The future is coming. Sometimes it's just around the corner; other times it's a few miles down the road and around a couple more bends.
The latter is the way it seems with tire tags, otherwise known as radio frequency (RF) transponders—namely, devices that provide tire identification, pressure, temperature and mileage information. It seems that these high-tech devices have been on tire manufacturers' and electronics companies' design boards for years.
The RF transponder is a solid-state, electronic device with a built-in antenna. When passing within the radio frequency transmission range of a reader that interrogates it, the tag responds by transmitting its encoded information. The reader receives the RF-transmitted data and translates it into meaningful information.
The main problems in getting tire tags to market have been developing reliable and durable technology, shrinking it to fit truck tires, and reducing the cost of these tags so they are affordable and cost-effective to truck tire users. In addition, standardization of the tags from one manufacturer to another also is an issue.
Fleets have said over and over that they will not buy tags from one tire manufacturer if they will not be able to read tags provided by other tire manufacturers as well. Fleets do not want to be locked into a tire brand simply because of tire tags, nor do they want to carry a holster of readers and have to pull another reader out every time they come upon a different brand of tire.
When tire tags and readers are developed and marketed for truck tires, they certainly will revolutionize how tires are maintained.
The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations (TMC) recently released a Recommended Practice, RP228, that provides guidelines for the manufacture of these devices. This was done in an effort to standardize the data provided by tire tags and establish minimum performance criteria for this technology. It also provides insight into how tire tags will be used.
Three types of readers
TMC envisioned that three types of readers would be widely accepted: gate readers, hand-held readers and onboard vehicle readers.
Gate readers could be used at fleet locations, truck stops and state inspection sites, and will be mounted at the service island or at the entrance to the maintenance facility or yard. Vehicles will roll by the readers at speeds up to 15-20 mph.
Cold-tire pressures and temperatures by wheel position immediately will be posted on a board at these locations and/or transmitted to a monitor at a remote site in the dispatch office, maintenance facility etc. along with the vehicle number.
These readers may check tires on vehicles both inbound and outbound. Outbound display boards will advise drivers to return to the maintenance facility for tire corrections before they go out on the road. Truck stops and weigh stations also will have gate readers available that allow drivers to check their air pressures.
Display boards and/or a printout would provide drivers with the condition of their tires. Data could be downloaded into a host computer and to the truck for satellite transmission. This technology will be a fantastic aid in improving preventive tire maintenance and reducing tire failures.
Hand-held readers would be great tire maintenance tools and would be used at fleet locations to perform yard checks on tires at outlying locations by fleet or tire dealerhip maintenance personnel, at facilities of fleets too small to warrant gate readers, and in the tire shop for inventory control.
They will be used to program tire tags with vehicle number, wheel position etc. Tire dealers and retreaders could use these readers to obtain inflation and temperature information on tires to be retreaded and/or repaired.
This information will advise them of tires that have been run underinflated and should be scrapped rather than worked on. Fleet or dealer personnel may also obtain the tires' identification numbers and histories for tire record-keeping purposes.
Readers could provide failure code options and irregular wear code options that could be selected when tires are scrapped. Tread depths also would be entered into these readers at this time, and the data collected would be downloaded into a database.
Onboard readers that will be installed on tractors will monitor tire pressures in all the tires on the tractor-trailer combination. These systems primarily will be used by owner/operators, time-sensitive freight haulers, fleets whose maintenance facilities are few and far between, and fleets that hold drivers, not mechanics, accountable for tires.
These readers will report only the tires that are experiencing a problem so that immediate action can be taken to correct the problems if possible.
Tire pressure and temperature by position will be displayed on an in-cab monitor when a problem arises. On-board readers could download to a satellite and send the tire status report to the dispatcher, who then could advise the driver where to have his tire(s) repaired. These readers would act more as tire monitors and not as preventive maintenance tools.
The tire tag itself will be programmable with fields to contain fleet name, vehicle number, wheel position, desired inflation pressure, unacceptable inflation pressure, in-service data and retread information such as cap number, retreader DOT code, tread design applied etc. Each time a tire is moved to a new position, the tag will have to be reprogrammed with the new vehicle number and new wheel position.
The tags should be able to take periodic tire pressure and temperature readings, provide cold inflation pressure readings, and store a memory of extreme temperature and pressure conditions, as well as count and store mileage.
This information will be invaluable to retreaders and will become a critical part of their initial inspection process. The tags also will be able to be turned off when the tire is demounted to save battery life.
Since most fleets use tires that are supplied by more than one tire manufacturer, it is imperative that RF tags in tires from different manufacturers, as well as aftermarket tags supplied by multiple sources, can be read by a single universal reader.
To address this problem, TMC specified that RF tags must be supplied by RF tag manufacturers that have agreed to license their reader protocol.
TMC's standard for tire tags is a step in the right direction, in that it clearly outlines what fleets want from this technology and allows tag manufacturers to build technology that meets these needs.
Hopefully, this Recommended Practice will shorten the distance between now and the future.