A competing tire-tracking technology to radio-frequency identification (RFID) is attracting attention from tire and vehicle makers.
Bridgestone/Firestone is the first tire maker to evaluate InfoGlyph, a laser-made stamp of bar-code-like data engraved into the sidewall of a tire and tied to a vehicle's identification number through imagers already on vehicle assembly lines.
DaimlerChrysler A.G. and General Motors Corp. also are looking at the technology, which like RFID could be used to track all automotive components, said William Maybaum, president and CEO of InfoGlyph USA Inc.
GM said it is interested in the technology but is not yet using InfoGlyph, in part because the Automotive Industry Action Group still is working on standards for advanced bar-code data.
In BFS tests, the glyphs so far have presented no potential performance issues, Mr. Maybaum said.
The tire maker is beginning fleet testing of engraved tires and working on prototype marking stations. The reader equipment, however, needs to be developed further for in-plant tracking needs, said Don Smith, mechanical engineer manager of process systems development for BFS.
The tire manufacturer also is continuing to evaluate RFID, but hasn't developed a tag or chip that can withstand the high temperatures of the curing process, Mr. Smith said. The company is in the process of testing tags from Michelin North America Inc. and looking at other ways to attach an RFID tag to the tire.
Michelin in January became the first tire maker to debut its own cured-in RFID transponder. The tire maker is hoping to make it the industry standard by licensing the technology to competitors. According to industry sources, Michelin is working with Ford Motor Co. to test its RFID transponders.
Michelin and Ford didn't comment, but other tire makers said Ford has been using stick-on barcode labels for the past two years as an interim tracking measure.
Traceability has gained renewed importance in the aftermath of the recent Firestone tire recalls. But it has been of interest to parts and vehicle makers for some time because of the lost sales and warranty repair costs unknowingly paid on counterfeit parts and loss of confidence in the brand image.
``The aftermarket problem is becoming an original equipment problem because the auto makers' brands are being undermined,'' Mr. Maybaum said.
The U.S. and International Trade commissions do not track the financial impact of counterfeit parts. The Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association is in the process of compiling those numbers.
Like RFID, the InfoGlyph could be used to track tires in both markets by associating each tire with a specific vehicle or customer. But unlike RFID, the glyph's data are static or unchangeable.
The laser marking-which can be as small as 2 millimeters square or as large as the side of a barn-can be decoded even from curved surfaces. It is permanent, unlike standard bar coding and data matrix, Mr. Maybaum said.
At the request of OE customers, tire makers the past few years have experimented with two-dimensional bar coding and brightly colored ink jet lettering on tires. Although Ford has used bar-code labels, they are only a temporary part of the tire and are stripped before the vehicle leaves the plant. Inked letters sprayed on tires failed because they smeared.
InfoGlyphs can compete with RFID in durability, data capacity and cost, Mr. Maybaum said.
While RFID tags have only limited ability for error correction, glyphs can recover all of the data if even 10 percent of the image remains, he said. The glyphs also don't have antennas like the RFID tags, which, if damaged, could render them useless.