Kevin Rohlwing

Torque soup 

I’ve had a front row seat for all of the major changes to the truck wheel installation process over the past three decades. By combining “good-and-tight” with anti-seize, technicians thought they had the solution for stud pilot wheel systems in the 1980s. When hub-piloted wheels started showing up in the ’90s, the good-and-tight process remained, but the cans of anti-seize went back in the cabinet because there were no frozen inner and outer cap nuts. For most people, torqued meant tight so everyone was happy.

Predictions for 2015 

In the spirit of countdowns, “best of” lists and resolutions (that rarely last) for the new year, I’m going out on a limb to make some predictions for the next 12 months. They will descend in order in keeping with the tradition of top 10 lists, but they are not ranked according to the likelihood of them happening or not happening. Which means there is definitely a lot of “blue sky” thinking associated with this list. So, from the home office in Nottingham, MD, here are my top 10 predictions for 2015:

Intelligent truck tires 

During a recent trip to Germany for the Tire Technology for Commercial Vehicles Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting several European tire professionals. As the only American in attendance, I spent a lot of networking time explaining how the North American market operates. One aspect that the Europeans had a hard time understanding was the fact that large U.S. fleets could control which components (and tires) are specified on new equipment.

Practice makes perfect 

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of serving as a judge for the SuperTech competition at the fall meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council. For those who are not familiar with the event, it is a gathering of the nation’s top diesel technicians who willingly subject themselves to rigorous testing over a couple of days to determine a Grand Champion. SuperTech is not for the faint of heart nor the shade tree mechanic. Just qualifying for the finals should be considered a victory.

Making tires a priority 

Efficiency experts are obsessed with the concept of restructuring. It doesn’t matter the subject, simply because they believe there is always a better way.  They are convinced that if you eliminate a position and divide the responsibilities between other positions, then the result will be a more effective operation.

Gator facts 

Even though the peak “gator” season is coming to end, the issue of tire debris on the side of the road is not going away.  When people find out I’m in the tire business, too many of them still want me to “do something about all of the retreads on the side of the road.” My typical response is that the tire debris they see on the highway is not a retread issue.  It’s more of an inflation pressure and heat problem that can cause any tire to come apart.

CSA and underinflation 

Without a doubt, the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program has changed the way commercial vehicles are operated by drivers, maintained by fleets, and inspected by vehicle enforcement officials.  And with government data that supports the positive impact it is having on reducing accidents and identifying carriers in need of intervention, the trucking industry can be certain it is here to stay.

Carbon black chaos 

When you think about the truck tire manufacturing process, the component most often thought of comes from small farms in Southeast Asia.  Natural rubber is well known to everyone in the trucking business after supply issues caused the price to skyrocket from $1.48/lb. in July 2010 to a record high of $2.80/lb. in February 2011.  This led to an unprecedented flurry of price increases as manufacturers attempted to offset rising raw material costs.  With prices currently under $1/lb.

When lightning strikes 

On Oct. 2, 2013, a three-car accident involving a church bus, an SUV and a tractor-trailer on Interstate 40 outside Knoxville, TN, tragically claimed the lives of eight people and injured 12.  The media immediately reported that it was the result of a blown steer tire, so the tire and transportation industries braced for another potential public relations and/or regulatory nightmare.  Speculation ran rampant as a few “experts” tried to place all of the blame on the tire or the bus driver and basically guessed what caused this tragedy.

Playing matchmaker 

A lot of people in the trucking industry have issues with symmetry when it comes to tires.  They believe that all of the tires on the vehicle must be identically matched.  The steer tires must have the same tread design as the tires on the drive and trailer axles.  With the appearance of perfect uniformity, this policy of matched tires is considered by many to be the best approach, which potentially yields the best results.

Marketing low rolling resistance 

This year marks the tenth anniversary of SmartWay, a public-private initiative from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the national supply chain.  According to the EPA, SmartWay partners have saved 120.7 million barrels of oil (resulting in $16.8 billion in fuel savings) and 51.6 million tons of carbon dioxide over the past decade.  They are impressive figures until you consider that the United States consumes about 19 million barrels of oil a day (which means we’ve saved less than a week’s worth

The benefits of retreading 

Based on what I’ve seen over the past decade, the whole green movement is just getting started.  One of the popular new buzzwords is sustainable, which basically means the resource in question is not exploited to the point where it can no longer reproduce and survive.  Natural rubber could definitely be considered on the list of sustainable products because there is a finite lifespan to each tree, and it takes several years for a new planting to yield any product.

Nine terrifying words 

In July of 1988, President Ronald Reagan was giving a speech to the Future Farmers of America when he jokingly referred to the nine most terrifying words in the English language, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”  As if the demands on the trucking industry have not been enough with Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA), another federal agency has proposed new regulations that invoke the spirit of Reagan.

Finding gold in the scrap pile 

With growing competition in the truck tire and retread industry, fleets have more choices than ever when selecting the rubber that meets the road.  From name brands that have been around for decades to newcomers that are utilizing the advances in technology, the overall performance and value has never been better.  That being said, there is always room for improvement, so fleets need to insulate themselves from sales pitches, special pricing and tire tests that are designed to entice fleet managers to make a change.  Since margins are tighter than ever, it’s easy to get

Entering a new era 

There is nothing more frustrating than being told that a simple puncture in the shoulder of a truck tire is unrepairable. After all, the difference between the location of a repairable puncture and one that is non-repairable is often measured in millimeters. For decades, the only puncture repairs that were allowed in the field had to be located in the crown area, which is the center of the tread approximately 1 to 1.5 in. from each edge.

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