Since the dawn of the pneumatic tire in 1888, creative and ingenious minds have invented numerous ways to address air loss in tires.
The first inventions in the 1890s dealt with preventing and repairing punctures. These included repairing compounds, tire rubber, tire tighteners, tire covers and puncture repairs of all kinds. Concern for the protection of tires even reached city governments. In 1895, for example, Chicopee, Mass., passed an ordinance stipulating fines of between $2 and $20 for anyone found guilty of putting or placing any article on the road that could injure or damage tires. That was a lot of money back then.
While people loved the smooth-riding qualities of pneumatic tires, puncture problems still had most people convinced the solid rubber tire was the only real option. Solid rubber truck tires were used in World War I and at least one electric-powered solid-tired truck was still in use in Pittsburgh as late as the 1950s.
A history lesson
Tire valves and valve caps for automobiles were introduced in 1896, but it wasn't until 1905 that an accurate tire pressure gauge made it to the market. However, in advertisements as early as 1919, gauge manufacturers recognized that ``thousands of tires are prematurely junked each year...because of incorrect inflation.'' A 1928 advertisement stated, ``80 percent of all tire failures may be traced to this one cause. Improper inflation.''
Well, the years rolled by, tire technology advanced to bias tires and then to radial tires, from tube-type tires and then to tubeless tires. Truck tire repair and retreading techniques became extremely reliable and air pressure gauges advanced to electronics. However, in regard to tire failures, not too much changed. Most failures even today are still caused by improper inflation.
In the 1970s-due to the development of pressure sensor technology-truck tire pressure monitoring systems began to appear. These early systems were hard wired between the tractor and trailer to a display in the cab. You may remember names like Tyrecheck-Tire Pressure Monitoring System, AC Spark Plug Low-Tire Pressure Sensing System, Communication General's Low Tire Pressure Warning System. These systems faded from the market not long after they appeared.
Tire pressure equalizers also were introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Early market entrants were the Ettco and Tire-Tec Tire Pressure Equalizers, Schrader's Visualizer, Dual Dynamic's Crossfire and Link Manufacturing's Cat's Eye. Only the Cat's Eye and Crossfire equalizers are still around today.
In the early 1980s, the first wireless tire inflation warning systems appeared. Tire-Tele by Imperial Clevite was strapped to the wheel and sent a signal to a receiver in the truck cab. Pressure Alert sensed pressure at the valve stem and then transmitted a signal to a display in the cab. These systems came and went.
By the late 1980s, Destron/IDI was looking at using identification chips implanted in livestock and other applications that could be imbedded in tires to provide them with a unique identification number. It never developed into pressure sensors for tires and was never brought to market.
In 1990 the trade press first began talking about the possibility of tires having chips installed in them that could transmit pressure readings. They reported that the major tire companies were working on this development and the race of the Big 3 tire firms began to bring the first tire tag to market that could provide identification and pressure information.
These articles in the press excited both the trucking and the tire industries and lit fires under many a wannabe inventor. Valve stem-mounted sensors/transmitters/indicators proliferated. These included systems that transmitted low-pressure conditions to the cab as well as simple devices that provided an indication of inflation pressure condition at the end of the valve stem.
The 1990s also saw the development of central tire inflation systems that provided air to a vehicle's tires from the air brake system as tire pressure dropped.
Cycloid introduced its wheel-end pump that used centrifugal force to power the pump as the tire rolled. (This product for commercial trucks is no longer on the market.) However, it was not until 2002 that Michelin North America Inc. introduced its eTire System. It has a pressure and temperature sensor on a patch inside the tire that transmits this information when powered by either a hand-held or gate reader.
So what happened?
You're probably sitting there reading this and wondering, ``Whaa haaappened? Why didn't fleets buy these nifty inventions years ago to improve their treadwear, tire life and fuel economy, not to mention reduce their road calls?''
Well, there are several reasons.
The first is, most of these systems didn't work or didn't work for very long. Developing tire pressure monitoring devices for trucks is HARD-much harder than for passenger cars and light trucks. The vibration in the axle end, the heat buildup from braking and atmospheric conditions wreak havoc on sensors.
Further, anything that transmits a signal has to do so through a lot of steel (wheels, steel tire, truck frame, etc.), and it has to send the signal a long way-up to 100 feet if you're talking about a tractor hauling triples. But the signal can't get confused with the truck parked next to it.
Every company without exception that has worked on developing a tire pressure monitor system (TPMS) has spent more time and more money than it ever thought it would to develop a viable product for the commercial trucking application.
The second reason is that fleets have not wanted to spend the money on these systems.
Most fleets in the last 10 years haven't had the money to spend on these systems. As you know, the margins in trucking are gaunt. Fleets know that keeping their tires inflated properly will save money. It's just that they have not been able to justify the cost of these systems. Fleets do not have concrete data that shows the costs of running underinflated tires and, as a result, don't know how much they are losing. Their knee-jerk response is: ``We want these systems, but we don't want to pay for them,'' or ``We don't want to pay much for them.''
And third, TPMS systems tend to be pricey, especially those that transmit tire data via radio frequencies.
Goodyear has stated several times that it has a tag that provides identification and pressure information and is read by a hand-held reader. But the firm will not bring it to market yet since fleets are not ready to pay what it has to charge for the units.