Many resources have been dedicated to producing fuel-efficient tires that offer increased mileage. Reducing lifetime operating costs and weight are among other concerns customers have when it comes to today’s wheel options, manufacturers say.

Alcoa Wheel Products is one of several manufacturers offering aluminum wheels that can reduce weight, provide improved fuel savings, more payload capacity, and faster return on investment. “For added fuel savings, Alcoa offers the 22.5 x 14 in. wide base aluminum wheel, the lightest in the industry [at 58 lbs.] and when coupled with SmartWay-certified wide base tires, it improves rolling resistance for fuel savings,” says Brian Thomas, marketing communications specialist.

According to Thomas, a fleet switching from single steel 22.5 in. wheels to 14 in. wide base Alcoa aluminum wheels can reduce the overall weight of an 18-wheeler by nearly 1,400 lbs. “With larger payloads due to the weight savings, trips are reduced. And since Alcoa wheels are infinitely recyclable, they’ll never see a landfill,” he adds.

Another benefit of aluminum wheels, Thomas says, is in the area of maintenance. “Aluminum wheels don’t require continuous refurbishing [as] steel wheels do, such as removing rust and paint,” he says. “For example, Alcoa Dura-Bright wheels clean easily with mild soap and water; no polish is needed. ”

Responding to the growing popularity of aluminum wheels, Accuride Corp. was set to invest nearly $20 million in capacity investments this year, following a $35 million investment in 2011 along with the purchase of Forgitron Technologies. The Forgitron purchase provided Accuride access to an 80,000-sq.-ft. aluminum wheel manufacturing plant in Camden, SC. The inclusion of that plant increased Accuride’s manufacturing capacity by 21%.

In 2011, Accuride launched the Mega-Line at its Erie, PA, plant. The Mega-Line employs a fully automated manufacturing process that uses a centralized, closed-loop system for chip and coolant management. The line’s eight robots take a forged spun and heat-treated raw wheel through the turning, pre-stress, milling, coining and Rösler surface finishing processes to produce durable, high-gloss aluminum wheels that are ready for shipment with zero manual intervention.

Accuride says its Accu-Armor aluminum wheel surface treatment offers a low-maintenance finish that never needs polishing and is resistant to scuffs and scratches as well as low- and high-pH chemicals commonly used in truck washes.

The company says that this year’s investments include facility improvements; new machining lines; and equipment intended to optimize material flow, standardize wheel machining processes, and achieve greater surface-finish consistency for its aluminum-wheel product lines.

STANDARD QUALITY

Newly formed Maxion Wheels, which was created when Iochpe-Maxion completed its purchase of Hayes-Lemmerz earlier this year, believes it is positioned well to serve the growing needs of customers.

“For years...original equipment truck manufacturers [have been trending] toward shifting their manufacturing to Mexican-based facilities,” says Mark Fonte, marketing manager for Maxion Wheels Commercial Vehicles NA. “This trend drove the demand for a second steel wheel manufacturer in the Mexican market.

“As part of the Iochpe-Maxion acquisition of Hayes-Lemmerz, the natural blending of the two organizations’ footprint provided complementary manufacturing locations in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and Akron, OH, which placed us firmly in the middle of our customers’ manufacturing footprints,” he continued. “When the retooling is completed, our customers will be able to order the same wheel, with the same part number from either facility, and with the exact same demanding standards for which both Hayes-Lemmerz and Maxion Wheels are known.”

The company offers a triple protection coating on its wheels as standard “with no additional charge for the premium coating of either liquid or powder paint topcoat, which provides superior ultraviolet and anti-corrosion protection,” Fonte says.

Maxion’s range of lightweight steel wheels, in sizes from 22.5 to 24.5 in. dia., encompasses what Fonte says is the “lightest selection of wide-based steel wheels available in the world.”

While not new to wheels, the Maxion name may be unfamiliar to many in the U.S. That will change, Fonte says, as the company looks to improve its after-sale process as well as further improving in-process quality inspections and “our web presence for easier industry access to information about our goods and services, as well as expanded coating options and cladding and material options.”

Durability remains a key concern. “The standards are constantly being raised for performance from a durability perspective affected by design, construction, corrosion and reliability,” he says.