The moving landscape in tyre and wheel technology

By: Jonathan Stewart


Tyre and wheel technology has come a long way and that exponential growth continues to aid transport operators and their drivers to stay on the road and on task. We spoke with a range of industry members to find out what’s next

The moving landscape in tyre and wheel technology
Keeping Australia moving.

 

Trucks may keep Australia moving, but the wheels and tyres they ride on ensure safety and efficiency for all involved.

Add the current market conditions to the melting pot and you have a scene where durability and fuel economy are pivotal to transport operators’ bottom line.

Tackling this, the tyre industry has diverged into as many directions as the number of members in it. From eco-friendly tyres to self-inflatable ones, tyre manufacturers are seeking to separate their commodity from the rest, while wheel manufacturers are designing other unique offerings that can withstand harsh Australian conditions.

But is it just about a fuel-economic tyre range? A more durable wheel? Or is the future a rounded solution encompassing everything from data reports to roadside services?

To find out, we asked six companies where they are and where they are heading.

Beaurepaires

For industry operators, Beaurepaires is launching an online tracking portal to collect and examine data from each individual tyre and axle on its trucks to provide via real-time, cents-per-kilometre reporting.

According to Beaurepaires Commercial vice president Gregg Scanlan, the technology to track all tyre products in real time has taken a long time to come to fruition.

"The industry is heavily driven by cost, and by tracking their cents per kilometre — be it for truck costs, for operating costs, labour costs or lube or tyres. And we are having ever-increasing requests from our customer base to deliver this information real-time."

Beaurepaires ,ATN

 

Beaurepaires hopes to fix that with the Beaurepaires For Tyres Online portal, the first in the Australian market to offer real-time, detailed data via a web portal. Within 20 seconds, data from the examined truck will be available to transport operators. This data, which can be sorted by a range of factors, will then help them decide which product to fit on their fleets.

"We will have a suite of reports available online and, essentially, the customer will be able to go in at any time to their own portal and account, and identify their operating costs by tyre, by axle position, on any of their fleet assets, and the reporting will give them the ability to consolidate that in any which way," Scanlan says.

Beaurepaires says the portal will provide a platform for operators to compare tyre products across their fleets to see how they perform. The portal, now in the second testing phase, will be trialled by Beaurepaires’ seven biggest customers in July. It will be available to everyone by January next year.

To accommodate the new technology, it is also launching about 200 semi-autonomous service trucks across Australia with GPS tracking, service scheduling, wireless hotspots for real-time telematics, and on-board capabilities for tyre changing and balancing.

"The truck itself is a mobile hotspot and we have on-board fitting equipment, which makes the fitters much more efficient, which means we can do a lot more customer work and service our customers faster and at a much higher level of professionalism," Scanlan says.

Greater safety comes from moving the loading area from the rear of the truck to the left-hand side, away from oncoming traffic.

The trucks and their operators will aid the portal by using tablet-based software across the fleet to optimise the completion of key tasks, collect data and track tyre performance.

"Essentially, this means our fitters are online 24/7," Scanlan says. "As the fitters do the work, that information gets instantaneously uploaded to the net; customers can go into a web portal and they can pull down cents-per-kilometre reporting as well as other performance data on tyres and on their vehicles."

This has been the biggest challenge, he says, as the fitters move from pen and paper to databases. "So, we are spending a lot of time on change management and training because they are basically going from a manual paper-driven process to an automated fitting and tablet-driven process."

Two-thirds of the company’s business is carried out off-site; previous payload restrictions on its smaller trucks of 4.5 tonnes and 8 tonnes meant trucks were only able to carry eight units. New trucks can carry 32.

The new trucks can also re-pressurise eight tyres at once in five minutes. Currently, one tyre takes six minutes.

Goodyear ,ATN

 

Goodyear

Goodyear plans a big move in the market, predicting its Air Maintenance Technology tyre range will make a big splash when it arrives in the coming years.

The range, encompassing 19 patents, features an in-built air-pressure tube running around the inside of the tyre, and attached to a regulator. As the truck moves along, tyre compressions’ continual movement inflate the tyre.

Testing the tyre, Goodyear’s global R&D group in Akron, Ohio, worked out how long it would take for a tyre to re-pressurise, and found it wasn’t going to be a problem, Gregg Scanlan says. "At the moment, if tyres are maintained only once per month, it can be that they drop 10, 15, 20psi per month."

"The big change here is that these tyres continuously reinflate themselves, so at any one time, they’re only a few psi or less off their optimum pressure. That is really going to have some major impacts on tyre life and fuel-consumption reduction."

After four years of development, the self-pressurising tyres have begun testing in North America, with a move to test the tyres down under for around 18 months.

The concept of reinflation will be applicable to any truck tyre across all applications, with retread options available to those who keep the casings.

"The Holy Grail for the industry is pressure maintenance from a truck and fleet point of view," Scanlan says.

"I think the Air Maintenance product is the next major advancement, and from there, obviously, the impact it will have on tyre durability, wear and performance, will then start to drive behaviours."

Bridgestone ,-ATN

 

Bridgestone

Investing significantly in new patterns and tread-compounding technology, Bridgestone has several products in development, tailored to Australian markets and road conditions.

Speaking with Owner//Driver, Bridgestone Australia managing director Andrew Moffatt is buoyed by the company’s approach.

"We’re still in the development phase, but there are exciting things in the works." One of those that has been through the phases and onto the Australian market is the Multi Trans M766 drive tyre, which arrived in March.

"We recently launched the Bridgestone Multi Trans M766 at Trucking Australia 2015 — a drive tyre specifically designed and developed to suit Australian conditions," Moffatt says.

"It’s Australia’s longer-lasting drive tyre, delivering exceptional wear-life and outperforming a major premium competitor by as much as 18 per cent."

However, a key focus of Bridgestone is continuing its line of low rolling-resistance tyres, with four new Ecopia models expected to be launched within the next year. Expanding on the low rolling-resistance M749 Drive and R109 Trailer tyres launched a few years ago, Moffatt says the Ecopia range targets transport operators’ fuel costs.

"Thanks to their low rolling-resistance technology, fleet customers can save up to 6 per cent on their fuel costs, but not compromise on durability, irregular wear-resistance or wet performance. The Ecopia’s low rolling-resistance technology is in the casing, so its fuel-saving abilities can be further harnessed by retreading with Bandag BRL3 or BDL3 tread."

Moffatt believes that the growth of a number of Ecopia products in mature markets, such as North America, shows fuel-saving options are the way forward for the tyre and transport industries.

"Aside from the monetary savings they offer, they’re a good fit for businesses that are conscious of reducing their impact on the environment." However, it will require an all-round approach from tyre manufacturers with a "huge focus on better business solutions".

"It won’t just be about tyres that are providing a greater return on investment, but the whole circle — ease of fitment, billing, and offering a retread option — to ensure people are getting value across all areas," Moffatt says. "Time off the road is money, so it’s all about continuing to innovate and introduce the best technology while reducing business expenses."

Michelin ,-ATN

 

Michelin

Michelin Australia has two new tyres scheduled for a late 2015 launch, an 11R22.5 X Incity Z urban-use tyre and an 11R22.5 X Multi T highway tyre. They add to the ten products already launched in the past 12 months, including the 295/80R22.5 X Line Energy Z, an all-position and fuel-efficient tyre designed for long-haul work.

However, planning isn’t just about tyres. Michelin Australia’s focus is to deliver quality products and services, marketing manager Colin Brown says.

"We work with the operator throughout the life of the tyre to ensure they get the lowest cost per kilometre. This service is delivered through careful tyre management, including monitoring wear and pressure, along with our multi-life approach— that is, regrooving and retreading."

A servicing-approach example is Michelin Active Assistance, the company’s own nationwide, 24-hour emergency breakdown service launched in March.

"The Michelin fleet-management program includes qualified technicians undertaking regular tyre checks, and offering tyre-management expertise to their network. This support, coupled with Michelin Active Assistance, will greatly contribute to the operational profitability of transport companies."

The service reports to the fleet or workshop manager the following day, detailing the problems and how they were fixed. Every month, the collated reports analyse indicators such as breakdowns per kilometre, incidents per state, and a location summary.

Windpower ,-ATN

 

Atlas Tyres

Atlas Tyres, which distributes Windpower, Tutric and Kingstar tyres in Australia, has a new range of sizes coming. This includes a 305/70/22.5, but Atlas is busy working on a new logging-drive tyre and a winter tyre, Victorian state manager for Atlas Tyres Matthew Hibbert says.

"We use two different tyres in logging: one for line-haul logging, for trucks that go quite a fair way on tar, but then we have one for off-road logging. Our new one is a sort of intermediate between those two. Because what we are finding in logging is, as we sell nationally, different road surfaces and the different seasons have different effects on different tyres."

The winter tyre is waiting on tests by companies that run through the snow across the top of Mount Kosciuszko for logging, but it will be a take-off tyre. "You will have a set of rims with these tyres on it and once the snow starts to fall, you will unbolt and bolt these on," Hibbert says. And vice versa.

The future will depend on the government, Hibbert believes, as a change in European thinking may head down under shortly.

"It depends on which way the government decides to go with all the climate-change laws because, in Europe, you have what’s called ‘de-minimis accreditation’."

This accreditation is run by environmental agencies in Europe and offers subsidies for road haulage companies using equipment and facilities meeting eco-friendly and safety guidelines, he says. This could have significant ramifications on the tyre market if they surface in Australia.

"Over there, if you want to have a government fleet contract, you have to have de-minimis accreditation. If your tyres don’t meet that standard, that fleet isn’t going to run your tyres."

Hibbert says his tyres, all tested in Europe, don eco-friendly stickers as all products used and their by-products are less harmful to the environment. 

"Our tyres are accredited for Europe, for de-minimis, because their rolling resistance is a lot less than a normal tyre; their compound silicon base is higher; more artificial products that are biodegradable are going into each tyre."

Alcoa ,-ATN

 

Alcoa

Alcoa’s past, present and future are led by the development and continued expansion of the Ultra One wheel and the Dura-Bright EVO surface-treatment products.

Released at the Melbourne Truck Show, the Ultra One is the lightest commercial truck wheel on the market, according to Alcoa Wheel Products Australia marketing manager Shannon Girard.

"The T6061 alloy we developed almost 50 years ago, which is the industry standard for alloy wheels in the market, had reached its limits in regards to weight reduction," Girard says.

"With the Ultra One wheel we had to come up with a new alloy, so we could keep the strength in the wheel but also bring the weight out of it. So, we invented MagnaForce alloy, which, compared to the old one, is about 17 per cent stronger. That gave us the ability to take some weight out of the wheel and bring it down to 18.6kgs."

The wheel is only available in American fitments at the moment, but more are promised. It has already been successful in Western Australia, Girard says, because those extra few kilograms can make a huge difference in payload for road trains.

"Alcoa is all about finding lightweight solutions," Girard says. "That’s what drives us every day, looking for ways to lighten our customer’s equipment."

Alcoa is also looking to its Dura-Bright EVO finish to take hold in the market, an evolution that offers a more environmentally friendly process, three times more resistance to chemicals and a ten-times increase in erosion resistance. 

Rather than sitting over the wheel, the Alcoa surface treatment penetrates the outer layers of the aluminium. So once Dura-Bright EVO has been applied, you can clean the wheels with soap and water and they won’t crack or peel as other surface finishes can.

Jost ,-ATN

 

Jost Australia

Jost Australia continues to develop and release new wheels and accessories. The first of its three latest premium forged wheels is a 9-inch (22.9-cm) offset American "muscle truck" steer wheel at 22.5-inch (57.15-cm) diameter, suitable for 295/80/22.5 steer tyres.

Jost also has an 11.75-inch (29.85-cm) super-single steer wheel available in both American and European, including Volvo, at 22.5-inch (57.15-cm) diameter and suitable for 385/65/22.5 steer tyres.

The company’s low-loader trailer fitments of 19.5 inch (49.53cm ) x 7.5 inch (19.05cm) 8-stud and 17.5 inch (44.45cm) x 6-inch or 6.75 inch (15.24cm or 17.15cm) 10-stud variants are also in the premium forged range.

To aid drivers and fleet managers, Jost Australia’s Mike McCosker, national product manager, wheel products, says the Jost TPI (tyre-pressure indicator) is a handy safety device.

"It is a low-cost alternative to an expensive monitoring system. Each unit attaches on the tyre valve of the rim and can be ‘taught’ a low-pressure value ranging between 3 and 300 psi," McCosker says.

"Set the low value at 90psi if you run 100 psi in your tyres. If your tyre deflates to the low-value mark, the high-intensity red LED will flash to get your attention."

Jost Australia now has a couple of products in development that target strength and longevity for transport operators’ vehicles. It will continue to prioritise wheel strength over weight reductions, McCosker says, starting with a premium forged alloy wheel currently under development.

Premium forged alloy wheel fitments for small to medium Japanese trucks are planned, with wheels being currently tested. Also under test now is a low-maintenance surface treatment.

McCosker says the treatment will undergo testing until it reaches the standard of the company’s milestone, such as a seven-year finish warranty, and avoids any likelihood that it will discolour, chip or be affected by sand-blast during use.

Mesh ,-ATN

 

Mesh# Accessories

Tyre advances aren’t all that can help transport operators and their drivers reduce downtime; wheel design and accessories are also making strides.

Mesh# Accessories, branching out from the three-year-old Mesh# brand last July, recognises this, and has been growing steadily in the Australian wheel market with varied designs and full chrome offerings.

General manager Wayne Hicks says, "We are looking at expanding and putting warehouses into different states, and possibly a distributor in New Zealand in the next 12 to 18 months."

This focus on difference has been the key driver in pushing the number of products skyward, from the 38 available last year to the more-than 50 different sizes and fitments available today.

The company’s focus at the Brisbane Truck Show was the release of a fully forged aluminium wheel range, designed to resist Australia’s harshest conditions.

The polished diamond-cut wheels ship in 22.5x9 inch (57.15x22.9cm) offset and 8.25 inch (21cm) oval/round hole American variants, alongside an 8.25-inch European multi-position. Retrofit wheels are also available in 5-, 6- and 8-stud Japanese and European 22.5-inch fitments.

Hicks says the wheels are tested to at least the same standards as its competition, but his lower prices are a reflection of current market conditions. 

"We are a company that cares about our customer and we want to keep our prices relevant to the market."

To test the quality of the new wheel range, Hicks says he poured 300ml of acid over one of them and left if for half an hour. After hosing it off, he says, the wheel was damage-free.

"What that gives us is the ability to use it in quite muddy, harsh, red-dirt and lots of different applications, where you can just wash the wheel and it is back to where it was before you went out at the start of the day."

Unique offerings such as a 17.5-inch (44.45-cm) square-hole wheel for Japanese small and medium rigid trucks with a capacity of two and a half tonnes per wheel and an oval-hole wheel range have drawn the eye of customers.

Hicks says, "People spending money want to be able to get something unique, as opposed to current market, current design."

One of those yet-to-be-released products is a European/Japanese steer-wheel that should arrive in Australia officially at the upcoming truck show in Melbourne, but Hicks says it will likely be on the market before then.

"We’re in the process of doing some homework on that, as we speak."

Mesh# Accessories is also hoping the transport industry will realise the potential time savings that nut covers can provide drivers. Its $3.30 Mesh# Safety Arrow Chrome ABS plastic nut cover, adorned by a yellow arrow, fits onto the wheel nut.

The nut cover can be fitted in multiple positions, depending on the driver’s preference, and aids companies and drivers to visually inspect the vehicle. As the cover fixes to the wheel nut, any loosening is highlighted by a change in direction of the cover’s arrow.

Available in 32mm, 33mm and 41mm sizes, the accessory is off to a good start with more than 10,000 sold in the past 12 months, including an order from Volvo for more than 5,000 of them.

 

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