OEM Report: Automotive
Thursday | 23 April, 2009 | 8:50 am

Burning rubber

By Mike Scott

April 2009- After fuel, tires are generally the second-largest operating cost for fleets. And despite the negative effect of unchecked tire costs on the bottom line, not all fleets exercise control over their tire cost per mile.

Tracking all of the variables affecting tire products and applications can be overwhelming, and it’s made the addition of tire management systems a worthwhile option.

Tire management systems can alert drivers of a potential tire problem, including a pending flat, which increases driver safety. The problem is that such systems impact soft costs that are difficult to measure and, as a result, are tough to get approval for in this economic environment.

But the return on investment can be quantified, provided the reduction in tire costs per mile is proven. For most fleet managers, that’s the true challenge.

Another challenge is that the costs and definitions of tire monitoring and management systems are constantly changing. Each system is designed to reduce manual labor, increase tire life and increase the safety of drivers.

In late 2006, the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act mandated that all newly manufactured light vehicles be equipped with tire pressure- monitoring systems, and most fleet managers expect that the TREAD Act will be expanded to additional commercial vehicles.

Web meets road
Early last year, Alcoa Wheel Products introduced its InTire Management System. This Web-based fleet maintenance management tool provides real-time data on tire pressure and tread depth throughout an entire fleet, says Merrick Murphy, general manager of Alcoa Accessories, Services & Logistics. For fleet managers, it’s designed to provide maximized tire life to increase safety, full cost reporting with customized reports and better fuel economy.

The data is tracked by wheel position, and the only manual work is generating the demographics information on the fleet. After entering certain information into the database, it functions automatically.

Most higher-end tire management systems offer an easy-to-use Web interface and wireless data collection system, which means less downtime for manual safety procedures, as well as faster information flow to management. Other add-on programs and features can allow fleet managers to monitor preventative maintenance checks, such as fluid levels and filter conditions.

Fleet managers can use their PDAs or other electronic devices to sync information on vehicles within their fleets so that it’s immediately accessible wherever they go.

Reinventing the wheel
Another prominent option is TireStamp, which has created its TireVigil product to allow fleets to view real-time tire data and monitor how those tires are performing. It also provides statistical information based on real tire performance measures.

Using embedded wireless wheel sensors, TireVigil collects and communicates relevant data using internal servers. TireVigil reports tires’ status using existing onboard telematics devices or TireStamp’s Tire Data Monitoring technology, which facilitates the collection and analysis of data over actual driving conditions.

Tire air pressure information can be indicated by different means. The interface for some tire-monitoring systems provides information in the form of alerts from wheel-mounted or dash-mounted display units when tire pressure changes. Other systems involve hand-held readers to capture and instantly report tire pressure and other maintenance information. Wireless systems, as available with Alcoa’s InTire and TireStamp’s TireVigil, are widespread.

A newer radio frequency identification system by Advanced ID and SkyeTek uses reader modules that can capture tire tag identification data while offering performance data and other information to help manufacturers, distributors and fleet operators manage tire inventories.

Tire management systems are designed to allow customers to view tire data and make informed decisions quickly. It’s about tire visibility and knowing whether the vehicle is parked in the garage or is on the road, hundreds of miles away.

Some of the lower-end options are feasible for smaller fleets. Some of the higher-end options could require several months or years to recuperate the initial investment.

Consider the number of vehicles, the number of tires used in a year, the accidental or potential tire problems that could occur and how many miles the fleet vehicles will be driven. The signs may point to a modern tire management system. MM

Mike Scott is a freelance writer in White Lake, Mich., who has contributed to more than 100 national magazines, newspapers and Web sites. He has written about various subjects related to fleet vehicles over the last decade.

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