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10/15/2004
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Michelin Tests RFID For Tire Identification

Manufacturers may eventually use RFID to monitor tire pressure and temperature

Michelin North America Inc., which has been experimenting with radio-frequency identification tags in tires for years, now is embedding tags in tires' sidewalls to help auto manufacturers and auto-parts retailers identify products. The goal of the test is to eliminate the 12 labels that are required on each tire that specify which tires fit on which vehicles, says Pat King, global electronics strategist at Michelin North America.

The tags are based on a new standard the automotive sector is adopting that puts the industry more in line with processes being set by retailers, consumer-goods suppliers, and the Department of Defense. The Automotive Industry Action Group's Tire and Wheel Label and Radio Frequency Identification Standard B-11 was revised recently to support the 96-bit numeric EPCglobal data format preferred by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Defense Department, and others. That move puts even more weight behind the standard: Estimates from the U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association put tire-unit sales this year at about 323 million, and they're expected to grow to 356 million units by 2009.

There are indications that Michelin's test project could mature into a temperature- and pressure-monitoring system embedded in tires. Michelin offers a sensor application now, but it sits on a tire's rim to monitor tire temperature and pressure.

Other manufacturers are working on similar systems. Siemens VDO Automotive Corp. and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. jointly developed Tire Guard, a pressure-monitoring system for consumer vehicles that senses tire temperature and takes pressure readings and acceleration measurements to keep track of tire rotations. The system uses radio technology to transmit information from 125-KHz-frequency antennas mounted in each wheel well of a vehicle to a controller within the vehicle. A warning light in the dash illuminates when air pressure is low.

"The controller can summon a message and know it originated from the left front tire," says Kenneth Chance, senior engineer in business development at Siemens VDO Automotive. Tire Guard also features a semiconductor chip that will let Goodyear store information about tires such as serial numbers, manufacturing dates, and production locations. Tire Guard is expected to launch next year.

J.B. Hunt Transport Inc., a transportation-logistics company that spends between $25 million and $27 million on tires annually, is testing two separate radio-frequency-sensor applications, and it looks forward to putting the capabilities they offer into real-world use.

"If I know how many times a tire has rolled and how many times the cords have been flexed, then I can predict the failure rate more accurately because they can only flex so many times," says Henry Pianalto, senior director of maintenance system at J.B. Hunt. This information is critical to running a trucking business, and screening tire wear can help lower costs.

The tire industry faces regulatory pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which requires tire companies to monitor pressure and temperature as part of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation Act, a much-publicized law passed in response to the rollovers of Ford Motor Co.'s Explorers equipped with certain Firestone tires. The Tread Act states that vehicle identification numbers must correlate with the Department of Transportation's numbers for the tires.

Photograph by Rainer Jensen/DPA

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