Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2014   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Shop Equipment

Technological advances have made changing, balancing and aligning tires easier and faster

Good shop equipment accomplishes two goals: improving workflow/productivity and easing the burdens on shop technicians.

It’s no use having a wheel balancer, tire changer or alignment system that slows a shop’s workflow or makes the work of the technician more difficult.

“New vehicle technologies have added some steps and challenges to once seemingly simple and benign tasks,” says Dino Hatz, business development manager with Hunter Engineering Company (Canada). “In response, the equipment and tool industry has, at times, provided numerous add-on remedies throughout the evolution of shop equipment. These solutions, at times, have been ineffective where they may be perceived by the user as a speed-bump on what may have otherwise been considered a smoothly paved road. Human nature then takes over, motivating some technicians to take detours which in turn lead us back to the original offending issue and perhaps others.

“The real advance today lies in the fluid integration of technologies to offer a comprehensive system, along with a process, as a single solution that can address a multitude of issues at once in one practical package.”

The Evolution of Tire Changers

One piece of technology where this is clearly seen is with tire changers. Think back a little more than a decade ago to how many steps were required to use a tire changer, how much manual labour was needed to move the tire onto the system and then operate the machine. There was nothing elegant about the work and depending on the size of the tire it could be backbreaking for a technician. These issues were compounded with ever increasing tire sizes, expensive and easily damaged tire rims and the introduction of TPMS systems. All this was a scenario for productivity bottlenecks and sore backs amongst technicians.

Manufacturers of tire changers have a range of technologies that today make changing a tire nearly ‘touchless.’ It not completely touchless as one still has to get the tire to the machine; but that is about all the technician really has to do. Today’s tire changers will have such features as drop-centre top mounts that hold a tire in place during rotation, pneumatic wheel restrains and bead breakers and setters that are fully automated. Some will have laser-assisted computer systems that will scan the tire and rim, thereby eliminating issues that caused slowdowns and problems when technicians had to deal with unusual tire sizes or profiles, and expensive rims. Mistakes are now a thing of the past.

“Tire changers are more productive today because it only takes one operator to change difficult tire and wheel combos,” adds Scott Farr, wheel service and equipment development manager at Bosch Automotive Service Solutions. “Most shops have or can add wheel lifts to changers and balancers, and they should if they deal a lot with larger and heavier assemblies. Great care should be taken when selecting cones and flange adapters. This is especially true of the recent proliferation of clad-style wheels. Tire changers without helper assemblies make it virtually impossible to change UHP or RF configurations without damage.”

“Currently, the average tire removal and replacement process takes eighty per cent longer and involves considerably more skill and effort than it did just a few years ago,” adds Hatz. “All this while shop labour and overhead costs are climbing and the pool of qualified and perhaps even willing candidates for this type of work is shrinking. Our Revolution tire changer combines computer numeric control along with electro-mechanical and hydraulic actuators to automate and streamline the process. This transforms the traditionally required equipment operator/technician into nothing more than an attendant to the machine whose presence is only required to load the wheel/tire assembly, input some basic data including position of the top wheel edge, TPMS sensor position and specified vehicle tire pressure, unload the old tire and feed the new tire onto the wheel, attach/remove the inflation hose and unload the completed assembly and then load the next one.

“The whole process takes fifteen per cent less time and significantly reduces the chance of damage to any of the components, including TPMS sensors. The reduction of physical involvement in the process and integrated wheel lift, significantly reduce the possibility of corporal injury and place potential operators, of different physical strengths, sizes and experience, on a level playing field.”

“With tires/wheels getting larger and lower profiles, it takes larger and even more complicated tire equipment has had to get larger and more sophisticated to mount the larger wheels to the low profile tire without tearing the tire or scratching the wheel,” says Bruce Buckborough, owner of Babco Sales Ltd., a distributor of tools and equipment for Canadian service shops. “Tire machines today have one assist tower like our Ranger R980NXT, R76ATR or two assist towers units like the Ranger R80DTXF, and the top of the line units are touchless machines that do not use any tire irons like the Ranger RX3040. The RX3040 has a camera and a seven-inch screen so you can see the underside of the tire and wheel.”

Balancing Refined

To improve efficiency, many tire balancers offer a range of interesting features that speed up the workflow. Bosch offers a light ring that illuminates the interior portion of the wheel for better visibility and an EZ Fix weight placement and laser indicator to improve accuracy, thereby reducing the time spent on check-spins and reapplying weights.

“The EZ Fix function, in many cases, doesn’t even require the technician to look at where they are placing the weights,” adds Bosch’s Farr.

“Balancing in the traditional sense, assuring weight uniformity around the wheel to counter centrifugal forces continues to be relevant but it’s neither where the story begins nor ends,” adds Hatz. “The proliferation of cheaper aftermarket wheels and tires also bring their share of issues to the table, particularly with universal-fit aftermarket wheels. Many installers zip the wheels on, without centering rings, leaving the wheel centering duties to the air-impact gun ravaged lug-nut seats. While the wheel balancer cannot address the latter we may, through process of elimination, remove potential concerns about the wheel assembly itself from the equation.”

That being said, Hunter Engineering has been refining its balancers. Its RoadForce diagnostic wheel balancer, introduced nearly two decades ago featured a load-roller that applied itself to the rotating wheel assembly to simulate and measure forces that come into play at the contact point between the tire and the road. Today, it features an integrated wheel lift for better mounting accuracy.

“Despite all of the positive developments over the years, the one major concern amongst users was that the road test process added some time to the ‘balancing process’ therefore discouraging the load roller’s use beyond diagnosing actual vibration complaints,” Hatz adds. “In our latest iteration and fourth generation RoadForce Touch we placed additional focus on cutting down the time element since many believe that, in today’s world, a road test should be performed on every wheel assembly before it’s installed on the vehicle. We streamlined the process within the software and added features that allow the operator to balance and road test the wheel assembly for smoothness while rolling in the same amount of time it takes to just balance the wheel.”

“Our revolutionary DataWand and inner data set arm allows you to quickly and automatically enter all wheel parameter settings in less than three seconds: wheel diameter, wheel width, offset distance and targeted weight placement positioning for exact balancing every time,” says Babco’s Buckborough. “The parameter values are automatically entered into the wheel balancer by a single simultaneous maneuver of the extendible and storable DataWand and inner data set arm, thus reducing set-up times and eliminating opportunities for human error. The DataWand also features a built-in tape weight holder that aids with tape weight placement and positioning at precise locations.”

More Accurate Aligners

With the introduction of advanced electronic stability controls and, on some vehicles, crash avoidance systems, technicians now have to reset sensors during an alignment. This is in order to avoid getting a malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) after the service and to ensure the proper function of vehicle safety systems. With older alignment systems, this requires technicians to do two steps to complete the alignment successfully: inputting the correct vehicle information into the alignment computer and then getting out a scan tool to reset any sensors to avoid the MIL triggering. To simplify and speed up the process, wireless interfaces are now becoming common on alignment systems so that the scan tool part can be integrated right into that alignment workflow.

New road safety technologies like electronic stability control and crash avoidance systems have added a crucial step on a majority of new vehicles that necessitates resetting certain sensors on the vehicle during the alignment process. This additional step is necessary to avoid the appearance of a malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) on the dashboard, post service, as well to assure the proper function of those important safety systems in the moment that they may be called upon to perform.

“Our CodeLink device offers an integrated solution in the form of a wireless interface between the vehicle itself and the wheel alignment console,” Hatz says. “The CodeLink is plugged into the OBD connector as the technician exits the vehicle after placing the vehicle on the alignment rack. The VIN is then drawn automatically from the vehicle’s computer and then wirelessly relayed to the alignment system’s V.I.D. to search for the vehicle’s alignment specifications and any other information that may be needed to complete the job.

“If the vehicle’s specifications call for any additional adjustments or resets to one of the vehicle’s OBD-run systems then the step is added to the appropriate moment of the alignment process. Upon arrival to the step in question the alignment console prompts the technician through the procedure. Any changes or resets to any of the vehicle’s systems are done once again wirelessly from the alignment console through the wireless link to the vehicle’s computer.”

Farr says Bosch has added several new features to its aligners, one being a new tread analysis process. “It allows for a quick audit that alerts the service providers to quickly attain tread condition and convey the information in an effective manner to the vehicle owner.”

This allows a technician to provide a report that will give the owner an accurate measure of tread depth and life, alignment issues and even notify if the tires need to be rotated.

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