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WheelRight Gives Fleets a ‘Third Eye’ on Tires

Snider Fleet Solutions Sees Potential in Technology

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Mike Palmer, vice president of fleet operations at Estes Express Lines, says WheelRight inspects tires faster and more thoroughly than the company’s employees could ever do. It’s given the company “a third eye.”

Plenty of truck tire manufacturers offer tools and software to monitor the health of a fleet’s tires. Some use chips. There are patches. Others utilize barcodes. With every new tracker or tracking system, the tire company develops its own tool to read and access the data.

With 7,500 tractors and 30,000 trailers, Estes Express Lines relies on three primary tiremakers to keep its trucks on the road: Michelin North America Inc., Bridgestone Americas Inc. and Continental Tire the Americas LLC. 

Mike Palmer, vice president of fleet services, says Estes is “sensitive about putting all our eggs in one basket with one supplier.” The result is a menagerie of tools and products to measure and track the fleet’s tires.

That’s what made a new product from Snider Tire Inc. sound so appealing: a drive-over reader capable of checking the tire pressure and tread depth of any tire that rolls across it.

An AI solution

As Snider Tire, which does business as Snider Fleet Solutions, was planning for 2020, Keith Allen, vice president of sales, says one of its strategic goals was to expand its offerings. The commercial-focused dealer — the third largest independent commercial tire dealer in the country — sells new and retreaded truck tires and offers mechanical services. It also offers industrial tires for forklifts, plus OTR tires and services. The company realized it needed a category with a focus on technology.

One piece of that technology puzzle came in January when the company made a “significant investment” in WheelRight Ltd., a U.K.-based company that created a drive-over tire management system with real-time reporting.

“For years we’ve looked at different technologies that help with air pressure maintenance and vehicle maintenance, and the thing we really got hung up on was it always required some asset — a chip, a patch, something that attached to the valve stem or the vehicle,” says Allen.

Since trucking fleets are constantly removing tires from wheels and replacing them, keeping track of those assets was a logistical nightmare. Retreading added another level of difficulty to tracking.

WheelRight is an agnostic system, says Allen. “It didn’t matter what brand of tire you’re running or which dealer you’re buying your tires from. That’s the big game changer for us - the way it is leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

Snider is the authorized distributor of WheelRight in the U.S., and the dealership is first rolling out the product to its customers. (The company showcased the system last February at The Technology & Maintenance Council show in Atlanta, Ga.)

Allen says WheelRight automates the tire inspection process that fleets typically assign to a couple of technicians working in a quick check lane. When those workers spot an issue — a tire with low air pressure, insufficient tread, an obstruction or some other kind of failure condition — they create a report and hand it off to another team member to take action. 

WheelRight can do the full inspection. With cameras, it can provide a fuller view of each tire — plus it does so automatically. It eliminates human error and impediments like the weather or what time of day a truck rolls into the yard.

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Snider Fleet Solutions’ WheelRight system will inspect the majority of tires on equipment spotted on the road, everything from medium truck commercial vehicles to smaller vehicles, including passenger cars. It covers standard trucking fleets, waste fleets running 315/80R22.5 tires and even super single tires with section widths of 445 mm or 455 mm.

 

ROI in month one

The top goal is to reduce a fleet’s emergency roadside service events and Allen says “that’s the very first thing we start to measure.” 

Fleets know their average cost of an roadside service event and want to eliminate them to keep trucks rolling on schedule.

Secondly, Allen says WheelRight can help customers better predict the life of their tires. The system measures tread depth, and even if the depth is fine today, the fleet manager can see when replacement or the need for a retread is one month or two months away.

The system’s cameras can also spot anomalies. For example, a tire’s pressure might show 100 psi, but the camera finds a finishing nail in the tread and sends up an alert. 

“This tire might be alright now, but later on today or tomorrow it’s going to leak down and potentially be a (road service) event.” 

Allen says customers want to be proactive in those instances.

With fleets, offering generalities when it comes to savings isn’t enough. Snider has developed a return-on-investment calculator and pairs it with a fleet’s metrics to look at roadside service costs versus the expense of installing WheelRight.

Fleets don’t purchase the WheelRight hardware. They pay a monthly fee to use it. There’s no additional up-front cost.

Allen says the goal is for a fleet to have a positive return on its investment in the first month.

Aiming for no road calls

Estes Express Lines installed its first WheelRight system in Charlotte, N.C., in large part because it would be close to Snider’s headquarters some 90 miles away in Greensboro, N.C.

The fleet company needed to decide where on its property to install the drive-over reader. Palmer considered a spot inside the yard, with directions instructing that drivers pass over it at some point while on site. But he wasn’t sure every driver would comply. He thought if drivers crossed it on their way out with a load, they might ignore any warnings. So the company settled on its inbound lane.

Emergency roadside service events dropped by 30%.

Palmer, who’s worked for Estes Express Lines for 30-plus years, was pleased, but eventually wondered, “Why aren’t we at 100%?” 

The WheelRight system in Charlotte is measuring both tread depth and tire pressure, and Palmer figures there are trucks entering the yard with tires that might have a slight leak, but at the moment they roll across the threshold, the air pressure is adequate. If those trailers sit for a day or two, the pressure drops over time and can still cause a roadside service event.

So Palmer continues to tweak how his company uses the system, including now doing outbound inspections in Charlotte. “I want to be 100% no road service calls.

“We feel like it’s improving the health of our tire program in Charlotte. I include the CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) stuff in there, too. We’re working on mapping that out.”

Estes Express Lines has since added WheelRight systems at its terminals in Dallas, Texas and Joliet, Ill., two busy, large-volume locations. Joliet is among the fleet’s newest and largest terminals, with 200 doors on 60-plus acres.

The number of trucks and trailers passing through those larger locations naturally leads to more roadside service events, Palmer says. He says Dallas was one of the company’s worst locations for this.

“Before any of this came along, we were going to take Dallas and we were going to do outbound inspections because we had to do something to help curb these road calls. We couldn’t keep up.”

The WheelRight system should provide a lot of labor savings, he says, in addition to improving the fleet’s tire program. Palmer suspects it also could be a big help in places like Phoenix, where the summertime heat can cause a season of tire blowouts.

He doesn’t predict a need to install the system at all of Estes Express Lines’ 265 terminals — but instead says by pinpointing enough of the fleet’s high-traffic locations, he could monitor 80% of its trailers in a year’s time.

“I think we can get the information we need, maintain our tires and not have to get deep into the weeds with this stuff like you would if you had to program a chip,” says Palmer. “I’ve seen a lot of new stuff, but this is really intriguing. This is the slickest thing I’ve seen in a while.”

 

WheelRight at a glance

Keith Allen, vice president of sales for Snider Tire Inc. dba Snider Fleet Solutions says the WheelRight base package checks a tire’s air pressure and tread depth. But from there, fleets can add on hardware to customize its capabilities. Among the extra options are:

Sidewall inspections;

Tread imaging;

Tire temperature, and;

Tire weight

Most Snider customers utilizing WheelRight are measuring tire pressure and tread depth, says Allen. He thinks the add-ons are driven by specific business needs. 

If a fleet monitors weight with the use of scales in its yard, he says WheelRight can replace those scales. A fleet that regularly works both on-road and off-road might have issues with sidewall damage, causing emergency roadside service events, and might want to install  sidewall readers.

Research and development is underway to expand WheelRight’s capabilities even farther, says Allen.

“We think there’s a lot more we could leverage the technology to do to replace what an individual is doing. We really want this thing to be a vehicle inspection system.”

He declined to specify a timeline, but says, “We just think there’s a lot of potential.”

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