Tyres & Wheels Feature: High Tyre Act
The digital collection of tyre data can lead to significant improvements in preventing tyre-related breakdowns, but how can this be implemented to suit Australian conditions? Two of the nation’s largest tyre suppliers discuss how they are adapting European technology. Ricky French writes
The next few years are set to be a time of great upheaval in the way transport operators integrate tyre management into the running costs of their equipment, thanks to innovations in data gathering as well as physical tyre technology.
You could say that tyres are at once the most simple and most technical piece of any vehicle whose task is it to roll across the ground.
There are elements of tyres that you might consider we got right the first time and will never improve on, such as their need to be round. Or so it appears.
But any tyre sitting on the ground with the weight of a truck pushing down on it is not round, and it’s from this starting point where all the problems and innovations arise.
Anyone who has ever tried pushing a car with the flat tyre can attest to the effort it takes to overcome rolling resistance, or hysteresis to use the technical term. And when you think about it, all tyres are flat to some degree, even if they’ve just been pumped up to their recommended PSI.
Tyre manufacturers are continually seeking to reduce hysteresis and today’s tyres are the best and most fuel efficient we’ve ever seen. But the physical manufacture of tyres is only one element. Data collection of tyre condition and performance is now being harvested with such accuracy that fleet managers can now see tangible savings coming from their choice of tyres.
To better understand where Australia is at with tyre technology for trucking fleets DealsOn
Wheels spoke to two of the country’s major tyre suppliers: Bridgestone and Goodyear Dunlop.
UNDERSTANDING LOCAL CONDITIONS
While it’s tempting to look across to European innovations and ask: “Why can’t we do that here?”, the fact remains that the Australian market is a very different beast.
Digital monitoring platforms for tyres are being launched at a steady rate in Europe. Continental has recently announced its ContiConnect product, which digitally monitors tyre temperature and pressure and sends automatic updates via a web portal to a driver app. It will be available from 2019.
But the challenge in bringing similar technology to the Australian market lies in the vast distances our trucks travel, often through remote areas with no internet service, and the types of trucks we use (think of the challenge in connecting a digital tyre monitoring set-up to a road train crossing the Nullarbor and making it affordable for the average fleet).
GOODYEAR DUNLOP TYRES
Goodyear Dunlop Tyres general manager of commercial PBU, Peter Stacker, says the introduction of any new tyre technology depends on finding a business model that works.
“Telematics providers know about the technology and how to pick up tyre data, but at the moment the value of that technology is too expensive to warrant implementing it,” Stacker notes.
In Europe, Goodyear has launched Goodyear Proactive Solutions, a subscription-based service that aims to predict tyre problems before they occur through predictive analytics technology. In Europe it’s claimed to reduce tyre-related breakdowns by 75 per cent.
Australia is set to see part of that system introduced in the form of drive-over reader technology. It’s called a static solution, meaning there’s nothing attached to the tyre or the truck. A truck returning to base simply drives over the reader, which records tyre pressure, footprint and tread depth of the tyres and transmits the information direct to the service provider or fleet manager. Stacker says it’s a way of monitoring tyre condition in a targeted way, without needing telematics.
“Telematics has been driven around the dynamics of the engine and interaction with the driver. Tyres have been harder to patch into those systems. The great thing with these drive-over readers is they capture tyre data and direct service on a needs basis, rather than have someone walk around the yard checking tyres and identifying issues,” he says.
The drive-over readers are being tested currently in pilot locations across Australia. “New technology takes a lot of development and proof of concept,” says Stacker. “But we’re looking forward to launching this to the market.”
Tyre sensors, which strap on to the wheel and communicate like a telematics solution, are also being trialled. “A receiver box on each piece of equipment communicates via the cloud to our collection centre in Europe,” says Stacker. “That centre monitors the tyre pressures and the temperature of the wheel in real time and can provide alerts within one minute showing any indication of deflation. It’s very important for safety, and the driver will get a quick alert. It’s also a GPS monitoring system so it enables operators to track their equipment.”
What’s clear to Stacker is that the future lies in how we harness data collection from tyres.
“At some point in the future there will be in-tyre technology that collects more than just pressure and heat, but directly collects tread depth and other elements, tyre dynamics as it interacts with the road.”
It might sound obsessive, or gimmicky, but the rationale is strong when you consider the impact tyre performance has on fuel efficiency of trucks.
“A lot of fleet managers are extremely tuned in to the impacts tyres have on their costs. But some are too focussed on the tyre costs rather than the value driven through the performance of the tyres,” Stacker says.
“The algorithms in our cloud-based systems can predict a tyre failure within a kilometre of it happening. You can prevent problems and make your tyre service maintenance targeted, rather than generalist.”
But it’s not been easy to measure exactly the difference one tyre makes over another, considering all the other variables at play, including driver behaviour, terrain, road surfaces and engine performance.
It’s one reason Goodyear has recently completed a controlled test in Australia, using tyre sensors combined with telematics.
“Our test showed that once you eradicate the variables there is a fuel efficiency benefit to our Fuelmax tyres of around two per cent,” he says.
Stacker says getting to that level of understanding is not easy, but improved
technology will make establishing the benefits of one tyre over another easier.
“Cost of ownership is one thing, but to a major fleet operator the value proposition is higher – can I get service when I need it, do I need an account manager, do I have consistent invoicing across the country. Proactive solutions is helping us deliver all that for our customers,” he says.
“Everyone wants as much information as they can get,” says Jon Tamblyn, Bridgestone Australia and New Zealand’s group technician field services and commercial sales development manager.
In Australia, Bridgestone is focusing on improving the way operators collect and use that information.
Tamblyn says it’s about getting the basics right, having systems in place that allow operators to make sense of the barrage of information they will one day be getting from tyre sensors and integrated telematics, rather than human inspection.
That’s the thinking behind the introduction of B Mobile, a mobile tablet device that collects all the data from a fleet’s tyres, creates job cards and generates invoices.
“When a technician services a truck’s tyres they document it on the tablet, which makes sure all the data are collected, so you don’t miss anything,” Tamblyn says.
“People who service trucks are usually skilled technicians, they’re not specialists in information collection and storage.
“You can have all the information in the world but you can’t do anything with it if you can’t consolidate it into one system.”
B Mobile will hold a record of all the trucks in a fleet, and is designed to help operators pick up on problems that would otherwise go undetected.
“It’s the truck that leaves in the middle of the night, that no one sees. The truck that does the unusual job,” Tamblyn says.
“Those are the trucks that digital systems like B Mobile will pick up and flag.”
Bridgestone’s focus on efficient data collection doesn’t mean it is ignoring automated, sensor technology. It’s recently patented and is trialling a sensor and Tamblyn says he sees the internet of things (IoT) “really being the future in our industry”.
“But without a platform to utilise the information you’re collecting technology like tyre sensors will just be expensive gimmicks.
“We won’t be bringing gimmicks to the market. We’ll bring products that add real value to people at a price point that’s affordable,” he says.
It goes without saying that the physical construction of a tyre is where the fuel savings are made. Not all tyres are equal, even if the materials used are similar.
Tamblyn says Bridgestone’s Ecopia tyres for the Australian market are the most advanced yet, and are a much different tyre to those used in Europe.
“We spend a billion dollars a year on research and development, and feel we have a demonstrable advantage,” he adds.
“We’ve invested a huge amount in developing these tyres for the Australian market. People have been sold snake oil for so long that they become sceptical. That’s why it’s so important for us to have independent testing.”
According to Tamblyn, a Bridgestone customer tested a range of tyres at a proving ground and found a 9.6 per cent fuel saving on Ecopia tyres. “With compound and rubber technology we have a huge advantage. Around a third of the power in a B-double is spent overcoming tyres, so it makes a massive difference.”
BEST TYRES + BEST DATA = BEST VALUE
One thing that’s clear is that all future tyre technology will come down to a basic value proposition.
The next five to 10 years will see a huge investment in real-time data collection for tyres.
The question of how much an operator choses to invest in that technology will depend on the overall dollar value the technology offers, tyre experts say.
Will real-time sensors offer a cost per kilometre payoff at the end of the day? Has the overall value proposition been taken into account?
It’s a case of watch this space, with tyres finally set to receive the in-depth analysis of performance now standard across fleets.
Above: In Europe it’s claimed predictive analytics technology has reduced tyre-related breakdowns by 75 per cent
Above: In Australia, Bridgestone is focusing on improving the way operators collect and use information