LAS VEGAS-How easy is it for a tire technician to forget to properly torque a lug nut?
Just ask one of those hapless souls you hear about from time to time: They're sitting in their living room watching the tube when suddenly a loose wheel comes roaring through the front of the house without bothering to knock first. Granted, that may not happen all that often, but periodically there's a news story about a wheel flying off a vehicle. The result can produce major mayhem-and sometimes even catastrophic, deadly consequences.
Concerns about torquing have led to the development of an automated lug nut fastening system that claims to reduce the chances of over- or under-torquing lug nuts, thereby potentially increasing safety for consumers and cutting a dealership's expenses. After two years of development, hoist and repair tool maker Ingersoll-Rand Co. (I-R) in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., has launched what it's calling ``IntelliTorque''-``precision torque management for the tire lane.''
The company said IntelliTorque will enable tire retailers to input the make, model and year of the vehicle and the number of wheels needing service. The fastening tool is then automatically programmed with the correct lug nut torque according to the original equipment manufacturer's specifications-including the number of lug nuts to be fastened.
Because the system alerts the tire technician when each lug nut is properly tightened, Ingersoll-Rand said, it also minimizes the potential for overlooking lug nuts on a wheel, as well as reducing the possibility of improperly tightening lug nuts. As a result, there is less risk of technician error, which helps to ensure that wheels are properly fastened to the vehicle.
Ingersoll-Rand demonstrated the new technology at its booth during the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association/International Tire Expo shows in Las Vegas. Lou J. Colangelo, I-R's senior engineer, Tire Lane Solutions, explained that the IntelliTorque system features two components-one located at a store's retail counter, the other in the shop's service bay. The software-which loads onto any computer using the Windows 95, 98 or 2000 operating systems-features a pull-down menu for vehicle year, make and model.
It also can provide the user with torque specifications in foot-pounds as well as the number of lug nuts a vehicle has. The data come from the database of the Tire Guide, a tire fitment reference book.
The operator clicks on a box on the computer screen specifying how many wheels are being worked on, then types in the service order number linking the dealership's database to IntelliTorque's. The system then sends the information to the computer in the service bay.
Currently, IntelliTorque runs as a ``closed system,'' meaning it is not yet compatible with the industry's integrated computer standards known as ``iSHOP.'' But Mr. Colangelo said I-R, a diversified industrial firm with activities in automotive service tools, has been talking with the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, which developed iSHOP. ``I've learned that (IntelliTorque) needs to be in that system,'' he told Tire Business.
IntelliTorque, being launched through I-R's Tool and Hoist business unit, comes in two configurations: a wall-mount version, and the more popular pedestal version that has a computer module on wheels so it can be moved between several service bays.
If there are multiple wheel jobs in a shop, Mr. Colangelo said the software loads each job into all the shop's IntelliTorque controllers because often times it has not yet been determined in which bay the tech will service the vehicle.
Once logged onto the IntelliTorque system, four steps are required of the technician:
* Toggle to the work order;
* Hit the ``enter'' key, bringing up an ``operator'' screen indicating each technician in the shop who is trained to use the equipment;
* Toggle to the tech's name; and
* Access a ``job verification'' screen to choose the correct vehicle to be repaired.
After hitting the enter key again, the tech calls up a working screen displaying vehicle and torque data and lug-nut sequence, with a graphical depiction of the vehicle's bolt pattern. He or she then begins tightening the lug nuts. Set in the ``snug'' mode, the tool first fastens the lug nuts at 40 percent of the final torque. The sequence then is repeated to finish at the proper torque.
The system also has a daily self-calibration feature: When first turned on, the unit conducts three two-second runs to verify it is operating properly.
To determine standard torque data, Mr. Colangelo said I-R has been working with Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler A.G., ``who've all agreed with the range of torque specifications.''
Mr. Colangelo said every computer screen in the system has a ``help'' button to address questions about any of the procedures.
The IntelliTorque unit-referred to as a ``pulse'' tool-has an air-driven motor like an impact wrench, and contains a hydraulic impacting mechanism in the front and a torque sensor on its output shaft. He said I-R has sold such devices for about 10 years in industrial applications before re-designing them for use in tire shops.
Automobile wheels fastened too tightly can break wheel studs and damage brakes, according to the company, while wheels fastened too loosely can become separated from the vehicle. Unequal tightening can result in wheel vibration.
The new system controls, verifies and archives lug nut torque data and automatically generates customer receipts and documentation, I-R said. By reducing the chance of technician error, the unit may help eliminate additional expenses resulting from having to repeat the work and can help prevent potentially dangerous situations caused by improperly tightened lug nuts.
Ingersoll-Rand has been testing IntelliTorque at several major tire retailers across the U.S. since early this year to gain workshop experience. Penske Auto Centers L.L.C., for example, began rolling out a pilot program at selected stores in Ohio and West Virginia, according to Jim Wheat, president and CEO. Mr. Colangelo said Penske is using the mobile version of IntelliTorque under the brand name ``AccuTight,'' and I-R's goal is to have the system in each of Penske's 650 service outlets by the end of 2002.
He said Canadian Tire Corp. is evaluating the system at one of its locations, and other large retailers, including Arizona-based Discount Tire Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears, Roebuck and Co., also are using evaluation models or have pending evaluations of the equipment in progress. No company has turned down I-R's tryout offer, he added.
IntelliTorque is part of a comprehensive tire services strategy within Ingersoll-Rand's Industrial Productivity sector, which encompasses other products designed specifically for complete tire lane solutions.
``With IntelliTorque as the platform, we envision significant growth opportunities by continuing to develop innovative solutions for the tire services aftermarket,'' said Joseph Jones, president and general manager of I-R's Tool and Hoist unit.
Other Ingersoll-Rand products in this strategy include the Zimmerman suspension system, which suspends tools with a ``zero-gravity'' cable balancer, enabling tools to float in the same position when released by the technician.
The vehicle services solution includes air compressors and compressed-air plumbing, ARO lubrication systems and diaphragm pumps, other I-R power tools such as ratchets, impact wrenches and sanders and onsite maintenance of I-R products and accessories.
Initially, I-R will not sell the IntelliTorque components, preferring instead to set up a rental program that includes all set-up, maintenance and data updates. Mr. Colangelo said users sign a ``subscription agreement''-costing $600 per month for 36 months-that includes the product, installation, maintenance, training, service and support. The cost is the same for the wall-mounted or mobile IntelliTorque units.