FORT DUNLOP, England-SP Tyres UK Ltd. has entered the race to release a ``smart'' tire capable of recording and transmitting its own operating information to tire dealers and truck owners. Although the company is working on the project in England, once finished, the technology will become available to all members of the Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. family. Sumitomo Rubber owns SP Tyres and Dunlop Tire Corp. in the U.S.
The SP Tyres announcement means the Fort Dunlop-based firm has joined Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Goodyear on the list of companies rushing to bring the technology to market. It is believed, however, that many other major U.S. tire makers are working on developing some type of active-computer-chip tire design.
``We're not the leader; Bridgestone/Firestone probably is,'' said P. David Osborne, Dunlop technical director. But that's not to say the firm is far behind.
SP Tyres already is testing its tire computer chip with the Greater Manchester Buses South fleet of 800 vehicles.
A ``smart'' tire has an active computer chip embedded in its casing during the manufacturing process. The chip can record and later transmit its identification code and wheel position as well as variable data, such as operating temperature, air pressure, speed and tread depth, and even injuries and number of retreadings.
SP Tyres declined to comment on when its technology might be marketed.
``It's no wonder that many operators still have difficulty in either knowing their true tire costs, or knowing how to improve the situation. The variables are just too great,'' said Ben Cheney, SP Tyres manager of truck product planning. ``For good reason, tires are usually seen almost as a pure distress purchase.''
However, recorded data can be retrieved from smart tires using equipment located inside a truck's cab or at a tire dealership, weighbridge or fuel pump.
``The `smart' revolution will change the role of the tire for the truck operator in that for the first time the tire will genuinely contribute to, rather than detract from, the hauler's business performance as well as his knowledge and skill in running his company,'' Mr. Cheney said.
He estimated truckers could save $10,000 per 500,000 miles traveled, which could be a strong selling point for commercial dealers taking advantage of smart tire technology themselves.
Guidelines established by The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association, in conjunction with tire makers, also may help keep down costs for dealers. The guidelines are intended to protect users from having to buy different monitoring equipment for each brand of smart tire designed.
SP Tyres envisions a time when it and its distributors run complete tire management systems for fleet customers.
``Operators are rarely interested in tires per se. So the potential for SP Tyres and its distributors to run the complete tire function for them-lock, stock and barrel-with the ability to provide instantaneous management information as required must mean that we will be able to serve our customers better, faster and more cost-effectively in the future,'' said Keith Rendell, SP Tyres sales director for national fleets.
Regardless of how the system eventually hits the market, it likely will be a success among trucking fleets, according to Bill Bland, the chief engineer for Greater Manchester Buses South.
``Everyone now accepts the improvements in efficiency that electronics have brought to most areas of truck and bus operations without question,'' he said.