*Sponsored by TekamoHD Equipment Services
Tires are vital in heavy equipment fleet operations because they relate directly to machines’ load capacities and fuel consumption.
The tire manufacturing process, type — solid or pneumatic — and pressure affect the tire’s load capacity and, thus, the machines.
Fuel consumption also varies depending on the tire pressure, tread depth, weight, and alignment.
So, tire maintenance is critical to operational efficiency and minimizing expenses. Machines will work for extended periods without downtime. Fewer tire repairs and replacements mean lower maintenance costs and longer useful operational life.
But, besides load capacities and fuel, the fleet size is a third factor that makes tires vital for heavy equipment fleet operations. Even a small fleet can have up to 50 pieces of equipment, while a large one can have over 100.
Fifty pieces of equipment involve managing, inspecting, and maintaining at least 200 tires, besides all the other factors heavy equipment fleet management includes.
Challenges in Heavy Equipment Fleet Tire Maintenance
There are unavoidable factors that heavy equipment fleet owners — contractors or rental companies — should consider to estimate expenses and rental rates related to tires and fuel. We’ll focus on terrain, weather, and load management. The key here is to consider how the combination of those variables affects tire performance.
For example, tires will wear at a different rate when working on flat and rough terrains. For flat surfaces, the maintenance requirements typically are to balance and rotate tires regularly, whereas, on rough terrain, tires need a more frequent inspection for signs of wear and damage.
On the other hand, weather impact tire pressure. Hot temperatures increase air volume, adding pressure to the tire, while lower temperatures decrease it. Both overinflated and underinflated tires negatively affect tire performance, wear, and fuel consumption.
Let’s combine terrain and weather and throw load management into the mix.
Tires won’t wear the same on a flat paved surface during spring as in summer when temperatures can make pavement reach 145° Fahrenheit while carrying loads of 20 tons — like wheel loaders— that adds even more pressure to tires and leads to rubber degradation, causing accelerated wear. A different scenario under the same conditions will be for a skid steer which can lift from 2,500 to 4,000 pounds.
Effective Maintenance Strategies
Tire maintenance goes beyond regular inspections and proper inflation. It also involves accurate tire selection and qualified operators working within load capacities.
Regular Inspections and Maintenance
Regular inspections will help you address tire issues before they become severe problems.
Check the treads' depth. If they are thin, the tire won’t provide traction. Inspect sidewalls and treads for cracks or punctures, which can cause plies exposure, air leaks, or blowouts. If you see bulges, the tire’s internal components are damaged. A broken belt can cause a bulge on the tread, and damaged cord plies can cause a sidewall bulge.
You can replace or repair a worn-out tire depending on the casing integrity. The casing is the layer beneath the tread, comprising the bead, belt system, sidewall, body ply, and inner liner. The process to restore a tire is called retread.
Retread is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly process that can give tires a second and even a third life — depending on the casing condition — with a performance equal to or greater than a new one.
For a heavy equipment fleet, retreading could save big bucks on maintenance.
Appropriate Tire Selection and Use
To avoid wearing tires faster or severely damaging them, you must choose tires based on the equipment and site conditions.
Tires must provide heat, cut, wear, and shock burst resistance for earthmovers like dump trucks or scrapers. For loaders, tires must provide stability plus cut and wear resistance. Graders need traction and maneuverability, and log skidders need traction, cut resistance, and flotation.
When choosing tires, radial tires comply with most of the abovementioned requirements. But don’t discard bias tires, as they offer better protection against potential sidewall punctures if you work in a place with tall, sharp debris, like a demolition site. For highly harsh sites, consider using heavy-duty tires like OTR.
Another vital aspect when choosing tires is treading. There are many tread designs, some ideal for flat or rough surfaces, others for soft terrains like mud or snow. There are even tread designs, like the asymmetric tread, for wet and dry conditions.
Lastly, when selecting tires, double-check that the load capacity matches the one recommended for the machine. Among all factors mentioned here, the load capacity is the only one you can find for sure in the operator's manual.
The Role of Proper Inflation and Load Management
Tire pressure and load management go hand in hand and impact tire lifespan.
Right off the bat, look at the image below to see how air pressure defines how tires wear off.
Besides uneven tread wear, improper air pressure affects the tire sidewall. Underinflated tires cause the sidewalls to flex excessively, leading to premature wear and tear. Overinflated tires make sidewalls stiffer increasing the risk of punctures or explosions.
Tire pressure also affects the load-carrying capacity of a tire. A tire inflated to the recommended pressure maintains its intended shape providing optimal contact with the road surface. The tire can effectively support the weight it carries and will evenly distribute it across the tire's footprint.
Even with the proper pressure, poor load management will affect tire lifespan.
An uneven load distribution will cause excessive stress on certain tires. With today’s custom attachments, overloading is likely and significantly increases the risk of tire damage lifespan reduction. High operational speeds build up heat, accelerating tire wear. And there’ll be additional stress on rocky or uneven terrains.
The above examples of poor load management combined with tire underinflation or overinflation will undoubtedly impact the tire's structural integrity.
Technological Advancements in Tire Maintenance
With so many factors to control at the same time, telematics is an effective solution for managing tire maintenance in a heavy equipment fleet.
Combining Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS), Automatic Tire Inflation Systems (ATIS), and predictive analytics (data analytics) will let you remotely monitor the whole fleet—Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems alert when a tire is losing air pressure. There are two types of TMPS: indirect and direct.
Indirect TPMS uses sensors in the anti-lock braking system. It works by comparing the wheel’s RPM. An underinflated tire has a smaller diameter and a higher rolling rate. The system sends an alert when it detects tires' RPM differences.
Direct TPMS uses pressure sensors in the valve stems, wheel rims, or tires to provide independent and constant air pressure measurements.
For fleet management, we recommend using direct TPMS. The reason is that indirect TPMS can’t detect pressure loss at a slow rate, and if it happens at about the same rate on all tires, there won’t be a noticeable rotational speed difference.
However, TPMS only monitors and reports. It doesn’t re-inflate the tire.
That’s where Automatic Tire Inflation Systems (ATIS) come in. Basic ATIS pumps air to a predetermined value according to what TPMS detects. Advanced ATIS systems can monitor, report, and pressure underinflated tires or relieve pressure on overinflated ones.
Heavy equipment fleet management is a process requiring your attention on many fronts, like machine tracking, route optimization, operator supervision, and on top of that, maintenance.
Among maintenance duties, heavy equipment tire maintenance is critical. Tire sets are expensive — a dump truck tire set ranges between $7,500 and $15,000 — and wear off constantly, affecting the equipment load capacity and fuel consumption. The latter will also impact the budget of the project and profits.
Modern solutions leverage telecommunications and informatics, allowing you to oversee the tire conditions of your fleet remotely. It’s a cost-worthy investment for modern and effective fleet managers, and installation is straightforward, as you can see in this GPS tracker installing guide.