Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2011   by Nestor Gula

Automatic for the wheel

Tire service is becoming a hands-off affair

Not to get too sentimental about the mythological “good old days,” (Were they really that good?) but I do miss whitewall tires. My dad’s car had a set. It wasn’t the whitewall of the 20s, but it was a rather thick band, about one-third of the tire, that was white. The next car we got came with whitewalls as well, but this was just a very narrow pinstripe. We paid quite a bit extra for this luxury option. The family was disappointed.
Although you still can get nice whitewalls from specialty retailers for your vintage American iron sled, the whitewall bling has been replaced with rim bling, and this has contributed to a flurry of development work in the tire changing business.
The greatest advance in tire changers is they have actually become what their name suggests. “Everything before was a tire holder because the technician would have to literally change the tire with some bars. Tire changers are going to a more leverless design,” said Darcy Tallon, director of Canadian Operations for Hunter Engineering. “Today, our GPA Auto 28 & GPA Auto34 (technologies) are true leverless tire changers. The technician presses some buttons and off come the tires, and on go the new ones. There is no lever.”
“When it comes to training – it should take about 30 minutes,” said Maitland H. Gillespie, technical manager at John Bean Canada of their company’s Quadriga TC1000. “It is very, very user friendly. You could actually bring the wife to use it if you wish. At some of the shows we do we take someone from the audience, anybody with energy, and quickly teach them how to use the machine. It is that simple. There are just a few steps that we have to do to position the tire; the machine helps you to do this.”
He said that Quadriga ATC 1000 has a lifter that lifts the tire to the machine. “For a heavier wheel and tire application this will be a saving grace because there is less worker strain and less potential worker compensation claims,” said Maitland. “It will speed up the work flow when you get up to many tire and wheel assemblies. In the past, the technician had to be more articulate with regards to procedure, whereas, with the new touchless system, it is more forgiving. It is going to be guiding them in the right direction; and, of course, the tools that it uses do not actually touch the wheel assembly at all. So the only instrumentation that is going to remove the tire is the couple of tools that only touch the tire. Nothing on the machine actually touches the wheel.”
This will reduce damage to some of today’s very expensive rims that people like to use to dress up their vehicles.
“This has become more problematic in the last couple of years because different configurations of wheels, spokes, raised spokes, V-mount heads – these can rub against the machines and can put very fine scratches on the wheels and can be detrimental to the customer. In regards to dismounting a tire off a wheel and mounting it back again we try to make the procedure very simple and ensure that there is no damage to the wheel itself,” said Maitland.
Dealing with much more common low-profile tires these automatic machines don’t break a sweat. “Our THP models can apply three points of pressure to a tire for maximum control and less damage for stress free mounting,” said Frank Nowaczyk, product manager, Wheel Service for Bosch Diagnostics Business Unit.
More and more cars are coming with Tire Pressure Moni­toring Systems as standard. “Even our lower priced TCE 4230 is available with an optional following arm that helps the technician deal with TPMS systems by providing mounting assistance with no tire slippage and providing the ability to firmly hold a tire away from the rim while servicing sensors,” said Nowaczyk.
Balance makes perfect
There’s a clip on that Brit show Top Gear where host Jeremy Clarkson attempts to balance the tire that is vibrating his car with a Euro coin and some gaffer tape (Duct tape on this side of the pond). He succeeds in eliminating the vibration at some speeds but not at others. The moral of the story – wheel balancing is a precise science.
“Balancers have evolved through our technology which we call SmartWeight,” said Tallon of Hunter Engineering. “We created an electric machine that will reduce the imbalance to zero. What SmartWeight does is it does not look at balance itself, it looks at forces.” The system is available on most of their tire balancers and according to the company, “This new method computes correction weights by measuring and evaluating the ‘absolute’ or pure static (shake) and couple (shimmy) forces that cause vibration. Unlike traditional balancing, which judges balance conditions based on correction weight values, SmartWeight balancing uses the actual static and couple forces to directly address the source of vibration problems, resulting in the best possible balance,” Tallon added. “The SmartWeight system creates a faster balance and a better balance.”
Using a more traditional method, John Bean’s BFH and VPI series of balancers are still very much computer controlled.  “The BFH systems are lasers. You mount the wheel and tire assembly onto the machine’s shaft correctly, and that is all the technician has to do,” said Maitland. “With these two units it really does not matter the about the skill level of the end user. All they have to do is select the correct collar which will center the wheel assembly and choose the right flange plate that will lock and hold the wheel. All they have to do is simply lower the hood. The lasers then takes over it will measure the tire. It will tell you if it needs sticky weights or snap on weights. The user still has to put the weights on themselves. We still have not gotten to the point where that is done automatically. The user rotates the wheel it will lock the wheel when it gets to the correct spot. It will show the correct weight on the screen and there will be a laser dot where the weight must be place. Anybody can do this.”
Aligning not automatic
“The greatest advantage in wheel alignment technology is the advent of imaging systems which allow faster setup and measurement over standard sensors,” said Bosch’s Nowaczyk. “When entering this market we intended to cut set up time as others have, but our goal was to do this without sacrificing accuracy. The result was the Easy 3D aligner, which utilizes eight imaging cameras at close range to offer unprecedented accuracy and repeatability.”
While tire changing and balancing have become virtually goof-proof due to new technology, “when it comes to alignment systems you have to know and understand how vehicle alignment works,” said Jim Bean’s Maitland. “Our system is easy to use, but you need to understand what is going on. Somebody that has no skill with regards to alignment can be taught to bring a vehicle in and to mount a certain apparatus, and take one or two measuring steps. That can be easily done, absolutely. But to really get into the adjustment of the vehicle, that is different.”
He said the Jim Bean system can do more than just align a car’s tires. “The computer readout will give you all the numbers and all the geometry even down to diagnostics, wheel base track. It will even ascertain if the vehicle is healthy enough to have an alignment or whether repairs have to be performed. What we actually have on our units, what it does when it measures the compensation is it also measures the loaded tire diameter. So what it gives is the diameter in either mm or inches. So it will give me the revolution the tires make per kilometer or mile. The reason for that is that it will say if there is a tire on that should not be on that vehicle – it is the wrong tire. Or a tire is severely worn and can affect certain areas of the vehicle including the transmission.”
Checking the alignment used to take a while, but Hunter has cut the time with the Alignment Quick Check. “What we are able to do on a flat floor, in a drive through application like in a quick lube bay or a dealership drive in area. In less than one minute, while th
e customer is talking to the service rep, we are able to diagnose the vehicle and see if it has an incorrect alignment reading,” said Tallon. “You don’t even need to use technicians to do this test. Don’t have to be a licensed mechanic or an apprentice to do this.” He stressed that this system is just for diagnosis and it prints out the results for the customer to see. “That is just used to quickly check the alignment. The machine that actually does the alignment is the Hunter Hawkeye Elite alignment system. Both systems use the Hunter Quick-Clamp adapter.”

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