Tyres: the silent champions of port logistics



Ralf Krieger, Head of Product Development and Product Industrialisation of Industrial Pneumatic Tyres, Business Unit Commercial Specialty Tyres (CST), Continental, Hanover


Tons of freight in containers, enormous gantry cranes and cargo ships waiting to be loaded are the daily routine in harbours. To successfully master a port’s operation, a complex substructure of reach stackers, tractors, trailers and heavy-duty forklifts is needed – not forgetting the thousands of tyres needed to keep them running. But if these vehicles failed as a result of a punctured tyre, it could spell disaster for a port and its functioning as an international logistics business hub. Efficiently-functioning vehicle fleets are vital for the smooth running of port operations. As vehicle substructures transport the bulk of daily loads, tyres play a crucial role and this is more clearly appreciated if they ever should fail. Tyre punctures and related accidents on heavyduty vehicles cause lengthy interruptions in the entire logistics chain. Vehicle downtimes cost time and money, and they also have negative effects on the environment, due to waiting vehicles and ships, detours and the extra transport necessitated. Tyre failures in ports are not rare: among other things, incorrect tyre pressures, oil and chemicals frequently cause tyre damage. These substances not only make the ground slippery, resulting in restricted manoeuvrability and braking performance, but can also alter the characteristic features of the tyre. The result is cracking and a porous tread compound. The tyre can become soft and even disintegrate. With incorrect tyre pressure, the carcass can become damaged and lose its stability. Lower- or higher-than-recommended tyre pressure results in uneven wear and thus lower mileage. In summary, these factors are a threat to safe and reliable vehicle operation. Port fleet-managers often struggle with other challenges that go much deeper. The crux of the matter is that many of the tyres used on harbour vehicles are simply not designed for the hard-working conditions found in such environments. The ground is highly abrasive and there are often potholes, bumps and foreign objects, all of which have a major impact on a tyre’s durability. As a result, only a fraction of the tyres used on harbour vehicles reach the end of their projected service life, irrespective of whether they are used on huge rubber-tyred gantry (RTG) cranes or on smaller forklifts.

Fleet managers’ high demands

All these aspects make tyres one of the most critical success factors for any logistic business within a harbour. Due to the high potential costs associated with tyre failure and underperformance, reliability in a variety of changing conditions, high operating safety and efficiency have always been priorities that fleet managers demand from the tyre industry. For harbour fleets, the main consideration is fuel cost, with tyre replacement cost in second place. However, 20% of a vehicle’s fuel consumption originates in the rolling resistance of its tyres. The right tyres can reduce operating costs by up to 10%, underlining again their crucial role in efficient harbour operations. But what do fleet managers need to consider when choosing between the comprehensive varieties of tyres on the market? For the optimal choice of tyre, fleet managers first need to differentiate between each vehicle type and its operational area. For example, gantry cranes often turn on the spot under high load which puts tremendous stress on tyres, resulting in frequent punctures. An exceptionally robust tyre construction that reduces wear, casing damage and tread stress-cracking is needed here. On the other hand, reach stackers and forklifts have a high risk of overturning: they are exposed to various loads, frequently heavy, as well as uneven surfaces, which can have a dramatic impact on the vehicles’ balance from lateral movements up to subversions.

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