LAS VEGAS (Dec. 5, 2005) — Beissbarth GmbH, Europe's largest producer of tire servicing equipment, has developed a “touchless” wheel alignment system that uses optical scanning technology to determine a wheel's position relative to the ground and vehicle.
The touchless system, in development for more than a decade, promises a reduction in time for an alignment of at least 20 minutes because it eliminates the set-up and tear-down time needed to attach sensors to the wheels, according to Dan Hubbard, eastern regional sales manager, North America, for the Munich-based company.
The system, shown in North America for the first time at the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas, could be market-ready by the second half of 2006, Mr. Hubbard said. It is undergoing field trials at a number of car dealerships around the country.
The touchless system uses four free-standing sensing elements positioned next to each of a vehicle's four tires.
Each sensing element has its fixed location at one of the four wheel positions. The user can put them next to the specified wheel at a distance of about 27 inches.
Whether the sensing element is exactly or only approximately next to the wheel doesn't affect the reading, Beissbarth said, nor does it matter if the four sensing elements are not exactly parallel to the car. It is only important that the sensing elements can “see” one another under the car.
The measuring heads use an eight-track sensor system that forms a measuring circuit under the car and orients the heads to one another. Each head has two cameras mounted at a slight tilt toward one another; each camera is surrounded by nearly 1,000 infrared light-emitting diodes that light up the tire/wheel assembly, creating a stereoscopic picture that is then evaluated to determine its position in space.
Beissbarth compares this process to human sight. Each of the cameras has a somewhat different viewing angle to the wheel and sees only an ellipse in each case. Combining the two images creates a spatial image that the computer sees, much like the brain combines the slightly different images from each eye to create the three-dimensional image a person sees.
This information is transmitted to the central computer, which compares the captured data with the desired settings already stored in its memory. The Touchless system's Windows XP-based software then leads the user through all of the alignment steps.
Beissbarth, which only recently set up a U.S. subsidiary in Severna Park, Md., suggests users set up the Touchless system in the tire lane, providing them with the opportunity to evaluate a vehicle's alignment status while the customer is still in the garage area and allow the individual handling the service call to sell an alignment if one is called for.
Mr. Hubbard said the shape, color, size or cleaning status of a wheel—or even sunlight coming in to the workstation—do not influence the measurement result. Proper prerequisites for wheel alignment, such as correct air pressure, level floor, etc., must be observed to achieve a flawless measurement, however, he added.
Among the service conditions driving the development is the move to larger alloy rims that pose a number of problems, including the difficulty in attaching alignment heads properly so as to obtain proper readings and the danger of damaging an expensive rim with those same alignment heads.