Electronic surveillance for tires

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According to the Tire Retread Information Bureau, North American truck and trailer owners spent more than $2 billion last year to buy 18 million retreaded truck tires.

That’s a lot of money – and it doesn’t take into account the approximately 16 million new medium and heavy-duty truck tires purchased last year. In fact, The Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking Associations says that tires are the No. 1 maintenance expense for a typical fleet.

Although keeping track of tire costs is imperative, fleet managers traditionally have focused on important but limited pieces of information – air pressure and tread depth readings. Rarely have technicians looked at tire management strategically by focusing on such issues as inventory control or cost projections.

Today, technology that helps fleets or their outside partners manage tire expenses is almost as valuable as the technology that goes into the tires themselves. The tire industry has developed software packages that help fleets, retreaders and dealers track tire and vehicle performance, as well as costs and inventory back at the shop.

Perhaps the most important feature of any management system is that it’s easy enough to use that people will actually use it rather than drift back to old habits.

“We wanted to offer a system with all the bells and whistles, but foremost on our list was a short learning curve and ease of use,” says Joe Rayana, director of customer support services for Bridgestone/Firestone. “Our programmers worked for more than a year on this project, and we’re very proud of the end result.”

Tire Management 2000, the result of that effort, lets users look at tire utilization and calculate tire wear costs by organizing data in a series of reports and graphs. It uses click-and-drag technology to help minimize input time, and is laid out so that most tire management functions can be performed from one page.

Features include the ability to search for tires by serial number or brand, the ability to rotate tires between vehicles, and color-coded tire designations to indicate wear status. The system is preprogrammed with a database of vehicles, tires, manufacturers, models, wheelbases and tread designs. With the entry of the customer’s location-specific information, the user chooses tires and vehicles from a list and adds a serial or vehicle number. The rest of the information will be entered automatically. Users can export data to Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software for preparation of customized reports.

To facilitate conversion from Bridgestone/ Firestone’s previous tire tracking system, users can convert historical data for use in TM2000. Information can also be converted into foreign units and languages so global operations can use a single system.

Goodyear’s TVC-II allows fleet managers to play “what if” games by enabling them to change the data to see how different elements impact cost and serviceability. Using the TVC-II’s Master Knowledge Catalog of vehicles, tires and vocations, managers can enter, update and access information about vehicle tire usage.

By entering basic fleet information, such as number of tractors, trailers and dollies, fuel costs, average miles-per-gallon and mounting/dismounting costs, a TVC-II user can compare different tires with different scenarios to see which tires are the most cost-effective. Once the information is entered, graphs compare and project present and future operating costs.

Fleet managers can calculate the number of new tires or casings needed for retreading. The TVC-II software also lists recommended tire usage for Class 6, 7 and 8 domestically built vehicles and calculates which tires the company recommends for various service conditions.

TVC-II software includes Goodyear’s Tire/Vehicle Tracking System and the Goodyear Radial Truck Tire Service Manual, as well as information on the company’s line of tires. Using graphs and charts, the Tire/Vehicle Tracking System lets fleets track specific tire performance and analyze the data. Tire information is linked to the manufacturer, model and axle, so by tracking tires on a number of vehicles, the user can determine if the tires on one specific vehicle combination are outperforming those of another combination. The system is multilingual, Windows-compatible and based on real information, helping the user obtain a more accurate cost per mile, Goodyear says.

Another Goodyear software package, EM Track II, is a Windows-based CD-ROM that helps the user track tire inflation, rotation, repairs and retreading. Intended for larger, off-road applications, the software can also perform a tire removal analysis and predict tire needs. Various graphs and reports list tires by size, brand, construction and manufacturer, in addition to other parameters, using an optional all-weather, handheld Palm device.

“Simple pie charts, bar graphs and spreadsheets help to quickly retrieve information needed to track the performance of specific tires,” says Tim Good, global customer account manager for Goodyear. Users can enter new equipment and configurations and review the performance of tires in real time.

The Audit Professional Tire Management System from International Marketing Inc. (IMI) combines interactive software and hand tools to guide the user through the process of tracking, managing and maintaining tires from acquisition to scrapping. The user interface for the customizable Windows-based software features online help, popup messages, pull-down menus and online technical support. Users can generate comprehensive operations, calculations, queries, projects, reports and graphs with the click of a mouse, IMI says.

The help section presents – through pictures and detailed descriptions – tire management concepts and principles in accordance with the “Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide,” published by TMC. To help determine future purchasing requirements, the software compares actual wear to manufacturers’ “expected wear.” The system also performs self-checks to flag probable human error in data entry.

IMI’s Audit system also includes hardware designed to integrate with the Audit software program. Data-Audit is a menu-driven, handheld controller that allows the transfer and display of vehicle layouts. The user can also select up to four different tire conditions from a predetermined list for each tire/wheel position. IMI says the unit can operate for up to eight hours before recharging.

Air-Audit reads and records tire air pressure and automatically inflates or deflates a tire according to preset software parameters. Tread-Audit displays and records up to four tread-depth measurements in inches or millimeters to within 1/64 inches or 0.4 millimeters for each wheel position, IMI says.

Complementary to Audit, IMI’s Snapshot Fleet Tire Survey System, mostly used by commercial tire dealers, combines the previously mentioned electronic tire inspection tools with the software to speed the tire inspection process. Snapshot also creates reports, graphs, inspection summaries and performance data detailing vehicles and tires inspected, tire position, tread depth, air pressure, matching, inspection status and potential dollar losses. “These reports are derived from information that fleets and commercial tire dealers already are collecting and, often, storing in a file drawer instead of recording as usable data,” says IMI President Bob Fogal Jr.

Snapshot lets dealers cut their inspection time and labor in half, IMI says. Dean Parker, technical service representative for McGriff Tire Industry, Memphis, Tenn., finds that Snapshot makes it easier to communicate with customers. “We generate reports ourselves to go over with the customer,” Parker says. “They show where the problems are and let us offer a solution.”

Despite the wonders of the digital age, Michelin Tire Corp. realized recently that its field representatives were capturing data on fleets’ trucks using paper forms. For Michelin, that meant not only wasted time in re-entering data and keeping track of paperwork but also a greater possibility for errors.

“There was a disconnect between our data collection system in the field and our data consolidation, analysis and reporting tools, says John Warren, business process development manager at Michelin. “We knew we were losing critical data.”

To correct this flaw in its data collection, Michelin worked with handheld computer and software developer Palm Inc., to create Tire Trax, which runs on the Palm OS-based WorkPad. The software features specialized onscreen menus, including graphics of trucks and tires, to collect data for updating fleet tire maintenance records.

Using Palm’s HotSync technology, information from handheld devices is transferred to Michelin’s Lotus Notes-based automation system, allowing for file sharing for fleets that have multiple locations. The information also goes to Michelin’s data warehouse application for use in product development and marketing strategies. “Our goal is to support a low cost per mile with accurate and timely information,” Warren says.

For fleets that track tires in-house, Michelin offers its Millennium Suite software, designed by Signal Software, Pittsburgh. Millennium Suite follows a fleet’s tires through their full life cycle, enabling the user to capture tire history and document cost performance.

The Millennium Suite software includes Bib Track and Bib Tread. Bib Track is designed to manage a database of information, including tire condition and maintenance records for every tire. Tire monitoring hardware, which can be retrofitted into any truck tire, automatically transmits rolling information, such as temperature and pressure to a PC using a handheld reading system. At the end of the tire’s original tread life, the system automatically forwards tire information to the retread plant management system.

Bib Tread, designed to manage the retreading and repair process, tracks each tire through its receiving, inspection, repair and final invoicing. Fleet managers can track age, number of retreads, number of repairs and tread type to ensure each tire meets its specification for that category. In addition, users can establish specifications for each casing to help reduce the number of breakdowns and premature failures.

By integrating Bib Tread and Bib Track, fleets can track their tires through repeated repairs, retreading and rebuilding cycles, Michelin says. Because Bib Tread is integrated with the accounting and invoicing modules in Millennium Suite, the software can perform billing for repairs and materials, with reject analysis, repair analysis and finished product inventory. Optional reports account for operations performed for each casing and why. Retread and repair operations become part of the permanent tire history maintained by Bib Track.

In addition to Michelin’s Millennium Suite, Signal Software has developed its own systems to computerize independent tire dealers. TireTracker is a system that offers tracking capabilities, allowing the user to know the status of every casing at all times.

TireTracker interfaces with management software, allowing for easier inventory updates and invoice generation. The system records labor time, repair information and product rejects to help the retreader accurately charge for all work performed, evaluate productivity and reduce costs. Another Signal Software system, TireWorks Gold is a modular, fully integrated point-of-sale information system that can handle all point-of-sale and business management requirements.

Tire Management Solutions, a division of Bandag Inc., uses its own proprietary software to handle tire needs by supplying all tire services from acquisition and management, to maintenance and replacement. TMS lets fleets exit the tire business entirely, while reducing tire management costs and increasing uptime, the company says. The Triceps analysis program helps TMS make significant improvements in labor, inventory, logistics and administrative costs.

Akron, Ohio-based Roadway Express chose to outsource all tire management to TMS. “For a number of years we had talked about different ways of managing our tires,” says Dick Deardorff, Roadway’s vice president of maintenance and corporate services. “Using tire management software, we were about as good as we could get. We then decided to get out of the tire business and the whole host of responsibilities associated with tire management.”

TMS says it can customize programs to meet unique fleet tire management situations including tire selection, mounting/dismounting/repair, inventory management and reporting, billing, pick-up/delivery and disposal.

Alternate routes
While commercially available software packages work well for many fleets, some carriers opt to develop their own systems, or use their own systems in conjunction with a tire-service vendor.

“There are certainly any number of commercial tire tracking software packages that are very good,” says Dave Foster, director of maintenance for Southeastern Freight Lines, Columbia, S.C. “But because of our mainframe computer database, we felt the need to develop our own in-house system. We felt that our IT department knew what was best for the company.”

The United States Postal Service also has its own system. “Our tires are tracked through our inventory system, and once the vehicle comes into the shop, we then chart them as to tread depth and condition,” says Lew Flowers, manager of vehicle maintenance for USPS in Oklahoma City. Flowers and his team enter the data into the USPS system and track tires through their lifetime.

“Our preventive maintenance system flags suspect tires when they come into the shop,” Flowers says. “While vehicles are on the road, we enlist tire service companies to do what we call ‘fleet checks.’ These companies have their own software in place to give us an accurate report as to the condition of our tires.”

Whether you do it yourself or have others do it for you, information technology continues to evolve, offering more choices for sophisticated, accurate control of one of your most valuable assets.