When we look at transportation equipment and their truck tires and wheels over the last 20 to 30 years, there certainly has been a lot of change in addition to the equipment and tools we use to maintain them.
Today, most of the trucking industry has changed from demountable and stud-piloted wheels to hub-piloted wheels, from standard radial tires to low-profile tires, and maintenance practices and processes are much more specific and accurate.
More emphasis has been placed on ensuring components are installed and maintained properly as well as on improving technician productivity and reducing injuries. The result is safer and more productive vehicles now ply our nation's highways.
Some of the major advances made in tire and wheel service equipment are:
Truck tire changing machines used in high-volume shops;
The mounting/demounting tools that replaced old fashion tire irons;
Automatic tire balancers that replaced bubble balancers;
The use of torque wrenches and torque-controlled nut runners that replaced impact wrenches for ensuring wheel nuts are installed properly; and
Alignment machines that have taken checking alignment with a tape measure and plum bob to state-of-the-art automation.
As you can see, the industry certainly has come a long way, but tire shop equipment continues to evolve. Even in the last year or two, we've seen some pretty cool stuff hit the market that helps tire technicians do their jobs better, faster and safer.
I'm going to introduce you to a few new tools today.
Tools of the trade
Perhaps you have already seen this equipment, and maybe even have already purchased some for your shop(s) and/or service trucks. But maybe you'll find something new that you haven't seen or heard of before and just can't live without.
Gaither Tool Co. is pretty much an industry leader in tire equipment. It brought out its mounting and demounting tools for truck tires back in the late 1980s, which revolutionized this chore and made it much easier and faster for technicians.
Since then it has continued to develop tools for tire shops and tire technicians.
It recently introduced its GB-5M Bead Booster, which is the latest in bead seaters. While pneumatic bead seaters have been around a while, this one features what Gaither calls an MIS valve.
The MIS valve has a combined diameter of the outlet holes that is 1.5 times larger than the exhaust opening, which provides greater velocity of the air when it hits the tire bead and rim flange.
The opening for the air is also 2 inches in diameter, which is larger than most other bead seaters and results in less airflow restriction and a faster pressure release. As a result, it has about five times the power of traditional bead seaters.
The tool also has a capacity of five gallons of compressed air that enables technicians to seat the beads of the toughest tires from passenger to large agricultural tires.
The tool is designed with technicians in mind. It has a thick carrying handle and an ergonomic grip that enables technicians to control the 31-pound tool better and operate it safely. All the technician has to do is place the Bead Booster on the tire bead, hit the valve and the bead is seated in less than a second.
The tank is coated inside to prevent corrosion and increase the lifespan of the tank and is CE/ASME certified.
The tool comes with a three-year warranty. If you are looking for "more power," this tool will most certainly float your boat.
Another useful tool from Gaither is the Winntec SAFERGO truck tire dolly. It was designed primarily to prevent technician back injuries, but also provides a few other pluses.
This dolly eliminates the need to lift a truck tire/wheel assembly manually when installing it or removing it from a vehicle's axle end.
The technician simply slides the rollers of the dolly underneath the tire/wheel assembly and uses the dolly's jack handle to raise it to the desired height.
If used in conjunction with Gaither's O-LINE-ER — which is a long pin with a point that slips over a stud and guides the wheel into place on the studs — wheel installation is quick and easy and damage to stud threads by scraping the wheel over the studs is usually avoided.
The SAFERGO also has a collapsible handle that makes it easy to store with dimensions of 37 inches by 20 inches by 14 inches and is great for service trucks as well as tire shops and garage bays.
Tire inflation units
When it comes to tire inflation, Haltec Corop. offers products that range from tire valve stems, gauges and chucks to tire inflators and tire inflation software solutions. Its automatic inflators are precision tools that inflate tires with high speed and accuracy.
One of the newest entrants to its line is the 89TRL2 mobile tire inflation unit. This mobile unit inflates four tire/wheel assemblies simultaneously to between 5 and 145 psi with an accuracy of +/- 0.3 psi.
It has three pre-set pressure options with inflation override buttons that enable technicians to program specific target pressures as necessary.
Once the hose is attached to the valve stem of a tire/wheel assembly, the unit automatically inflates or deflates to the target pressure. It also confirms calibration to 0.3 psi accuracy every six minutes when in use and every time it is powered on.
There are four large, backlit LCD screens and each 1/4-inch inflation hose is color coded to its screen.
The screens indicate the gauged and targeted pressure. The 89TRL2 mobile tire inflation unit is battery operated and includes a smart charger.
It has ½- and ¼-inch inlet options for air or nitrogen supply and is designed with a narrow footprint for easy indoor and outdoor mobility.
Because it can be used outside, the unit has an IP66 protection rating that provides complete weather protection (except submersions). It is designed to be used with Haltec open, lock-on dual foot chucks and clip-on open chucks.
To keep them safe, technicians are provided remote control of the inflation/deflation process, which keeps them out of the "blast zone" or trajectory of the tire.
This is an idea tool for inflating the drive tires on trucks and tractors or the tires on an 8-wheeled trailer. It performs accurately all the time and quickly whether the tires are overinflated or underinflated.
One of the most overlooked aspects of maintaining wheels is the valve stem. Almost every commercial tire dealer in North America replaces valve stems when they mount a truck tire on a wheel, but you would be amazed at the number of commercial tire technicians who don't do this correctly.
A good valve-stem installation process includes inspecting the wheels for cracks at the valve stem hole, cleaning paint, debris and burrs out of the valve hole before installing the valve stem so that the grommet seals tightly and isn't damaged, measuring the valve stem hole to determine that it has not been enlarged and that the valve stem will not leak, and properly tightening the valve stem with a calibrated valve stem torque wrench.
Do your technicians have the tools to properly install valve stems?
Probably not. That is why Dill Air Control Products L.L.C. has come out with a Truck Stem 5270 Tool Kit.
The heavy-duty plastic carrying case comes with a gauge to verify the valve hole size in rims that use TR540-550 series valves. This gauge also has a built in brush that can be used to clean the valve stem hole.
The kit also contains another gauge with a brush that is used to verify the valve-stem hole size on rims that use TR570 series valves. These gauges provide a green "good to go" mark as well as a red "remove from service" mark and take the guesswork out of determining if the wheel is still usable.
Two pre-set torque wrenches can also be found in the kit.
One is for TR540-550 series truck valve hex nuts and the other is for TR570 series hex nuts. While the technician is tightening the hex nuts of TR570 series valve stems, he must hold the valve stems in place and keep them from spinning.
To accomplish this, Dill has also included a 7/32nds-inch T-handle hex wrench that fits in the hexagonal hole in the base of the TR570 valve and holds the valve stem in place while it is being tightened.
So all the tools techs need are included in this one convenient kit. In addition, an industry-endorsed training poster is provided that explains the proper process for installing valve stems in steel and aluminum rims/wheels.
This is a perfect kit to keep in your tire shop or in your service trucks and will greatly improve the quality of your tire service.
In the last 20 years or so, a lot of attention has been placed on properly torquing wheels on vehicles. As a result the use of torque wrenches to set the final torque and check the torque on wheel nuts has really grown.
However, checking torque is often a two-person job with one person holding the torque wrench on the nuts while the other operates the wrench. To address this issue, Central States Plastic L.L.C. has developed a product, called the Torque Fin, that turns this two-person job into a one-person job.
The Torque Fin connects to the torque wrench in seconds and stabilizes it so a single person can easily and safely tighten wheel nuts. It also ensures that accurate torque is achieved every time.
It's light and durable, which makes it easy to use and toss in the back of a service truck when done. If tools are easy to use and do their job correctly, technicians will use them to make sure the job is done right. And you can reduce the labor required to perform this vital service.
For you commercial tire dealers and retreaders who also offer wheel-refinishing services, Service Tire Truck Centers (STTC) has developed an aluminum wheel cleaner (not a polisher) with the assistance of Hoffman & Hoffman Research & Development called the AluminShine Aluminum Wheel Cleaning system.
This machine and process restores the natural shine to aluminum wheels economically and with environmentally friendly materials quickly, with minimal labor, and at a much lower cost to the customer.
Presently, aluminum wheels are refinished by hand with semi-automatic polishing and buffing equipment. These systems use brute force and costly chemicals and refinish one wheel per hour (eight to 10 wheels per shift) on average.
The typical charge to the customer is around $100 each. The AluminShine process can clean 19.5-, 22.5- and 24.5-inch wheels in about five minutes per wheel with no toxic materials and no aluminum degradation.
It does this using a three-step process. The first step combines heat, a food-grade biodegradable material and electrolysis in tank No. 1. This causes the pores of the aluminum The second step combines ultrasonic sound waves and a natural citrus bath to rinse the aluminum oxide and contaminants away from the wheel surface in tank No. 2.
The result is a clean wheel free of aluminum oxide and all contaminants that bond with the oxide (except concrete). The wheel is then lightly buffed. The recommended cost to the customer is around $35.
If you are interested in this equipment for your shop, you should have a space about 12.5 feet by 5 feet by six feet and a 480V, 3-phase electrical service with a 100 amp breaker. (There is also a 240V option.)
You'll also need a water supply and wireless access or dedicated HDMI cable for remote diagnostics and troubleshooting.
According to STTC, the AluminShine Aluminum Wheel Cleaning process is eight times faster than other aluminum polishing methods, produces a 62-percent savings in energy and a 90-percent reduction in equipment service and repairs, and reduces wheel cleaning employees by 80 percent in addition to providing them with enhanced working conditions.
Also, there are is no toxic waste or costly abrasives to worry about disposing.
Nowadays more and more commercial tire dealers are expanding their businesses to include light truck and trailer repairs. Many commercial tire dealers are now providing maintenance services for fleets that do not see their trailers regularly and need to outsource trailer inspections and maintenance to keep their trailers operating safely.
While there are not a lot of things to go wrong on a trailer (tires, brakes, lights, doors and suspensions), these components do require routine inspections and maintenance.
To address this maintenance and inspection requirement, Innovative Products of America Inc. (IPA Tools) has introduced the #5700A Alpha Mutt advanced diagnostic trailer tester, which takes the time and labor out of inspecting and repairing the ABS, air brakes and lights.
This new diagnostic tool reduces guesswork and simplifies trailer inspections, prevents mistakes and results in an average savings of 30 minutes per inspection. It also provides automatic and guided inspections, standardizes consistent inspections across all service center locations, eliminates technician paperwork and creates more detailed service reports and records.
The Alpha Mutt connects to a trailer with a seven-way round pin connector and includes a highly accurate digital ammeter with 5mA resolution that enables it to detect cross, open, overload and ground faults automatically and provides wattage, voltage and current for each circuit.
It accesses ABS blink codes, performs leak-down tests on brake service and emergency air lines and activates the brakes in real time to find developing problems and verify leaking servo cans using the included 10-inch Android tablet or remote-controlled air brake activation. Its built-in diagnostic message center analyzes inspection results in real-time and provides technicians with immediate feedback and troubleshooting suggestions.
Technicians log in to the Alpha Mutt's software, and input the fleet and the trailer VIN with each inspection. The technician's username is recorded with each test for inspection accountability.
Detailed pass/fail inspection reports are generated in under 60 seconds from its auto test report function which are then logged. This logged history is easily accessible and enables technicians to analyze patterns for predictable failure points across service locations since the Cloud saving option syncs an unlimited number of service locations with a central hub for inspection-failure-cause analytics. Reports can be e-mailed, printed or exported to Excel files.
The Alpha Mutt is built on a rugged, large, yet portable platform that is 45 inches by 23 inches by 22 inches, weighs 85 pounds, has its own 12V 10-Amp internal battery charger and comes with a three-year limited warranty.
If you are doing trailer inspections and repair or are thinking about it, consider this diagnostic tool.
If your technicians are still using bubble balancers and tire irons, it's high time for you to crawl out of your cave, join the 21st century and provide your techs with up-to-date tools designed to make them more productive and enable them to do their jobs right and safely.
If your company's service has taken advantage of evolving service tools, good for you.
Continue to update your shops and service trucks with the tools that will make your company be better at what it does, providing excellent service to your commercial customers. Keep in mind that the price of doing the same things with the same old tools is far higher than the price of change.
Thanks go to Steve Zimmerman at Tuffy Manufacturing for his assistance in researching products for this column. For more information on these products (except AluminShine) go to tuffymfg.com.
Peggy can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].