How do you get a million miles out of one tyre?

Shiny Oil Tanker

Shiny Oil Tanker (Photo credit: Jawaad Mahmood)

One of the more interesting assignments I was given at BP was a truck maintenance system. We were building it to replace an existing system that ran on a mainframe. Someone had sentenced the mainframe to death so we had to rewrite all the systems on a new fangled distributed computing platform.

I didn’t have high hopes when I heard about the assignment. Truck maintenance sounded a bit boring to me, but that was before I met the project sponsor. I must have done something right because he was a very particular man and had been extremely picky about who was assigned to the project.

The first thing he did was ask me a question. “What do you think the three biggest costs are for BP?” As we were surrounded in a posh new head office which must have cost a fortune, I offered up “premises” as an answer. He nodded. I then said “staff” and he nodded again.

Every guess from then on was met with a shake of the head. After 10 or so guesses, I said “I give up”. At which point, he leaned forward in his chair and said “tyres”. I have to say, his answer stunned me. I never would have thought that tyres would be anywhere near the top 10, let alone the top 3, but there you have it. He went on to say that the company expected to get a million miles out of a tyre.

Private motorists are lucky if they get 30k miles out of a tyre so how do they do it? He showed me a model of a cross-section through a truck tyre. The thickness of rubber between the inside of the tyre and the road was massive – probably 6-8 inches. He explained that when the tread was getting low, the tyre would be sent off for a recut.

Essentially, they would cut further into the thick rubber to make new tread. This operation would be repeated through the tyre’s life until there wasn’t enough rubber. The tyre would then be sent off for reprocessing. Essentially, another band of thick rubber would be grafted onto the tyre and the whole life-cycle would begin anew. Eventually, the skeleton of the tyre would wear out and the tyre would be no more.

This was why it was crucial for the company to monitor each and every tyre to make sure that they wring every last mile out of them. A record was kept for every tyre to monitor how many miles it had travelled. What made things complicated was that the tyres moved around. Sometimes they would be on a trailer, sometimes on a cab and sometimes on an unarticulated truck (called a rigid as opposed to an artic).

Not only that, but trailers moved around too. All this moving around made my job very difficult, because the only instrument measuring mileage was the truck’s tacho. I’d just about got my head around all the permutations, when my project sponsor said “Have I told you about a tacho head change? That’s when things get really complicated!”

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