Technology Enhances Ag Tires - Tire Review Magazine

Technology Enhances Ag Tires

Improved flexion technology can help field performance, and enhance dealer standing

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, mankind has perpetually pushed the envelope in pursuit of the next best thing.

We want it to be bigger, more powerful, faster, quieter (or maybe louder), we want it to do more, and we want it now.

That pursuit of the next great innovation has led to some of the most magnificent innovations in the history of the world. From the first piloted and powered airplane, and the first internal combustion engine to the first modern computer and cell phone, innovation has been the driving factor in our technological revolution.

It’s no surprise, then, that the same innovative spirit has continually made its way to the tire industry and, more specifically, the agricultural tire segment. Today’s farm tire is expected to do more and perform at a higher level than ever before. A driving factor behind this evolution in farm tire performance is that today’s fields and crops are also expected to perform at a higher level than ever before.

Farm tires today are challenged with navigating narrower crop rows, while standing up triumphantly against some truly incredible field hazards, including, but certainly not limited to, the belt package-piercing, steel-like stalks from genetically-modified crops. With the not-so-modest challenge of feeding the world’s population, those same genetically-modified crops are designed to withstand even the most severe of weather conditions.

According to the Palmer Drought Severity Index, 54.6% of U.S. states were considered to be in a drought at the end of June 2012, the highest percentage since the end of 1956 and the sixth highest ever recorded. Tasked with feeding a ballooning global population, this is not a subject to be taken lightly.

Today’s farm tire is expected to carry a heavier load, compact the soil less, provide better traction and improve fuel economy, all the while wearing more consistently and evenly regardless of the surface, and standing up to the toughest in-field conditions agricultural tires have ever faced.

These are challenges that innovation and the technological evolution have tackled head on and the result has been some of the most incredible tires the tire industry has ever seen – at least for now.

Changing the Game
In 2005, Groupe Michelin pioneered improved flexion (IF) technology for agricultural tires with its Axiobib radial for high-powered tractors. IF technology was truly a game changer for the agricultural tire business and the technology has continued to evolve ever since.

Improved flexion technology allows a tire to carry up to 20% more weight at the same pressure or the same amount of weight at 20% lower air pressure, which is a significant benefit to farmers today.

So why is that important? By running at a lower air pressure, tires compact the soil less. This improves crop yield, while also improving traction and, thereby, improving fuel economy. So, now you’ve got a tire that helps to preserve the land’s long-term crop yield, offers a more comfortable ride for the equipment operator, and consumes less fuel through improved traction.

Thus it effectively reduces the farmers’ total cost of production. Pretty innovative stuff.

Fast forward another six years to 2011 when Michelin introduced its very high flexion or VF technology with its SprayBib line, the first VF class radial for self-propelled sprayer applications. Although VF tires have the same overall rolling circumference as traditional agricultural tires, VF tires can carry the same weight at up to 40% lower air pressure.

When was the last time your smartphone or Facebook did that much more with 40% less while saving the environment and helping to feed the world?

And Michelin is among good company in developing new ag tire technology. Many other tire manufacturers have responded by introducing new radial farm tires that feature revolutionary compounds and designs to handle increasingly challenging in-field conditions. Similar IF technology can be found across multiple brands and tire lines from some of the leading farm tire brands in the world, including BKT, Firestone, Goodyear, Mitas and Titan, just to name a few.

For example, BKT’s Agrimax Force is intended for high-powered vehicles used in large areas and in extreme conditions where maximum performance is required.

Firestone’s AD2 Technology focuses on greater sidewall flexibility to accommodate bigger and heavier farm equipment. Titan, maker of Goodyear farm tires, introduced its new OptiTrac technology in 2010, which showcases a new tread design that is about 25% deeper than a conventional R1 radial.

Although IF technology has been around for nearly a decade, it is still being integrated across multiple farm tire segments. So far, it has predominantly been limited to the high flotation tire segment, which is typically used in dryer climates and in heavy load applications. This has also limited the technology regionally, but this is changing. IF technology is steadily penetrating new segments, making its way to sprayer and even implement applications and that will continue.

How Do IF Tires Work?
So how exactly do IF tires do it? It all starts with a durable and resilient casing with sidewalls that allow for more flex than traditional sidewall technology. This flexibility results in a tire that can carry more weight at lower air pressures. Ultimately, you’re talking about a tire with a larger footprint but places less pressure on the soil, which yields better crop growth and (drum roll, please) improved overall profitability for the operator.

In fact, a 2013 study by the French National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture (IRSTEA) put IF technology to the test. The study pitted the Michelin CerexBib against traditional roller tread tracks and the results were pretty definitive.

On softer ground, the IF tires increased soil compaction by about 46% as compared to 55% by the tread tracks. Even further, where the IF tires evenly distributed the pressure over the ground surface, the tracks actually reached peaks about twice as high as the IF tires.

Because farmers are increasingly under pressure to improve crop yield, focusing on low compaction rates has become absolutely vital to successful long-term crop production.

“Most of the new equipment is getting bigger with an increased focus on flotation, especially the air seeders,” says Randy Schell, TBA manager for Farmers Union Cooperative in Devils Lake, N.D. “There is a lot of focus on improving current equipment and usually money is not a major concern. Farmers are looking for results.”

Successful ag tire dealers must invest the time and resources to understanding the evolving demands of today’s farmers and the requirements of newer, larger, more powerful equipment. Even more important are the effects and long-term impacts newer equipment has on crop production.

Are you a farm tire dealer interested in learning more about IF technology? I would encourage you to reach out to your tire manufacturer and tire distributor sales representatives. Most of the leading manufacturers and distributors are able to provide excellent training and educational resources on the value and benefits of IF technology.

The benefits of improved flexion tires in the field are undeniable and if you believe the past is an accurate predictor of what’s to come, future generations of IF technology will continue to redefine what we believe is possible.

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