Maintenance or Management?
Truck operators today are quite conscientious about their choice of tires and the
care given them. This protective attitude is readily explained by the prominent position tires hold in the hierarchy of operating expenses for most trucking operations tire program costs rank second only to fuel for most fleets and owner-operators.
This is still true despite the fact that modern line haul radials deliver longer original tread life, extended casing durability, and improved fuel efficiency compared to models of just a few years ago. Typical market pricing indicates that premium steer, drive, and trailer axle tires actually cost less today than their predecessors of 10 or even 20 years ago.
The engineers of other truck components haven’t been resting on their laurels. There have been vast improvements in the reliability and cost-per-mile advantages of engines, clutches, transmissions, drive axles, and countless other vital components but tires still hold a prominent position in a trucking operation’s budget.
For this reason and because some tire conditions can cause on-highway safety concerns ®“ tire maintenance is given a high priority in most fleets. Emphasis has historically been placed on problem avoidance and minimizing unscheduled downtime through inflation maintenance and visual inspections, with specific attention directed at steer, drive, and trailer positions, in that order.
Savvy selection and purchasing of service and retread providers (based on performance records) round out a typical tire program. But there’s now mounting evidence that this approach may need to be modified significantly in order for truck operations and commercial tire dealers ®“ to remain successful in the cost-competitive environment of today.
Think of the new approach as Tire Management rather than Tire Maintenance. Better yet, think of traditional Tire Maintenance as very important, but just one component of an effective overall Tire Management program.
A tour of the annual trade show that is part of the spring meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC), recently held in Ft. Lauderdale, reinforced this point. The information explosion that changed many facets of daily business interactions is now bringing data acquisition and analysis capabilities to the truck tire maintenance industry. And at faster speeds and lower costs than ever before.
It is becoming easier for tire dealers and fleet managers to know more about truck component performance, including tires. This allows them to fully consider additional factors and alternatives prior to making decisions about the success and direction of their tire programs.
Impressive new hardware and software offerings are being developed to access and process on-road performance data that previously could not have been cost-justified. This new found data can allow dealers and fleet personnel to study and select tire system options based on quality real life data and lots of it.
For example, this data can allow dealers and fleets to make more confident decisions about such issues as tire pull points by tread depth for different axles, optimized retread practices by axle position or tire line, most cost effective tire selections for trade vehicles, and the designation of service for repaired casings.
Factor in labor costs, vehicle downtime charges, and other fleet-specific information and dealers can now obtain answers that apply to a specific operation rather than adopting someone else’s well-intentioned advice. Thanks to these technological (and cost) advances, the complete process from new component selection to final removal for sale or disposal can be studied and optimized more definitively than in the past. Common sense, of course, remains an essential ingredient in any such analyzes.
One key component of this new generation of data acquisition is sensor technology. Electronic hardware continues to evolve toward smaller, more reliable, and less costly circuitry. Companies working to finalize designs for truck tire inflation pressure monitoring systems now believe the best solution may be to place small sensors on the inner or outer end of the valve stem rather than use "chips" embedded or attached to the tire.
Such value-oriented systems will allow for more accurate pressure readings, and may also accommodate the use of on-board pressure maintenance systems with a built-in pressure loss warning system to minimize premature casing loss.
Individual tire identification may then be achieved using a simple (non-pressure sensing) chip or a magnetic code strip built into the tire. Data collection devices, now commonly used in other industries, could be placed as gate readers or at any service points to record tire performance changes without the costly labor or transcription errors common to manual recording.
Less costly data acquisition will also allow monitoring of more wheel positions. This is especially important to fleets running retreads, since the actual performance of these tires has historically been difficult to document, even though they can have a greater effect on overall tire program costs than new tires in some applications.
While simplicity is one goal of new equipment and maintenance practice selection, reliable and cost-effective new tools should also be considered for their long-term cost savings potential. With the impressive array of new data acquisition and analysis equipment available, simple problem avoidance measures are likely to give way to more thorough lifecycle cost analyzes.
In the long term, this new concept of comprehensive Tire Management should replace plain old Tire Maintenance as a survival strategy in the competitive transportation market.