Maintenance management: Getting a grip on your tire program

To construction equipment managers focused on the maintenance and management of yellow iron, tires may seem like an afterthought. Yet tires are a significant part of the owning and operating costs of the wheeled equipment in your fleet. Tires not only demand a significant chunk of your operating budget, but they also have a big impact on your equipment’s productivity, fuel economy, uptime and safety.

You can add dollars to the bottom line by taking a proactive and systematic approach to your tire program from selection to acquisition, maintenance and replacement.

Consider the big picture
“Historically, tire purchases fell into the realm of transaction-based purchasing,” says Chris Rogers, general manager – marketing, Bridgestone/Firestone Off-Road Tire. “Now people are more sophisticated in measuring tire performance and require more productivity out of their tires. Contractors are shifting more to a strategic sourcing strategy or an enterprise-based mentality,” he says. “The dealer is delivering more than just the tire itself. He’s delivering improved productivity through best practice recommendations.”

The first step in establishing a value-based tire program is selecting the right tire dealer. Just as important as selecting the right equipment dealer, you want to choose a tire dealer that can support all your tire needs wherever your crews may travel.

You want to choose a tire dealer that has the tires you need and a broad selection of products – but that’s just for starters. The dealer should also have knowledgeable field reps and engineers to help educate you and your employees.

Choosing the right tire for your applications can get extremely technical. Unlike picking out a tire for your car or truck, a change in tread depth or a switch from bias ply to radial will drastically change a piece of construction equipment’s operating speed, traction, carrying capacity or fuel economy. In other words, choosing the best possible tire out of perhaps dozens of options can add up to considerable savings over time – or, if you choose unwisely, exert a considerable drag on profits. A tire vendor that knows construction equipment as well as it knows tires can be invaluable in this selection process.

Training for heavy lifting
Another service tire dealers should provide is training in tire safety, including mounting, dismounting and maintenance. “Earthmover tires can weigh up to 13,000 pounds,” says Michael Ford, market segment manager, Michelin. “What matters most is that the dealer or contractor has the correct training when handling these tires as they can be dangerous,” he says. “Dealers can provide cross training for mechanics and fleet managers to make sure they know how to safely change tires and provide that service when it requires specialized equipment.”

You can also benefit from training that shows you how to set up jobsites to prevent tire problems. Preventive measures such as using a motor grader to smooth out spillage and get rid of rocks or designing sites with the proper haul road grades will add significant life to your tires.

Service contracts
It is still possible to buy construction tires off the shelf, put them on and maintain them yourself. But with operators and service technicians hard to find these days, many fleet managers find it easier to let the tire dealer worry about the service.

“One way to do this is to set up a formalized service contract,” Ford says, “or tire dealers can include service in the price of the tires so it’s not a separate line item. These types of contracts say, ‘when you buy a tire from us we will provide the following value-added services at no additional charge.'”

Tire dealers also have the specialized equipment for changing tires and doing maintenance plus the expertise few contractors can afford, Rogers says. “Most full service tire dealers offer tire inspection as well as air pressure maintenance programs,” he says. With a tire maintenance program you can have a person checking the equipment before it goes out and identifying problems before they become big.

Tire-tracking software programs
Another more recent service most major tire companies are offering is tire-tracking software. “This provides a quantitative, data-based, analytical tool to help contractors understand their tire costs,” Rogers says. “It allows tire dealers to track and maintain tire pressure records, on and off mounting records and inventory tires and wheels.” These systems have been used in big mining trucks and are now trickling down to general construction equipment.

The main benefit the computerized records offer over log books and tire cards is that they enable you to compile, cross-reference and analyze your tire costs dozens of different ways, Rogers says. With just a few keystrokes you can tabulate your tire costs per hour, compare the durability and performance of tires by machine or operator and predict what your tire costs will be in future jobs.

The great tradeoffs
The perfect tire has yet to be developed. In choosing the right tire for a particular application you need to balance a number of competing elements. Here are the options to consider:

· Traction vs. wear. “The selected tire must meet the minimum traction requirement first,” says Dave Wright, OTR product support at Goodyear. “Higher traction applications require more open tread patterns, which are faster wearing.” Keep in mind, however, that “a contractor can significantly influence the traction requirement by limiting the grades on his haul roads to 6 percent,” Wright adds.

· Protection vs. speed. A thick, heavy tire is obviously going to win more battles with sharp rocks, rebar and debris. But all other things equal, the heavier the tire, the slower it goes and the more heat it generates. The Tire and Rim Association’s “L5” or “E5” (L stands for loader, E for earthmover) tread depth classifications are the thickest treads that offer maximum protection. L2 or E2 treads offer the least protection but the highest heat resistance, speed and road-ability.

· Radial vs. bias ply. Radial tires are designed to flex when they hit a rock or obstacle and that gives them greater protection and a softer ride than bias ply tires. They also offer a larger footprint, more traction and flotation. Radial tires cost more too, but manufacturers say the price differential is more than made up for by their better performance and increased longevity. Radials are most popular on haul trucks – both rigid and articulated – wheel loaders and motor graders.

To retread or not to retread
Many contractors will find retreading cost-effective, Wright says, and a good tire dealer can help find the right balance between new tires and retreads. But in order to retread a tire, it must either be in good condition or repairable. “This means there must be no separations or rust in the belt package,” Wright says. “Tires for retread usually are removed with 3/4 to 1 inch of tread remaining to make sure they are in good enough condition to retread. Retreads typically cost between 60 to 75 percent of a new tire.”

But if you want to take advantage of retreads, it pays to avoid deep cuts and gouges. Even if they don’t compromise air pressure, deep cuts can expose the steel cords in a tire. Once that happens rust will migrate into the tire, where it can’t be stopped or repaired.

Access to a retreader that can provide good turnaround is also important, says Rogers. Retreading isn’t as common in the construction industry as it is in the truck and bus markets because so many construction tires are destroyed or worn to the belts or body ply. “There are probably only eight to 10 major construction tire retreaders in the country, and they are spread out,” Rogers says. “The logistics of moving those casings around can get expensive.”

Avoiding tire damage
The tire experts we talked to say about half of all construction tires wear out and the other half are cut or damaged to the point they have to be replaced.

Rock cuts and impacts are the greatest cause of premature tire failure, Wright says. “Proper cleanup in loading and dump areas along with good haul road maintenance can help minimize these hazard failures,” he says. “Inflation maintenance that includes hot checks daily and cold checks once a week is the number one item that can improve tire durability.”

Articulated trucks, with their six-wheel-drive configurations, have grown in popularity in recent years. They’re ideal for pulling loads out of wet or muddy soils. But far from being easy on tires, these conditions can present additional hazards, says George Harris, senior OTR engineer for Continental. Wet tires are more likely to spin against a sharp rock or piece of rebar, Harris says, which increases the chances of gashing or cutting the tire.