Michelin Tire North America Inc. said it successfully has cured a radio-frequency identification (RFID) transponder into its tires and has hundreds of the devices in taxi fleet testing.
The tire maker is working with an unnamed auto maker to bring RFID tires to the market as an option for model year 2005 vehicles, Michelin officials said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Technology provider sources earlier said Ford Motor Co. is leading the push for tire-tracking technology.
The radio-frequency devices could help narrow the span of recalls by assigning a unique number to each tire and linking it with the identification number of the vehicle on which it is mounted and its subsequent owner.
When quality issues arise, tire and car makers will be able to recall only those tires with defects rather than the complete week's worth of production from the affected plant based on Department of Transportation codes now molded into the tire sidewall.
In December, Michelin provided samples of the prototypes to the customer for distribution to other tire makers. ``We want to promote an industry standard so that the same types of readers work with everyone's tire, so you don't have to have different antennas and different frequencies in automotive tires,'' said Terry K. Gettys, president of Michelin Americas Research & Development Corp.
``Believe me, there was a great deal of skepticism in the room initially because this is so unlike our corporate culture,'' said Dave Adamson, senior research engineer for the Michelin unit. ``But by the end of the meeting there were several people who came up and thanked me and said this will help to benefit our entire industry.''
Intermec Technologies Corp., the licensee of the integrated circuit technology, will field interest from other tire makers. ``If our competitors want to source these, we won't actually know exactly the trail of sourcing,'' said Patrick F. King, Michelin Americas R&D global electronics strategies representative.
The development makes Michelin the first tire maker to meet the requirements for a cured-in RFID tire circuit under the terms of the Automotive Industry Action Group's tire and wheel tracking standard, which was released last year. But competitive tire makers believe it may be the wrong strategy to introduce technology that meets only North American frequency standards but could not be used globally for legal reasons.
Car makers in Europe and North America still are debating which frequency to make the global standard and exactly where and how RFID transponders should be molded or glued onto the tire.
``Based on our knowledge, there is no final, global solution for RFID technology between the (European and North American) car makers,'' said Andreas Gerstenberger, vice president for Continental A.G.'s North American tire business.
Consequently, Continental is keeping its options open and taking full advantage of its knowledge in brake, tire and electronics systems. But that doesn't mean it's been idle. ``We are doing testing with customers, and a significant number of vehicles are involved,'' he said.
Late last year Charlotte, N.C.-based Continental Tire North America Inc. announced that in January it would begin supplying original equipment tires with stick-on, radio frequency identification tags to an unnamed auto maker.
The application was the first for RFID technology directly on an automotive component. The tags will not only allow car makers to track tires and double-check incoming shipments for accuracy, but also to automate current vehicle identification processes and error-proof assembly.
``The tires have a very large visibility, but there is other work going on to identify other major subassemblies like transmissions, engines and chassis,'' said William J. Hoffman, industrial solutions manager for tag maker Intermec. ``No other technology provides this type of visibility to the consumer level.''
Tire makers are looking at several approaches for mounting the tag to the tire, including placement in the inner ply of the tire or on the surface of the inner liner, according to Mr. Hoffman. Testing will take at least a year, he said.
In the meantime, car companies are using two-dimensional labels to meet the requirement to link a tire with a vehicle identification number for tracking purposes by November 2003. That was the overarching goal of a tire and wheel tracking standard released last March by the Automotive Industry Action Group. ``If there's ever a recall, they can be found very, very quickly,'' Mr. Hoffman said.
But those labels hold only static data and require hand-held scanning. Interim, stick-on RFID tags allow auto makers to automate the scanning or ``reading'' process, to ``write'' or store related data to them for in-plant use, and to install the necessary infrastructure-readers, antennas, inter-connections and databases-in advance of permanent tag installations.
Radio frequency technology has been used in vehicle assembly plants for the past 10 to 15 years on car carriers, Mr. Hoffman said. But the systems only transmit the VIN number and cannot be used to store data. Once a vehicle comes off the line and is separated from its carrier, there is no way to track it. The newer RFID technology will give car makers the opportunity to track the tires cradle to grave, check the accuracy of incoming tire shipments and identify the vehicle and related component information on and off the assembly line.
``The cost benefits and efficiencies gained from going from (two-dimensional) to RFID is sufficient to encourage that movement,'' Mr. Hoffman said, without disclosing pricing for the new tire tags. ``They're significant.''
Goodyear said it believes its three-pronged sensor approach would bring more value to auto makers and consumers than a circuit used simply for identification purposes. The Akron-based tire maker worked throughout the 1990s on technology to embed a tire-pressure and temperature-monitoring sensor into the tire.
``By 2005, I believe that Goodyear will be able to do the full job of tire pressure and temperature monitoring and identification,'' based on its collaboration with Siemens A.G.'s Siemens VDO Automotive unit, said Bill Hopkins, Goodyear vice president for global product marketing and technology planning.
Goodyear's technology would help meet Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act requirements by building a tire-pressure monitoring function into the tire for a solution that's more cost effective, consumer friendly and less labor intensive, he said.
The transponder in Michelin's tires contains an integrated circuit the size of a matchstick head flanked by curly antenna tails on either side. The circuit-manufactured by Fairchild Semiconductor and Philips Semiconductors and under license from Intermec-is positioned between the body ply and sidewall of the tire.
Michelin adapted the circuit by designing the shape of the antenna and coating both it and the antenna so that they not only last the life of the tire but also yield about 90 percent of the performance of the chip in air. ``So we've managed to have a minimum degradation of the performance of the transponder even though we've embedded it directly in the tire,'' said George P. O'Brien, global project leader for Michelin Americas R&D.