SOUTHFIELD, Mich.-The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) this month will release the interim labeling portion of a standard aimed at tracking original equipment passenger tires from cradle to grave.
The two-dimensional label covered under the first part of the standard gives each tire a unique serial number and ties it to a vehicle's identification number. This ``forces them (auto makers) to address the uniqueness that they're going to be getting and to track it and store that data,'' said William J. Hoffman, manager of auto supply chain for Intermec Technologies Corp. He also is chairman of the AIAG's RFID (radio frequency identification tag) tire and wheel identification work group.
By this fall, after six months of developing the guidelines, the group of car makers, tire makers and technology providers hopes to release the second part of the standard, advising the eventual use of radio frequency identification tags on the tires. Mr. Hoffman said the tags could be in use in tires produced for North American vehicles by the end of the year or early 2002.
``The emphasis of the standards is in North America, but we are allowing that they can easily be transferred globally,'' said AIAG Program Manager Ronald A. Tillinger.
``There is some timing push on this whole thing. The OEMs want to get this thing done in short order,'' said Andrew Zeisser, vice president of original equipment at Hankook Tire America Corp. ``But nothing is being overlooked; there's no corners being cut.''
Giving each tire a unique I.D. and tying it to a specific vehicle first through the label and later through the tag's silicon chip could narrow the scope of tire recalls. Currently, an entire lot of the branded tires are recalled rather than the select few that may have problems.
``All the attention the tires have in the media eyes right now, going back to last August, is certainly a catalyst to this,'' said Dave Wood, engineering group manager for tire engineering in General Motor Corp.'s Tire-Wheel Systems Group. His comment was in reference to the August 2000 recall by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. of 6.5 million light truck tires.
But it isn't the only push behind the new standard, Mr. Tillinger said. The AIAG has been looking at RFID since 1987, but the technology was too expensive and there were too many proprietary issues. In the truck tire arena, the concept of a computer chip in a tire has been talked about, but has seen only limited application for about the last 10 years because of cost, Mr. Zeisser said.
The new system is a modification of a prior guideline that used bar codes. The size and type of tires were identified when the bar code on a paper label was read, with the information then used to set tire/wheel assembly equipment like balancers and inflators to the proper specifications. The new system still would do that, but its ability to hone in on specific tires that are defective is the more contemporary purpose, Mr. Wood said.
Some tire makers already assign their tires unique I.D. numbers, but there is no standardization, he said. Even under the new guidelines, those unique digits would assist with recalls ``only if the whole system evolves to the point that (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) will allow for that as a method of identification,'' in official recalls, he said.
Group members point out that the RFID tracking tag could automate the collection of other valuable information-like data on the construction of a tire, its uniformity values and where it is located on the vehicle-and help tire makers track their internal processes.
Members of the work group agreed to make whatever resulted from the meetings binding for all, Mr. Hoffman said. But GM, for one, said it still is assessing whether or not it will implement the technology. If it does decide to use RFID on its tires, it will follow the standard, Mr. Wood said. ``We're very interested, but we want to make sure there's value added.''
Normally, the AIAG deals only with industrial or original equipment data. ``For the first time, we have to set our standards keeping replacement data in mind,'' Mr. Tillinger said. Tire makers on the committee believe there also is a need to track tires in the aftermarket.
Tire makers now are conducting tests with the tag manufacturers to determine where the integrated computer chip ``can live'' within the tire and what materials will give it durability and flexibility, Mr. Hoffman said. Those types of issues could be resolved over the next couple of months, as well as the best method of mounting the business card-sized RFID tags to the tire. The tags could be glued on or-in a less labor-intensive process favored by tire makers-molded into the tire.
The cost of the RFID labels is uncertain until technology providers determine the best materials for encasing the silicon chip and antenna.
But in their simplest, unpackaged form, the approved insertable RFID ``transponders'' could range from 85 cents up to $2.25 each, estimated Craig Harmon, president of QED Systems, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based consultant and standards developer in automatic data capture.
``The issue here is that...more than one player in the automotive industry today...believes their cost of tracking the tires is less than their exposure of not tracking them,'' Mr. Harmon said.