Des Moines, Iowa factory]. That’s how long I’ve been dealing with LSW. It’s relatively new on the success side, but on the development side, we’ve been dealing with this for a long time.

LSW as we see it today has really been in the market since about 2010, 2011, is when we really came into the ag industry with it. it means low sidewall. If you remember pickup truck tires or truck tires, they used to be 15 or 16 inches in rim diameter, and over the course of time, they went from 15, 16, 18, to now, I’ve got 20-inch wheels on my truck. What happens is that the sidewall shrinks down and that adds performance enhancement, stability, and handling, those types of characteristics, to the vehicle.

We basically took that, since we can make the wheels any size we want or any configuration we want. The very first big size for us was an 800/70R38, which is a very common four-wheel drive dual tire. We took about 20% out of the sidewall. And we went from an 800/70R38 to an 800/55R46. And that was the very first tire … We spotted a set of tires in Marengo, Illinois, back in 2009, and those tires are actually still running on the third tractor for that end user.

Then, we developed, as we’ve gone through, the 1100s and 1250s, and then we developed the world’s largest ag tire at 1400/30R46. But that lower sidewall helps with a lot of things. If you think about the sidewall of a tire, it’s got this big, long spring. And these guys are eroding their tractors further and further every year. They buy a piece of land over here and they’re traveling between the farms a lot more now. The problem is with the tires that are on there now, the conventional tires, you have such a long spring, and you get this harmonic road lope. You’re going 25, 26 mph and you got a 55,000-pound vehicle, and it starts to bounce basically off the road. It’s kind of an unnerving feeling. So, you have to slow the tractor down and settle the tires down, and in some cases, they’ll actually pump air into the tire to dampen that spring. It shortens that spring and that’s how they get out of road lope. When you go back to now, just circling back to IF and VF, you’ve spent 20% more on IF or VF tires to get that lower inflation pressure. Now you’re putting air right back into it to solve a day-to-day problem of road loping. So you just lost everything that you thought you gained by doing that.

With LSWs, those tires are actually VF tires. We used VF load tables when we developed these. But with that lower sidewall, the tire’s physically different and we’re able to lower or dampen that effect physically because the sidewall is physically shorter. And we can still run those lower inflation pressures without that hopping because we built in the dampening effect. That’s been the key to the whole thing is, everybody’s got IF and VF, but the size of the tires and the sidewall has changed on ours that makes it capable of doing the things it’s supposed to do and still running those lower inflation pressures.

The other issue too is power hop. Power hop is when you get under a high drawbar application and you’re out, say in fall or spring tillage. What happens is those lugs will hook up and grip. As it rolls through the footprint, those sidewalls actually buckle, like we’ve all seen a slow motion of a dragster tire taking off and how its sidewall buckles.

A tractor tire does the exact same thing. But in this case, when it straightens out, it actually explodes. And so you get this, it grips, let’s go, and power hops. So that’s where that power hop actually comes into play. I’ve seen videos where the tractors are practically jumping off the ground it’s so bad.

What tire dealers do is actually pump air into the tire. We stiffen that sidewall so it doesn’t buckle as much, but tht creates more slip because it’s not gripping. And you’re able to eliminate power hop.

Now I go back to my IF and VF conversation. You just spent all this money on IF and VF and now you have to put air in the tire again to resolve a common, everyday power hop issue. LSW, shorter sidewall, doesn’t buckle. We can still run the inflation pressures the way they are, at the lower inflation pressures, and it’s a win-win.

We’ve been extremely successful with that concept. We actually have done a lot of work on tires on LSW versus tracks. I’ve been hearing that for 30 years, literally, that tracks are going to put the tire business out of business. But we’re still here. We’ve done a lot of field demos where we run a track machine, versus an LSW machine, versus a conventional tire machine. Every time, the track and the LSW are literally head-to-head.

So it’s been a huge success. And we’re on all the OEs, and it’s really taken off. It’s really taken off. And you’re right, in the last five, six years it’s really taken off for us.

Winer: And now Titan has another exclusive technology, UFT, Ultimate Flex Technology, is that right?

Scott Sloan: That is correct.

Winer: Can you explain that as well?

Sloan: I always kid because I can… I’ve been in the industry so long, that we’ve really messed up this industry, as far as making it complicated. We’ve got all these inflation tables that we all work by, but there are so many of them. For example, you’ve got 380/90R46. That started out as a conventional tire, and then we moved to IF, and then we moved to VF. So now, out running around in the marketplace, we have three versions of the same tire, 380/90R46. Our poor tire dealers are out there, they have to manage basically three different inventories. Because you don’t know if the next tire that rolls in is going to roll in with a conventional tire that you pump up to 78 psi or an IF tire that you pump up to 64 psi or a VF tire that you pump up to 49 psi.

So from a management standpoint, it’s just ridiculous. So, we developed a tire that, whatever rolls into the shop..it can run as a VF tire, it can run as an IF tire, or it can run as a conventional tire. So, literally our dealers, or even the OEs, all they have to do is manage one inventory and whatever machine rolls in, they set it up with a UFT tire out of inventory and can set it up with the other conventional tires, or IF or VF tires. That way, instead of having three different versions of the same tire, they just have one tire now.

For us in the factory, all we’ve got to do now is run one tire, as opposed to running a conventional IF and VF. So it streamlines the business and makes things simple. I’m a simple guy and I like simple things, so this is really going to be a big deal when we get it off and rolling. To start out, it’ll be on sprayer sizes.

Winer: Very interesting. We look forward to hearing more about it. So, Scott, last question, from your perspective, you meet with a lot of dealers, you just completed a training not too long ago. I’m sure you talk with a lot of farmers as well. So what types of ag tire issues do you feel exist in the industry today and what technology, either from Titan or just in general in the industry, is being researched to solve these issues?

Sloan: Machines are getting bigger and speeds are getting faster, and to be able to build tires or design tires that are able to handle those loads and speeds is going to be the big challenge.

I think you’re going to see in the next probably three or four years tires getting extremely big. We’re already talking… We’ve got 1400, which is the largest. We’ve got on the drawing board even bigger yet. We just released an R2 version of this 1400. I just think you’re going to see tires get larger, tractors are going to get larger. And for us, I guess on the manufacturing side, the equipment to be able to build that stuff is going to be a challenge for us to meet the market need.

As far as any specific technology, I don’t really see anything that’s not already out there that can’t handle it. It’s just, what type of tire and what size tire is it going to be run. You’ve got sprayer manufacturers that are asking us for [higher] load indexes…but we’re not getting a bigger envelope to be able to put more tire under there. So, it’s a challenge.

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