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Ydo Doornbos, Managing Director, Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas

As equipment innovations evolve, tires must keep up

Technological advances touch every aspect of our lives today. We wake up to alarms, read emails on smart phones, trust a GPS to tell us how to get to our locations, and shop online. So, it should come as no surprise that technology has been altering the materials handling industry as well. We no longer move loads with carts and oxen, we now have computer assisted, fully loaded expensive modern machines that move our materials around the warehouse.

As material handling equipment have become more advanced, the tires that keep the machines rolling have also evolved. We can no longer design tires the way we did 10 years ago. New equipment is being designed using the latest technology and we are following suit. That being said, the basic concept of the tire hasn’t changed since stone rollers used to help build the pyramids—it’s the way we make them and the design that has changed.

When solid tires were first developed, the concept was simple: make a tire that is shaped like a pneumatic tire but make it solid (full of rubber—hence, a pneumatic-shaped solid). And it started with a simple idea: stop downtime due to flats. With the rubber on the inside, the tire did just that.

That solution worked for quite a few years. Forklifts puttered along, avoiding flats while carrying their loads from point A to point B all the while rolling along on these new (technologically advanced) solid tires.

Then, a few years later, the technology of material handling started to catch up to automobiles. As a result, we find equipment that accelerates quickly, reaches new high speeds, has better breaking, smoother transmissions, and better handling. Using these new technologies to model the modern trucks and stresses they put on tires, we have been able to design new tires that can keep up with the demands of the new equipment.

Longer tire life has become a primary focus for the industry; budgets are tight for end-users so we focus on giving them more for their investment. We conducted a study that showed solid tires are often replaced with up to 25% of their tread remaining simply because people are unaware that tread depth has nothing to do with tire life. The results of this study shocked us. We believe it’s important for an end-user to get the best life value from their tire, so we challenged our team to come up with a solution.

The focus was on making it easy for the driver to understand that the tires were close to the end of their life. After several brainstorming sessions we decided on a solution called the Pit Stop Line. Our premium resilient tires now have a highly visible orange line embedded into the tire. This indictor is designed to reveal itself across the surface of the tire when it reaches the point where it should be replaced. This ensures that end-users are replacing tires at the proper time, reducing downtime due to unneeded tire changes, and keeping their tire replacement costs low.

In the age of Facebook, Google, 4G networks, and hyperlinks, it’s good to know that the world of rubber—started back in 1887 with the first rubber tires—is still rolling along and keeping up with the speed of modern life. The needs of the modern material handling equipment are constantly changing and we are focused on keeping up with the changes.

Ydo Doornbos, Managing Director, Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas, wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.

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