TUCSON, Ariz.—The technology to place computerized chips within tires—something that has been talked about for years—may become commercially viable in the giant off-the-road tire market later this year. Several companies have tire chip systems under development, said Mark Baker, executive vice president of Modular Mining Systems, a Tucson-based company that offers computer hardware, software development, service and support to mining operations.
He expects the industry could see commercial chips offered in the second or third quarter of this year, after several years of testing in the field.
Tire chips, or tags, are basically circuit boards—with or without batteries—that are built into a radio that has an antenna, said Mr. Baker in a speech Feb. 17 during the Tire Association of North America's Off-the-Road Conference in Tucson. Together these components are encapsulated in protective material and embedded into a tire.
The chips are designed to sample a tire's operating temperature and air pressure.
Companies are developing two types of tags, he said. One is active featuring a built-in battery and, as such, has a limited lifespan. The other is passive and uses a signal to power the chip, which then broadcasts the information it has gathered to a central receiver.
Tags can be installed in a tire's inner liner or sidewall during manufacture or added later, he said.
Data can be transmitted continuously from the tire to a central dispatcher at the mine or can be gathered periodically using hand-held or stationary receivers as vehicles drive by.
The data can then be downloaded or sent to a central computer system, depending on the type of tag reader.
Units placed on board vehicles also can receive the information to alert operators of overheated tires or other tire problems.
Tags offer a number of benefits and savings to mining operations, Mr. Baker said.
They increase tire life by helping the mine maintain proper inflation pressures on its vehicles with a minimal amount of effort.
They also enhance the safety of vehicle operators by alerting them to tires with high-temperature conditions or low inflation pressures.
Productivity also is improved. By eliminating the need for manual pressure checks, tire and mine service personnel need only attend to those tires that require immediate action, Mr. Baker said.
The chips also provide faster and more accurate inflation information than manual checks.
Long term, Mr. Baker expects information gathered from tire chips and monitors of vehicle systems to help improve tire technology and design.
"Using the information collected by these systems, tire makers will someday be able to design and supply tires for the individual site conditions or the individual application," he said.
However, one issue that still needs to be resolved is chip standardization, Mr. Baker said.
Mine operators prefer multiple suppliers of tires and would like standards established where tags made by different manufacturers could all be read by the same reader. This would eliminate the need for multiple readers on a vehicle.
"Right now, unfortunately, most people working on tire chips are working on individual islands of development," he said, adding that several industry groups are striving to form common standards.
In the future, Mr. Baker sees tire tags used in combination with tire tracking systems to provide complete tire life, history and performance. Such systems would keep a record of adjustments, inventory, and would be able to forecast when tires would need to be replaced, rotated and matched.
The information also would allow tire makers and mines to correlate pressure and temperature history with overall tire life.
The objective, he said, is to maximize tire life and vehicle performance and lower overall tire cost.
"That's the key and that's what the technology will be providing."