Technology now lets your tires to talk to you — when and if you want. It's not like those annoying systems in '80s vehicles that told you the door was open or it was time to change the oil. The need for sophisticated tire ID and management has been the driving force behind this new generation of talk-back technology. The first step is to decide which variables, such as pressure sensing, accumulated miles, retread and repair history, should be monitored and recorded.

Since on-board inflation pressure monitoring is uniquely safety-related and may well be the subject of future regulations for OTR trucks, it will likely be integrated into vehicles so drivers can be alerted to potential low inflation conditions. This approach would also simplify hardware requirements, since the sensors could be attached to the wheel or valve stem, rather than in or on the tire itself.

Most tire changes would not require a recalibration or system confirmation. Also, the sensing mechanisms would not have to be engineered to withstand the extreme temperatures, pressures and electronic, ultrasonic or x-ray casing inspections encountered in retread processing.

Electronic tire identification is another matter. Monitoring individual tires has always been a desirable goal for several reasons, including security, cost analysis, brand/type performance comparisons, rotation and trade cycle planning. Management of inventory and tracking through retread processing also relies on tire identification. Making sure the right tires get to the right customer and the right vehicle is critical for accurate billing. The sidewall branding and separate tag labeling historically used for this purpose are expensive, time consuming, and can be damaging to the thin, flexible sidewalls of modern radial ply tires if not done properly.

Tire manufacturers and suppliers have experimented with active (battery powered) and passive (activated by a separate transmitter/receiver) RF electronic chips for tires. Cost, reliability, longevity, and standardized data formatting have been issues. These hurdles are being overcome. Chips that cost much less than branding, survive multiple retreads, and can be “read” by a choice of portable or stationary transmitter/receivers appear within reach.

The latest piece of the puzzle to fall in place is development of chips that can be written to after they're placed in tires — the tire equivalent of adding a vehicle maintenance log to a truck VIN.

Wheel position history, repairs, retreading, removal to a different vehicle, and other significant events can be permanently etched onto each tire's log as they occur. Information like this that is reliable and readily available will bring tire maintenance to new levels of efficiency. Software programming capable of generating meaningful reports would complete the picture.

The preferred method of attaching chips to tires depends on whether the device is built into the casing during initial manufacture or used primarily as an aftermarket accessory. Either approach seems possible, assuming the chip is positioned in a low flex area of the tire.

If you are planning to use RF identification devices in a fleet environment, you'll probably have to standardize tire mounting and wheel installation procedures. This will save time and improve readability, given the limited range between the chip/transponder and the reader.

Maintaining a limited range is necessary in order to distinguish between the tire/wheel assemblies in a dual set. For example, Goodyear recommends mounting tires with the DOT serial code on the deep dish side of disc wheels and aligning the DOT code with the valve stem. This would allow reading the RF devices on opposite sides when mounted as duals. That is feasible except when tires require directional mounting.