It was an injury to an employee that pushed Matt Benton to buy a heavy-duty tire changer. His technician was changing tires “the old-fashioned way with a hammer and a bar,” says Benton. The bar slipped, and the tech fell forward, breaking his arm.
“You never want one of your people to get hurt. It really was a deciding factor,” says Benton, who bought his tire changer from Hunter Engineering Co. Benton’s shop services the 20 trucks operated by his company, W.I.T. Transportation LLC in Odessa, Texas. He calls the purchase “one of the better decisions I’ve made for my business.”
For Benton, the machine is a safer way to change a medium truck tire. “If I’ve got a guy out there slinging a sledge hammer and he misses and damages the wheel but worse than that he hits his foot or his shin, now I have a workers’ compensation claim and I’m down an employee. The tire changer takes that whole factor away.”
In addition, Benton has found a tech’s productivity using the tire changer to be comparable to a hammer and bar. But the machine requires far less physical exertion for the tech. “Another thing you have to factor is how hard is my guy working versus how hard is that guy working. My guy is not lifting the tire and wheel; it’s all done hydraulically, so the risk versus the reward factor with the tire changer is a lot better.”
Techs can become proficient on the tire changer in a single day. “When you’re using a hammer and bar system there’s a lot of skill that you don’t get any other way than by doing it. This machine reduces that learning curve way down. A tech can watch a guy do it two or three times, and he can be doing it the same day without any problem,” says Benton.
Ideal for wide-base applications
Despite the availability of heavy-duty tire changers, technicians in many commercial shops are changing tires by hand. “Tire changers for heavy-duty have been around for a long time, but they were very generalized,” says Pete Liebetreu, senior product manager at Hunter.
“They were designed so you could change an over-the-road truck tire with them, but you could also change maybe an agricultural tire, or an implement tire like a road grader, depending on the size.” But it is difficult for technicians to change wide-base tires with a bar and hammer.
Don Vanderheyden, director of marketing for Hennessy Industries Inc., says that when changing on the ground, a technician must lift the second bead of the tire over the wheel. “In doing this the tech is fighting gravity, plus lifting the entire weight of the tire over the wheel. This becomes more difficult with wide-based applications that are becoming more common.”Lower costs are behind the switch from dually to super single tires, according to Vanderheyden. “The cost of ownership and fuel are lower for one wide tire and wheel than two narrow tires and wheels. In addition, one wide tire and wheel is cheaper to buy than two standard tires and wheels. The trend is to more super singles, and when you go to more super singles you need these types of machines.”
Liebetreu says wide-base tires are the “prime driver” for increased use of heavy-duty tire changing equipment, especially for equipment that speeds the process. “The wide-base tire is just so heavy and unwieldy to do with bars that it really becomes a lot more work and time compared to steer tires. Also, the concern for workplace fatigue, liability and safety goes up.”
He says a technician can change a steer tire faster manually than using Hunter’s machine. “To be honest, we can’t beat him on the steer tire. The guy with the bars is still a little faster with that traditional tire, but with the wide-base we certainly outpace him. And we do it without anybody having to lift anything. We do it in a safe way.”
There is a high risk of back injury when changing tire assemblies on the ground, according to Vanderheyden. “Using a heavy-duty tire machine, you reduce operator effort and technicians have more control. This reduces the risk of injury when servicing a heavy-duty tire assembly.”
Liebetreu notes that a shop servicing over-the-road truck tires in many cases isn’t dealing with implement or agricultural tires, or is addressing them in a different way.
“There’s a true benefit that can be had to our customers for having a very fast and efficient piece of equipment that’s focused on the tire volume challenge in over-the-road truck tires. The volume doesn’t exist in implement or agricultural tires to make sense to be super specialized in that area. But boy, there are a lot of truck tires being changed every day.”
Machines boost efficiency and protect alloy wheels
Higher tire volumes are prompting more shops to commit to heavy-duty machines, according to Vanderheyden. “We’re seeing more people being willing to spend the money and make the investment to buy the equipment. That’s the battle in the heavy-duty market. Everybody says these are great machines, but the battle happens at the shop level because the machines are expensive. People will say if I don’t have a lot of volume I’ll just pound it out. But as they start to get their volumes up, they start to realize they could do it a lot more efficiently with the machine.”Liebetreu says alloy wheels also are driving increased interest in heavy-duty tire changers. “Anything that’s going to get near the wheel is going to be plastic. If you do it in a controlled way with non-scratch materials, then you’re not going to damage those very expensive aluminum wheels.”
There still are plenty of steel wheels in the market, according to Vanderheyden, but the increase in alloy-style wheels makes machines that only have steel capability not as useful anymore. “Now that we have alloy wheels in the heavy-duty world, that means we have to protect the wheels on the tire changer. That’s where the clamp protection comes in to limit metal-to-metal contact and prevent wheel damage.”
Shops are more profitable
Mechanized tire changing makes a shop more efficient and safer. Says Liebetreu, “If you can do a tire and wheel faster and easier, assuming you charge the same amount for the service, you have a more profitable operation.” Tire changing equipment also can help contain workplace safety costs. “Any kind of liability, any kind of workers’ compensation, even the amount of time employees call in sick or don’t make it in on time because they’re worn out, affects your profitability as well.”
Nick McCullough, president of Rav America, the North American division of Ravaglioli SpA, points out that the risk of on-the-job accidents and workers’ compensation claims are reduced when processes are no longer dependent strictly on manual labor. “The average cost of a claim is now approaching $100,000 when all cost factors are included. The cost of a leading truck tire changer is less than $20,000, and it will perform tens of thousands of cycles for years to come.”
Other benefits are improved employee recruitment and retention, according to McCullough. “The labor pool of individuals willing to do the hard physical labor required by manual tire changing is pretty much exhausted. Retaining these employees will be more difficult in the future.”
McCullough says Rav’s GTB-16N machine is similar to operating a video game with joystick controls. “The current generation grew up playing video games, and it will be much easier to find these kinds of tire techs than it will be to find people who are willing to swing a tire hammer day in and day out.”
In addition, skill, experience and strength are not prerequisites for mechanized tire changing. Shops do not have to plan for a lengthy training program either. “It is a long process to teach a person to become highly proficient in manual tire changing. Mechanized tire changing can be learned in one day,” says McCullough.
He cites other advantages heavy-duty tire changers bring to a shop: faster cycle times overall, more efficient practices, less employee absence due to fatigue or injury, and less bead damage due to incorrect mounting/demounting practices.
More efficient use of floor space is another plus. “These tire machines require 50 square feet of floor space where to manually change even one set of drive tires requires 150 square feet of valuable floor space.” ■