Tech in Focus: Tire Management

Were it not for a PM service every 15,000 miles, the tires of Panella Trucking would never stop rolling for most of the year. From the start of spring through the end of fall, the Stockton, Calif.-based fleet operates 24/7, hauling produce from the fields to processing plants.

When the trucks do stop, technicians perform a routine inspection of tires to detect problems. But until recently, management lacked a uniform method to measure and improve its tire maintenance practices.

“It was pretty much a guessing game,” says Davis Winters, parts manager for the 350-truck fleet.

Three months ago, Panella Trucking purchased a tire tracking and analysis software system from Goodyear called TVTrack. Dave Bond, shop foreman of Panella Trucking, estimates the software will require about a year’s worth of data collection to be reliable. But from what he’s seen so far, Bond believes the program will be able to provide all the information he needs to benchmark tire performance and cost – including cost per 32nd inch, and the cost per brand.

“Even if a tire costs a little more upfront, it may get better costs per 32nd, which makes it less expensive in the long run,” adds Winters.

Bond plans to use the software to determine what tires work best in each position, and whether or not to take a tire off one vehicle and move it to another.

“I’ve got a really, really good feeling about the whole deal,” Bond says.

A feature of the system Winters finds especially useful is the ability to color-code each tire position according to a tire’s expected lifespan.

“When the diagram of a truck’s tires first comes up, it shows tires in green if they’re in good condition, in yellow if they’re starting to wear, and in red if they need to be changed,” he says. “So right away I know that something has to be looked at and dealt with quickly.”

As with any information system, tire management software is only as useful as the accuracy of its supporting database. To ensure the information is correct requires a disciplined and – as much as possible – automated process for data entry. Besides increasing accuracy, automation increases the adoption rate of tire management software among your employees, says Nate Leeman, tire electronics platform manager for Michelin Tires.

In 2002, Michelin launched an automated tire management system called eTire. The system uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to enter tire data automatically into a software program as a truck passes by a drive-by reader. A chipset – mounted inside the tire casing – identifies a tire by wheel position and vehicle number, and captures and reports its temperature and air pressure.

The information goes into a Web-based application called BibTracks that a fleet manager uses to track total tire lifecycle costs and maintenance.

In addition to a drive-by reader, fleets can use a separate handheld device to enter information into BibTracks manually, such as tread depth, mileage of vehicle, cost information – such as the price of a new tire – and each time a tire is mounted and dismounted. “We’re really trying to get rid of the manual entry portion,” Leeman says.

BibTracks also provides instant warnings for low tire pressure and other exception reports as the data arrives. The system features two dozen reports on items such as tire inventory, “dispositioned” tires and retread cost summaries.

Panella Trucking plans to improve data collection by using a handheld application from TVTrack to enter tread depth and other tire-related data into Palm Pilots. The fleet already uses the portable Palm devices to run applications for its vehicle maintenance software system such as work orders and scanning parts for inventory, Winters says.

Bridgestone/Firestone customers can steer clear of the hassles of tire data gathering with a free tire analysis service performed onsite by territory sales managers, who capture tread depth, air pressure, brand pattern, size, mileage of vehicle, driving application and wheel positions from a minimum of 25 vehicles. A follow-up inspection is completed at a later date on the same vehicles, says Sonia Crouch, associate manager of commercial sales operations for Bridgestone/Firestone.

The company uses a proprietary software system called Market Profiler to produce customized reports detailing where fleets can save money and improve tire performance. Territory managers also use Market Profiler to enter data from scrap tire inspections to show fleets savings from tires that could have been repaired or retreaded, Crouch says. Market Profiler also is used to track fleet tires through the retread process, reporting the cost and performance of each brand of casing and retread.

Both Goodyear and Michelin also have software systems to give fleets visibility of tires throughout the retread process. Michelin’s eTire chip remains in the tire casing during retreading. Using RFID, Michelin enters the tires into an online software program called BibTread, Leeman says.

Goodyear’s G-Tracs system – part of the Nextred system offered through authorized Goodyear retreaders – tracks casings using barcodes attached to their sides. When casings are sent to a Nextred retreader, they are scanned and the fleet’s account is updated with the latest service records. Qualified fleet customers can go online to a secure website to retrieve data on retread statistics, repair records and purchase histories.