Let the Good Tires Roll: New Designs for Better Performance

Over the past year or so, a wave of five new or improved telehandler tires has rolled into the North American construction market. Tires represent one of the largest expenses in maintaining a telehandler. So any improvement in performance, life, and cost of ownership that the tires deliver could mean significant savings for telehandler operators.

The latest round of improvements is part of the tire industry’s quest to offer telehandler owners and users better reliability, traction, ride, life, cost of ownership. To do that, some tire manufacturers have tweaked rubber compounds, and virtually all have altered the designs of treads, apertures, or sidewalls. Two of the new tires are pneumatics. Three are solid rubber.

Marc Margossian, director of marketing for Maine Industrial Tire, Wakefield, Mass., says his company makes sure all of its tires are designed to meet and exceed customers’ expectations in terms of load-carrying capacity, tread depth, quality, and durabililty, which can survive in the most rugged of operating environments.

Darren Stratton, product manager for Camoplast Solideal, Charlotte, N.C., says “Having a close relationship with both the equipment manufacturers and the rental fleets is vital. That helps quickly determine the issues and the loads, capacities, and speeds the machine will run.”

 

Three types of tires
Three main types of tires are available for telehandlers: pneumatic (air filled), foam filled, and solid rubber. Each type offers advantages and disadvantages.

All of the tire makers that Lift and Access surveyed produce both pneumatic and solid rubber tires, giving customers the option to choose the type they like best.

Pneumatic tires are filled with pressurized air, just like the car and truck tires we all know so well. Foam-filled tires are simply pneumatic tires that have been filled with a polymer that displaces all the air. The polymer foam filling is provided by an independent manufacturer like Pathway Polymers or Arnco. Foam-filled tires can be put on by the telehandler’s OEM at the factory or sold by a tire dealer for in-field mounting. Also, the foam can be put into existing tires anytime during the tire’s life. Although the filling is called foam, it is more like a very soft rubber, says Brian Bost, AWP service manager for Sunbelt Rentals, Houston, Texas.

One very important point: Whatever tires an owner or user chooses to use, they must meet the telehandler manufacturer’s specifications. Some telehandler manufacturers have one operating chart for units equipped with heavier foam-filled or solid-rubber tires, and a different chart for units equipped with pneumatic tires.

A second important consideration: All the tires on a single telehandler must be the same type. You cannot, mix and match different kinds of tires on the same telehandler.

Pluses and minuses
Some experts say that pneumatic tires are commonly chosen for telehandlers because they cost the least and offer the best flotation on soft ground. Though the price can vary greatly, one expert estimated a set of four pneumatic tires to cost in the range of $3,000 to $4,000. That’s reportedly about 70 percent of the cost of foam-filled tires, or 40 to 50 percent of the cost of solid rubber tires.

One downside of pneumatic tires is that they are more easily damaged by nails, screws, rebar, and other hazards common on construction sites. Another is that owners and users must check and maintain the tires’ air pressure. A flat tire on a telehandler can pose a significant problem, particularly when the machine is on rent.

“We do a lot of rentals to the oil fields, so the machines work out in the middle of nowhere and service calls from tire companies cost a lot,” says Brian Smith, AWP manager for Briggs Equipment’s Houston, Texas, office. “A flat tire not only cuts the customer’s production and costs us for a service call, it can also create ill will and lead to lost income because customers sometimes dispute paying rent for any day the telehandler couldn’t work. Avoiding flat tires is very important.”

Perhaps the most serious potential drawback of a pneumatic tire can be having an unexpected flat with a load in the air, when the unexpected loss of stability can cause an accident.

Reducing the chance of flats is one of the benefits of the new Dura-Force MH pneumatic tires introduced jointly in early 2011 by tire maker Firestone and telehandler manufacturer JLG. Although pneumatic, the DuraForce MH has been designed to cut down on damage from punctures and sidewall abrasion. Brian Boeckman, global product manager for telehandlers at JLG estimates that the DuraForce MH tires will provide at least three times the life of a standard pneumatic tire.

One way to flat-proof any pneumatic tire is to fill it with polymer foam that replaces all the air inside the tire. The foam is pumped into each tire through its valve stem, while a hole made elsewhere in the tire allows the air to escape as the foam replaces it. This popular approach eliminates the possibility of deflation from punctures. Also, the weight of the foam helps add stability to the telehandler. Although not cheap, foam filling costs less than buying solid-rubber tires.

Those who prefer other tire solutions say that although foam filling prevents flats from punctures, it does not protect against sidewall damage if the tire scrapes across something sharp, like the end of a rebar or a piece of scrap metal. “Once the tire casing has been damaged, the foam fill is too soft to run as a tire by itself and the tire must be replaced,” says Bost.

Some experts say that foam-filling a tire also shortens its life. “On our rental telehandlers, we typically replace a set of pneumatic tires about every 10 months to two-and-a-half years. Foam filling prevents flats, but shortens the overall life to between six and eight months,” says Smith.

The third option for telehandlers is a solid rubber tire. Three of the five new or improved telehandler tires introduced in the past 12 months are of this type.

Solid-rubber tires, as their name clearly says, are made of solid rubber, so they will never go flat. Depending on whom you ask, solid-rubber tires are said to last four to eight times as long as pneumatic tires— in some cases outlasting the telehandler itself and being transferred onto the machine’s incoming replacement.

Bost says that in his experience solid-rubber tires last five years or more. After trying a set of Camoplast Solidair TLH rubber tires for more than a year during their development and pre-launch testing, he is gradually putting them on all 50 telehandlers in his eastern Texas fleet.

Bob Gilkenson, president of SolidBoss Worldwide Inc., South Haven, Mich., says his company has tracked its solid tires for all eight years it has been producing them. “We have not seen even one of our tires wear out yet. That exceeds the lifespan of most machines in rental fleets.”

Fans of solid-rubber telehandler tires also point to other advantages, including a firmer ride, excellent traction, extra weight that helps add stability, and resistance to damage from abrasion and chunking.

Long, trouble-free life is what proponents of solid-rubber tires say makes them worth the higher initial purchase price over pneumatic tires and the lowest-cost alternative over the long haul. “It’s important for tire buyers to look at the total cost of ownership, including serviceability and the potential cost of downtime, not just the acquisition price,” says Maine Industrial Tire’s Margossian.

The main disadvantage of solid tires is the higher purchase price. That’s especially true for the first set, when the buyer has to pay for both the rubber tire and the special rims required to use them. Together, rims and solid tires may cost two to three times the price of pneumatic tires, or 1.5 times the cost of foam-filled tires.

In addition, they do not float on soft ground as well as pneumatic tires and do not give as soft a ride (although makers of solid tires that have apertures say they ride almost the same as pneumatics). Also, solid-rubber tires add weight to the machine, which can be good or bad, depending on the user’s point of view. The plus is more stability. The minus is less flotation. A third disadvantage of solid tires is that many must be mounted on their rims with a special hydraulic press that’s not available in every tire shop.

 

Five new tire introductions
The following five new telehandler tires were introduced in the past 12 months.

In October 2011, Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas Inc., Fairlawn, Ohio, introduced its new C-Series pneumatic tires for telehandlers at the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition (ICUEE) in Louisville, Ky. Trelleborg, which has long offered solid-rubber tires for telehandlers, introduced the C-Series to meet the needs of customers who prefer pneumatic tires, according to Ydo Doornbos, managing director. “It is crucial that we understand customers’ working environments in order to make products that meet their expectations,” he said. The new C-Series tire’s large footprint, flat tread profile, deep lugs, and long-lasting tread provide excellent stability and flotation, while the tire’s durable nylon construction and premium compound resist damage from impact.
 

In March 2011, JLG and Firestone started the recent round of tire introductions when they announced their agreement to make Firestone’s new DuraForce MH pneumatic tire standard original equipment in JLG telehandlers. The two companies had worked closely to design DuraForce MH tires specifically for telehandler use, so JLG is the only telehandler manufacturer that can offer Dura-Force MH tires as original equipment. Of course, JLG customers may also choose other tires, and owners of competing telehandlers can buy DuraForce MH tires as replacements.

Firestone and JLG had worked together for three years to develop the new telehandler-specific tire. Before the DuraForce MH was introduced, the industry’s most common pneumatic telehandler tires were tires designed for road-graders.

Brian Boeckman, global product director, telehandlers, for JLG Industries, Inc., McConnellsburg, Pa., says the tread on DuraForce tires is thicker, self-cleaning, and has a minimal crown for even wear and lower operating temperatures. It is also uni-directional so the same tire can be used on any tire position. Boeckman also notes that the new tire’s sidewall has a lower profile and is thicker to minimize the chance of damage. All together, the features are expected to enable a DuraForce MH tire to live three times as long as a competing pneumatic tire.
 

SolidBoss Worldwide Inc., South Haven, Mich., unveiled its improved SolidAir Aperture tire at the November 2011 Lift and Access Showcase and Symposium in Scottsdale, Ariz. Like its predecessor, introduced eight years ago, the new and improved Aperture tire is made of solid rubber. The new version features apertures with smaller openings to help minimize the possibility of damage. It also has larger lug faces along the outside of the tread to improve durability when going over curbs, footings, and plank roads.
President Bob Gilkenson explains: “The new tire has aperture openings that are smaller on the sidewall but get larger inside the tire. That keeps the cushioned ride while reducing aperture exposure to sidewall cuts by 50 percent. Widening the tread bars has not only made the tires sturdier, it will also increase expected tread life. I’ll put SolidBoss tires up against any others for lowest cost per hour of use any day.”

 

In February at the American Rental Association’s The Rental Show, Camoplast Solideal, Charlotte, N.C., introduced its Solideal Solidair TLH solid-rubber tire. The Solidair TLH features unique triangular apertures; a stepped, self-cleaning tread that’s two to three times as deep as a typical tread; and a tread face that has no crown so it wears evenly across its full width. “You particularly notice the traction and self cleaning when you work in clay or other difficult soils,” says Darren Stratton, product manager.

One of the Solidair TLH’s most recognizable features is the triangular design of its apertures. According to Stratton, the unique design not only improves the comfort of the ride but also improves lateral stability and minimizes heat build-up. “The triangular apertures are always under compression, so they won’t crack from stretching of the rubber,” he adds.

“Any type of solid tire you buy will require buying a new wheel, too,” says Stratton. “Wheels for the Solidair TLH are readily available for all telehandlers and the metal wheel and rubber tire can be delivered as a pre-assembled unit ready to bolt on and go.”

 

The Showcase also saw Maine Industrial Tire, Wakefield, Mass., roll out the newest version of its Brawler Solidflex HPS solid-rubber telehandler tire. The Brawler features a wide, flat tread for superior stability, as well as patented elliptical apertures for a smooth, comfortable ride. Marc Margossian, director of marketing, says that the Brawler models have cooler running compounds, cut- and chunk-resistant treads, abrasion-resistant bodies, and about four times the wearable rubber of a pneumatic tire.

“Brawler Solidflex HPS tires are manufactured from the highest quality mining-rubber compounds so they are designed to offer a significantly improved lift, compared to pneumatic or foam-filled pneumatic tire,” he says.