As Randy Clark explained it, major new technological developments in the tire industry come about once every 50 years or so, and they most often are developed by Michelin.
With a slight tongue-in-cheek approach, Mr. Clark, vice president of marketing for Michelin Americas Truck Tires (MATT), said that the last one, in the 1940s, was Michelin's development of the radial tire. So by his calculation, the time has arrived for another revolutionary development and, once again, he suggests that it's coming from Michelin.
This one, however, has nothing to do with new tire technology per se. Rather, it has everything to do with making conventional tire pressure gauges obsolete by replacing them with a complete Internet-based tire management system.
More specifically, MATT has introduced its eTire System, which provides ``cradle-to-grave'' truck tire monitoring for operators of commercial trucking fleets. At the heart of the system is radio frequency tire pressure monitoring and software that can instantly capture a variety of data, generate reports and make them accessible on a Web site. The eTire System was demonstrated for the media in Orlando on Oct. 10. The press briefing was one of a number of events the Greenville, S.C.-based tire maker held across the country to introduce its new technology to fleet owners and operators.
The eTire System was actually developed jointly by Michelin and Texas Instruments, a leading provider of pressure sensing and control technologies. Mr. Clark claimed that eTire, which has undergone two years of road testing, is the first and only system of its kind available for commercial truck fleets. In fact, Michelin officials revealed that eTire is already running on fleets in the U.S., Canada and England, and that there is a backlog of orders for it. They declined, however, to specifically identify current, pending or potential customers.
To a degree, the eTire System is an outgrowth of Michelin's existing technology for monitoring earthmover tire performance. The key components of eTire include an InTire Sensor; a SensorDock mounted on the interior sidewall of a tire to hold the sensor; two types of readers (hand-held and drive-by); and Bib Track software that can instantly report captured data. Michelin said eTire can be used with any brand or size of commercial truck tire, including low profile tires. The extremely light weight of the sensor and dock will not affect tire balance, and when properly mounted, sensor performance is not affected by liquid tire additives, the company claimed.
While tire pressure monitoring is a primary function of eTire, Jack McCammond, eCommerce development manager for MATT, explained that it is only one function of a complete fleet tire management system that employs Michelin's Bib Track software program. Because each tire containing a sensor has its own unique ID number, BIB Track keeps a record of virtually every significant event in that tire's life-including the vehicle on which it is mounted, its wheel position, in-service problems and maintenance and retreading activities.
Capturing this data gives fleet managers worldwide access to all critical tire inventory data.
At the press briefing, Mike Tolman, an eCommerce product manager for MATT, demonstrated the eTire System's components and operation. In a typical eTire application, each tire on a tractor and trailer would carry an InTire Sensor, clipped onto a Sensor Dock that is glued to the interior sidewall much like a tire patch. An eTire label is affixed to the exterior of the tire to identify the sensor's location inside.
To preclude performance and disposal problems, there is no battery or other power supply for the sensor. Instead, it is activated when it is scanned by a system hand-held or fixed reader.
Tires mounted in either single or dual configurations can be scanned with equal ease and accuracy, Mr. Tolman said. When activated, the sensor reports its ID number and the tire pressure. A user of the hand-held reader also can manually enter tread depth information or other comments about the condition of the tire. In addition, each tractor and trailer is equipped with a sensor so that operators can identify which tires in their inventory are mounted on which vehicle.
When the drive-by system is used, the truck is moved past the permanently placed readers at about 5 miles per hour. The readers identify the truck and trailer sensor numbers and capture all tire ID and pressure data, as well as the position of the tire on the truck.
If a problem such as low pressure is noted in one or more tires, a red light at the end of the reader lane notifies the driver of a problem and the data is immediately transmitted to tire maintenance personnel. This enables them to identify the problem tire and repair or replace it before the truck goes back into service.
Michelin noted that eTire offers many significant advantages over conventional methods of measuring tire pressure-not the least among them labor and time savings. Unlike using conventional tire gauges, checking all tires with the drive-by reader takes only a matter of seconds as the truck moves through the check lane, and with the hand-held reader, only a couple of seconds per tire. Also, with either reader, there is no need for the tire checker to crawl under the vehicle or between tires.
The data captured is also more accurate-within three psi, according to the company. Unlike conventional hand-held pressure gauges, eTire provides ``cold equivalent pressure'' information. That means that regardless of whether a tire is hot or cold, the pressure readings provided will be the same as if all were checked when cold.
Phil Arnold, also an eCommerce product manager for MATT, stressed that the eTire System is far more than a high-tech way of measuring tire pressure. He proved his point by demonstrating the Bib Track system's software, which captures and instantly reports tire pressure, wheel position and other tire maintenance data. All of this information is then available to fleet managers via an Internet connection.
And because all of the data is stored on a server and not in the tire sensor, there is no risk of data loss if a tire or sensor is damaged or if the sensor is lost or stolen. Sensors also can be reused once the tire in which they had been mounted is no longer serviceable.
Among the many types of reports available from Bib Track are:
* Total number of tires in a fleet's inventory, whether on the road or in the warehouse.
* On which vehicles specific tires are mounted and in what position.
* Tire pressure history, in order to facilitate leak detection.
* Tire age and mileage data.
* All maintenance and retreading records.
* Total tire cost.
Company officials declined to specifically discuss the eTire System's cost, saying that prices would be established by dealers.
``Our goal is to keep the price under $30 per unit,'' Mr. Arnold stated. Nor would officials speculate about payback time, except to say that the potential for quick payback and other cost savings certainly exists. One model provided by the company demonstrated how those savings could be realized for a large fleet operator.
In that case, an operator with 2,400 tractors and 4,000 trailers is shown saving nearly $645,000 annually by using the eTire sensor system. About 75 percent of those savings are derived from extended tire life attributable to proper inflation. The balance comes from the ability to track tire location, thereby reducing loss or theft costs, and from other miscellaneous efficiencies.
``One benefit of eTire,'' Mr. Arnold said, ``is that Bib Track can help you determine total tire cost, and whether it is more economical to retread or replace a tire.''
Company officials also said that smaller fleet operators could benefit from eTire without buying the whole system. They noted that if their tires were equipped with the InTire Sensors, they could have their data collected and managed by dealers or other truck service facilities that have installed the complete system.