AKRON—Progress toward commercializing computer chip monitoring of large off-the-road tire performance has been slower than anticipated over the last year.
In spite of predictions last March that such technology would become available in the second or third quarter of 2000, only one company, Goodyear, is offering a system for sale at this time.
The principal reason cited for delays in commercialization by more companies is the need for further testing—especially durability testing for computer chips that are mounted inside of a tire's air chamber.
Also at issue is the problem of reaching agreement on technology standardization that would allow competing systems to communicate with each other.
Monitoring temperature and pressure is critical because it can prevent failures of the huge tires that are commonly used in open-pit mines.
Those tires, some as big as 12 feet in diameter, cost tens of thousands of dollars each and can account for as much as 20 percent of a mine's operating costs.
But tire failure is not the only hard dollar cost that chip monitoring can reduce.
For example, computer monitoring reduces the productivity losses that occur while a truck is pulled out of service for a manual check of tire temperature and pressure, or while a damaged tire is being replaced. And, of course fewer failures mean lower scrap tire disposal costs.
With chip monitoring systems, low tire pressure or heat build-up can be detected early, before the tire is damaged.
Corrective action can, of course, include adjusting inflation pressure and repairing leaks. It also can mean directing trucks to shorter, slower or less demanding mine routes until their tires cool down.
Goodyear announced last October that it had the industry's "only commercially available intelligent tire system." Other companies—including Michelin North America Inc., Continental Tire North America Inc., Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Fuller Brothers—are still developing their systems.
Goodyear's includes a sensor mounted inside the tire that measures temperature and pressure and transmits data to an on-board receiver every three minutes. The data can be viewed in the truck, at the mine dispatch center or downloaded to a computer.
"Operators can now see, on a real-time basis, which tires are getting hot and adjust routes accordingly," a company press release said.
When Goodyear announced commercialization of its system, it was expecting that more than 250 transponders would be in service by the end of 2000, with complete commercialization expected in early 2001.
To date, according to a Goodyear spokesman, 12 customers—all mine operators—have signed on, and their trucks are being outfitted with Goodyear transponders.
At Michelin, Pat Hicks, manager of Michelin earthmover management systems, said that a similar system has been under development for three years, including field testing for the last two. But he couldn't speculate about how close the company is to complete commercialization.
Bridgestone/Firestone Off Road Tire Co. (BFOR) began work on a mine tire monitoring system in 1995, and introduced it at the 1996 MINExpo Show. Field tests continue at multiple locations.
"It's important to note that we are talking about technology that must last anywhere from two to five years with no maintenance," said Jeffrey P. Asay, marketing manager, technology services, for the company.
The BFOR system uses a reader placed along a haul road that communicates with a vehicle's tags (chips) as it drives past. This information is then fed to a network server and placed on a secure Web site, Mr. Asay explained.
Bridgestone/Firestone also is field-testing a portable reader with screens that will match the user interface found on the Web. It is intended that eventually, all of this information will be easily downloadable into the company's tire management tracking system.
Continental is taking a somewhat different approach to developing its chip technology, according to a company spokesman.
"We are not working to develop our own technology, but we are working with vendors to evaluate technologies," he said, though he did not reveal which vendors are involved.
Fuller Brothers Inc., an Oregon-based producer of tire additives and protective products, also has been working on tire monitoring technology for some time.
Since 1994, it has been developing its own Tire Analysis System (TAS), and for the last four years, the system has involved chips, said Morry Jones, vice president of sales for the company. Fuller Brothers is the only independent company working on this technology, he added.
The Fuller Brothers system is not being sold at this point, Mr. Jones explained. "We are leasing the product and are charging per reading. We are staying close to home and evaluating the durability of the chips."
In talking with Tire Business, Mr. Jones also raised the issue of common chip system technology. He believes that Fuller Brothers' independence gives the company a competitive advantage.
Because mine operators use trucks and tires from several manufacturers, it could be difficult for them to monitor tire performance if a variety of technologies and systems are in use. Mr. Jones said that using one aftermarket system such as TAS could solve that problem.
Those involved in the development of this chip technology see future applications that go well beyond measuring temperature and pressure to provide additional tire-life critical data as well.
But because the systems have not yet fully proven themselves to be durable, reliable and practical, it apparently will be a while longer until they are widely commercialized by the companies involved in their production.