Are Your Wheels Holding You Back?

As warehousing environments change, the demands put on wheels and tires are intensifying. Be sure you have the proper wheels and tires to carry you through.  

Like many other industries, today’s technology is rapidly transforming the material handling industry. The modernization of manufacturing, warehousing and distribution facilities is taking shape through numerous innovative solutions, many of which require polyurethane wheels and tires.

With a changing consumer landscape and the rising costs of operation and labor, material handling equipment needs to be smarter, faster and more efficient. As a result, automated material transport is everywhere, and many companies are implementing it at a variety of scales.

The new equipment is heavier and faster, in order to meet the industry’s demands. However, with those qualities, modern fleets become increasingly demanding on their tires. To battle the wear and tear, the industry has automatically gravitated towards the use of harder materials in wheels and tires.

Harder durometers are chosen for their resistance to melting, but harder compounds limit the safety, comfort and, in some cases, efficiency of the machinery. Wheels and tires can be seen as a minor detail when compared to the system technology, scalability and financial justification of new equipment, but these easily overlooked components should be getting more attention. At Stellana, all we do is think about wheels and tires, so we have summarized the key things to consider when selecting new parts or evaluating what you currently use.

Mindful Tire Selection­­­

A one-size-fits-all mentality will not yield the results you want out of your wheels and tires. The performance of the equipment is dependent on these parts, and mindfully selecting them will improve overall efficiency and keep things running at peak performance. When selecting wheels and tires, one should not only ask, “What will work?” The key question to be investigated thoroughly should be: “What will work best for us?”

One Size Does Not Fit All

There is a misconception that the wheels are one-size-fits-all, and that the wheels that come stock with the machines were intended for your specific end-use. Today, many automation technology companies are retrofitting standard lift trucks to make them automated. In this situation, the stock wheels and tires often remain on the equipment, even if they were not intended for this end-use.

After speaking with many representatives from top AGV and automation companies at ProMat 2019, it became apparent that a surprising number of people do not know what wheels and tires were being used on their equipment.

High-end Tech Should be Synonymous with High-quality Components

High-quality tires should be used in conjunction with automated equipment. After making a significant investment in upgraded technology, your tires may also need an update. The default tires may not be equipped to handle the performance associated with the new technology. As warehouses and distribution centers experience increasing demands for faster turnaround and order fulfillment, trends of continual operation, faster speeds and higher loads will require higher performance tires.

Differences in Durometers

It is important to realize differences in durometer (the hardness of the material) affect the machinery in many ways from its handling ability to rider comfort and safety. With all polyurethane wheels and tires, different materials offer differing limitations and strengths. A harder wheel will better resist melting under high loads, and that is why they are being placed on equipment without much thought. However, using a harder material sacrifices the safety, comfort, and the noise- or vibration-limiting benefits that are offered by softer materials.

As a general rule, it is wise to begin by implementing an 85-durometer material. When selecting wheels and tires, you should try to use the softest material possible for your application. Using a lower durometer compound will offer operators better ergonomics in terms of braking, traction, comfort and steering capabilities.

Picking the Right Poly: What to Consider

Getting goods from A to B sums up the high-level objective for the material handling industry. However, the path from A to B is different for every machine. Recognizing this and selecting a tire based on your unique needs will offer better material handling in your vehicle. Different polyurethanes are suitable for the differing conditions in material handling environments. The operating environment and application are two of the most important factors when choosing polyurethane wheels and tires.

A Material for Each Use

When selecting a product, be sure to evaluate your environment for factors, including run length and frequency, load requirements (weight and speed), speeds and floor conditions. Specific polymer compounds will perform differently under these conditions. Floor conditions, temperature, moisture level and the presence of oils or chemicals are other aspects to acknowledge when evaluating the environment.

Lower durometer (softer) materials will offer excellent traction, braking and rider comfort. A lower durometer material, such as Stellana’s Tmax (70 durometer) will also provide improved traction in cold or damp environments. By increasing the durometer to 85, you will maintain adequate traction but can accommodate longer runs and higher loads. An 85-durometer tire, such as the Lmax, will excel under most applications.

For even more demanding applications, there are harder durometers. Moving up to a 90-durometer tire will allow for even higher load capacity. When engineered well, these tires will safely handle high loads at high speeds, while delivering excellent braking, comfort and traction compared to higher durometer compound tires. The max 90 is an example of a Stellana tire in this tier. Beyond durometer, the roundness of a tire or wheel is also important. Zero TIR (total indicator run out) technology delivers uniformity and roundness ideal for order pickers and reach trucks offering minimized truck vibration, mast sway and error build up for a safe, efficient ride. Stellana’s Smoothy 90 is a 90-durometer tire made using this technology.

There are even higher durometer tires for the toughest of applications. For example, the Vmax tire, a 93-durometer tire offers a unique combination of high speed, high load, cut/tear and chemical resistance. Harder durometers last in environments with rough flooring, dock plates and other harsh conditions. When you get up to a 95-durometer product (the hardest durometer we offer in our Stellana tires), you will lose traction, comfort and safety, but will experience exceptional cut and tear resistance to chunking, tearing and flat spotting. The hardest durometers, such as the Gmax tire, are ideal for use under harsh floor conditions, dock plates, expansion joints and floor debris.

To get the most out of your equipment, you need to make calculated, intentional decisions and recognize wheels and tires are not one-size-fits-all. Polyurethane comes with tradeoffs, but will offer exceptional performance when properly selected. To maximize the performance of your equipment, don’t look for a solution that will work, but look for the one that will work the best in your warehousing environment. To find your best fit, we recommend you speak with a wheel professional. For additional quick resources on tires selection, Stellana’s Behind the Wheel blog shares tips for selecting the right products, customer success stories and more information. WMHS