Nitrogen tyre inflation has over the years become well-known, and is no longer the sole preserve of specialist tyre users such as the international motorsport or commercial aviation sectors. In fact, it is even conveniently available today on the forecourts of many petrol stations in South Africa.
What is less widely known is the significant cost-savings that commercial transport fleet owners can enjoy when they run their vehicle tyres on nitrogen inflation.
“The benefits of inflating your fleet tyres with nitrogen are really significant if you are a major commercial transportation company with dozens of vehicles on the road,” says local nitrogen generator supplier NitraLife’s Sales Director Tom Sowry.
NitraLife launched its business in 1996, and was very much a pioneer in the field of nitrogen tyre inflation locally; as well as being the first supplier of generators for nitrogen tyre inflation to the commercial transportation sector.
Since then, NitraLife has also successfully expanded into supplying generators for nitrogen inflation of tyres to the passenger vehicle market and the mining industry. However, the company has its roots – and a vast pool of expertise and experience – in the field of commercial tyre inflation.
“The longer the distances travelled and the heavier the loads, the greater the benefits,” Sowry explains.
If one enters ‘savings with nitrogen tyre inflation’ into an Internet search engine, there are pages of evidence on the cents-per-kilometre savings which nitrogen tyre inflation can bring about.
However, are there savings if you have a fleet of only five vehicles?
“Definitely,” asserts Sowry. “Even if your company is not a commercial transporter, and you are simply using a couple of delivery vehicles to get your goods to market, our experience since founding NitraLife in 1996 has shown that savings of between 5 – 30 % – depending on fleet and load size, and distances travelled – are eminently possible,” he adds.
In the early days of NitraLife, their highly efficient membrane nitrogen generators were manufactured in a limited ‘litres-per-minute’ size, which was more suited to the larger commercial transporter.
“However, today, we can customise generators, for example manufacturing a smaller 120 litre-a-minute machine, which is a size better suited to the needs – and budget – of the smaller fleet operator,” continues Sowry.
He explains that even if a fleet operator can save 3-5 percent on tyre costs, this will most often pay for the rental or purchase of a NitraLife generator.
However, there are many more reasons why commercial transporters should consider nitrogen tyre inflation. For example, oxygen and water vapour are constituents of air. Once air is pumped into a tyre, water vapour is concentrated inside the casing and along with the action of oxygen degrades the rubber and causes the steel within the tyre to corrode. This reduces the tyre’s ability to hold pressure and also leads to early casing failures.
Sowry points out that a number of South Africa’s major commercial transportation companies have been using NitraLife generators for the past two decades to do their tyre inflation. What they have found is that because nitrogen preserves tyre rubber, when it comes to re-treading of tyres, the casing is able to be re-treaded several times more than its air-filled counterpart.
“With the cost of a heavy transport vehicle tyre, if one can get two or three more ‘lives’ out of a casing, the savings are obvious,” he advises.
Sowry cites the example of one of his customers – a major tanker operator – which previously had to scrap some 20 tyre casings a month. Once they started to fill their tyres with nitrogen, this number decreased to some 13 casings a month.
Nitrogen escapes through tyre walls four times more slowly than oxygen; and water vapour escapes 117 times more quickly than nitrogen. Nitrogen tyre inflation ensures that correctly inflated tyres will not overheat. Heat build-up – as underinflated tyres flex beyond their specified limits – is a major cause of premature tyre failures.
“Maintaining correct tyre pressure with nitrogen is even more important if one’s vehicles are travelling very long distances, particularly if they are going beyond South Africa’s borders to areas where tyre maintenance facilities are more rudimentary or not available at all,” he explains.
“If a vehicle is on the road and away from its home base for two or three weeks, knowing that the tyres are not losing pressure gives fleet operators real peace of mind.
As any fleet operator knows, commercial transportation is a highly competitive sector. Customers want their goods delivered quickly and reliably. Tyre failures mean lost time and late deliveries. Furthermore, a vehicle stranded next to the road with a valuable cargo on board – known as an ‘on-the-road’ failure – is a tempting target for criminals and poses a real security threat,” he adds.
All tyres flex during normal operation and this leads to the build up of rubber particles inside the tyre. Rubber is composed primarily of carbon and therefore, when these very small particles are exposed to high heat levels caused by binding brakes or a wheel bearing failure, they can – when mixed with air – combust or even explode with potentially calamitous consequences. With high purity nitrogen filling a tyre, this cannot happen and the safety of driver, vehicle and valuable cargo is ensured.
For the fleet owner, NitraLife has rental or purchase options available; both of feature the added attraction of having almost no additional maintenance requirements. This is because NitraLife generators have no moving parts and a conventional air compressor supplies the compressed air used to feed them.
“In common with commercial transporters, NitraLife is keen to promote the correct levels of inflation. Should a fleet operator or transporter have any queries about nitrogen tyre inflation, we would welcome the opportunity to answer any queries.
We are extremely proud of our 21 year track record in the commercial transportation sector, and look forward to many more years supplying nitrogen generators for nitrogen tyre inflation – with all its attendant benefits – to our valued transportation customers,” Sowry concludes.