As our nation celebrated its 237th birthday this past Fourth of July, we were all reminded of that fateful night when a brave and determined Paul Revere road on horseback through the countryside surrounding Boston, sounding the alarm, The British are coming! The British are coming!
He alerted everyone to take up arms against an impending invasion by the English, which started the Revolutionary War and led ultimately to the founding of the United States of America.
Since then, we have seen many invasions of various sorts land on our shores and impact us in various ways. Thankfully, they have been mostly music-, product- or technology-related rather than militant. The last true British invasion occurred in the early 1960s when teen-age girls could be heard screaming, The Beatles are coming! The Beatles are coming!
Over the past few decades the tire industry has become more global, with tires manufactured in countries all over the world map invading our shores. Inventions, discoveries and technologies developed anywhere in the world seem to be shared globally and, if not invented or adopted here first, eventually finding a way to penetrate the North American market.
This is true of not only innovative tire compounds, casing construction and manufacturing methods, but also of tire radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.
It appears that tire RFIDs, which have gained some traction in Europe, may be getting ready to seriously invade the U.S.
The industry on this side of the pond has been talking about RFIDs since the late 1980s. We've talked so much about them that many mistakenly think that an RFID can provide temperature and pressure, store everything you want to know about the tire on it, including tire mileage, the highest temperature and the lowest pressure the tire experienced, the vehicles it was installed on, who retreaded it and the number of times, in addition to the tire's identification number.
However, the fact is RFIDs contain only a unique identification number that cannot be changed and have very limited data storage capability, which could include things such as when and where a tire was made, its maximum inflation pressure, size and so on. Its purpose is strictly for identification and tracking.
The RFID tag is a single-chip, solid-state, passive electronic device with an antenna. When a tag passes close to a gate or hand-held reader, it is energized and activated. It then responds by transmitting its ID number and any additional data stored in its memory. A hand-held reader can be used to update information held in its memory.
RFID tags can be used by tire makers to increase workflow efficiency through the manufacturing process, identify tires throughout their operational service life and for warranty records. They can contain information on quality and performance and detailed records on the production process, distribution and sales.
Commercial tire dealers can use them for inventory control of new, used and retreaded tires. In addition to inventory control, fleets can track their tires more accurately and determine which tires are the best performers in their operations.
RFIDs also can speed up maintenance by automatically identifying a tire being serviced for input into tire management software systems rather than having to type in a brand numbera task that can be prone to errors.
RFIDs also can be used to eliminate tire theft by scanning the tires on a vehicle before it leaves the yard and again when it returns to ensure that no one has tampered with the tires. Unlike a brand name that can be obliterated, the RFID cannot be removed without destroying the tire, so thieves avoid stealing tires with RFID logos on the sidewall since the tires can certainly be traced back to their original owners.
It is estimated by my colleagues in the commercial tire industry that only about 65 percent of the fleets in North America attempt to track their tires, and most of them still do this the old-fashioned way by branding and keeping hand-written records of some type which may or may not be entered into a database. Some fleets use bar codes that enable the identifier to be scanned with a reader that automatically transmits the number to the tracking program.
Other fleets install a dumb computer chip with only a unique number stored on it that is mounted on a patch and glued to the tire innerliner, which can be scanned with a reader as well to obtain the tire tracking number. The problems are that some of these chips can withstand the retreading process while others can'tand, at a few dollars apiece, the tags are still pretty expensive since they are made in relatively small volumes.
Over the last two decades, tire companies have been working on the development of RFIDs that can be embedded in a tire during the manufacturing process. Michelin North America Inc. announced it was testing embedded RFIDs in 2003 and claimed it was the first tire company to meet the Automotive Industry Action Group's (AIAG) B-11 standard for North America, which requires an RFID read distance of 24 inches. This is a challenge since radio frequency waves are harder to read through rubber than air.
Another challenge with embedded RFIDs is ensuring that they do not cause the internal tire components to separate since RFIDs literally are a foreign object embedded in the tire. To overcome this obstacle Michelin developed a proprietary coating it puts on the transponders before putting them into the rubber, which ensures the rubber bonds to the antenna. Otherwise the wire antenna could break and work its way out of the sidewall of the tire.
In 2011 the American Trucking Associations' Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) published its Recommended Practice (RP) 247 Tire Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Device Guidelines (Passive Tags) for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Truck Tires. The guidelines were written with the help of North American tire company technical personnel who had developed the AIAG's standard for RFIDs.
This RP provides guidelines to commercial fleets for the use of truck tire RFIDs and focuses on tire tag installation.
It advises that RFIDs should be installed between the bead and the lower sidewall near the DOT code. Tires should be mounted so that the DOT code side of the tire is away from the disc face and the DOT code is aligned with the valve stem.
That way when the tire/wheel assemblies are installed as duals and the valve stems are 180 degrees apart, the tire tags will be on the outside sidewall of the outer tire and the inside sidewall of the inside tire. This keeps the RFIDs the farthest distance apart, which aids in scanning them, while their position at the valve stem makes them easy to locate.
RP247 also standardizes the information provided by an RFID transponder installed during the tire manufacturing process as well as in the aftermarket and provides basic performance criteria for tire tags, such as a minimum life of 10 years and the ability to withstand retreading eight times.
Another important element of this RP is that it recognizes most fleets use tires that are supplied by more than one tire manufacturer. Therefore it requires that RFID tags in tires from different manufacturers as well as aftermarket tags supplied by multiple sources be capable of being read by a single universal reader regardless of the supplier of the tag or the tire.
As you can see, RP247 sets the stage for the use of RFIDs in commercial truck tires on this continent.
Last year both Michelin and Goodyear announced the use of embedded RFIDs in truck and bus tire applications in Europe. In January Goodyear introduced its regional RHT II RFID 435/50R19.5 trailer tire with a microchip built into it which interfaces with the company's FleetOnlineSolutions, Internet-based tire management program. This particular tire was chosen for RFID fitment because it is the most popular tire size used by megatrailer operators in Europe.
The RFID tag embedded in the tire has a unique ID number as well as the tire type and size. This enables Goodyear service providers or fleet operators to quickly scan all RFID tires with a hand-held reader and record the details electronically for use in the FleetOnlineSolutions tire management system for tracking tires, saving time and ensuring accuracy.
The tires have marks on the sidewalls to indicate where the tags are located. When the tires are mounted so that these marks are on the outside, scanning is made easy.
Goodyear produces its RFID-equipped tires in Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg, but the company plans to produce them in Wittlich, Germany, as well and extend the use of RFID technology to other types and sizes of tires.
After seven years of testing embedded RFIDs in 50,000 tires, in June 2012 Michelin rolled out its first RFIDs embedded in tires used by a fleet of buses transporting visitors to and from the Olympic Games in London.
It combined the use of these tags with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) so that the pressure and temperature of the tires along with their specific identification could be monitored for the entire life of the tires.
And just recently South Korea's Kumho Tire Co. Inc. announced it will embed RFID tags in all tires it makes by 2014. The patch-type tag Kumho uses is embedded inside the tire's innerliner during the manufacturing process and provides a unique identifier in addition to other manufacturing information that is tracked in a Kumho database.
In contrast to Michelin's and Goodyear's customer focus, Kumho's primary goal in using this technology is to increase its internal workflow efficiency and cut more than $9.1 million in annual logistics, production and quality control costs. The company already has fitted RFID tags on all truck and bus tires made at its plants in Gwangju and Gokeseong, South Korea.
But if the tires' IDs are contained in these tags, why wouldn't fleet operators and tire dealerships take advantage of them as well?
Fleets in the U.S. have been reluctant to adopt RFIDs in their truck tires because obtaining just a unique tire identifier did not excite them enough for the money they would have to spend. Since only 65 percent of them track their tires to some degree, this should come as no surprise.
However, with the advancement of tire management software systems and TPMS, pairing these latest technologies with RFIDs now could become attractive to themespecially as the cost of fuel and tires continues to escalate.
They could really get an explosive bang for their bucks by using TPMS to lower fuel and tire costs and RFIDs to track tire performance. With more and more companies embedding RFIDs in their tires, the cost of tire tags will drop due to increased RFID production volumes.
While I don't think that RFIDs will be coming to our shores in the next few months, I do think their invasion can't be far off at all. Don't be surprised when you see a modern-day Paul Revere truckin' down the highway proclaiming, RFIDs are coming! RFIDs are coming!