How The World Went Round- Tradecycle
The great American thinker George Carlin once surmised that homes were basically landing points for our stuff, i.e. “a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
As with just about everything, he was right. So much of life is not only about the acquiring, keeping and maintenance of stuff, but its movement therein—and that’s how it’s been since folks lived in caves.
Of course, these days, everything we have, desire and covet, at some point, finds itself riding on a truck. And every truck rides on tires, its very round and rubbery feet, if you will; the very things that make trucks possible. But what makes tires possible?
The invention of the wheel is the single most significant development in commerce, placing just ahead of sexy mud flaps. As archaeologists and viewers of The Flintstones are aware, the first wheels date back 15,000 to 750,000 years and were likely logs. After that came the first crafted, solid wheels made of wood and stone, followed soon after by the first household pet never to make it home.
The Egyptians are credited with coming up with spoked wheels (2000 B.C.) and the Celts with the first iron rim wheels in 1000 B.C. After that, things remained pretty much the same for a long, long time. Consider that the pioneers who settled the American West did so transporting their stuff in covered wagons running on steel rimmed, spoked wooden wagon wheels that were slow and unreliable and provided a horribly uncomfortable ride, but on the plus side, look great on the wall of a steak restaurant.
That’s where things pretty much remained until André and Édouard Michelin thought it’d be a good idea to put rubber tires on automobiles, and the B.F. Goodrich Co. invented longer lasting car tires by adding carbon to the rubber.
About 40 percent of a modern tire is made of natural rubber. Actually, a tire has more than 200 components made up of such things as steel, polyester, fabric and synthetic rubber.
Natural rubber makes its way to U.S. manufacturers from Asia, the major exporters being Thailand, Malaysia and India. Its No. 1 U.S. port of entry is the Port of New Orleans, which moved 224,000 tons of rubber in the first eight months of 2013, a 4 percent increase from 2012.
Ports America, the largest terminal operator in the U.S. (working out of 42 ports), handles nearly all of the imported natural rubber at the Port of New Orleans, storing it in warehouses until manufacturers require it. Eight percent of rubber leaves the port via trucks bound for manufacturers in such hubs as Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.
Truck tires are not only distinguished from passenger tires by their rugged construction—a typical commercial truck tire may contain more than 40 pounds of steel components—but by their ability to withstand withering conditions that not only include, of course, extreme weight but extreme heat. In some conditions, tire temps can rise to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Speaking of heat, tires have been at the hub of the U.S.’s prickly trade relationship with China as well as its own political tiffs. To counter a surge in Chinese imports, the Obama Administration imposed a tariff on Chinese tires that, it said, ended up saving more than 1,000 U.S. jobs in the tire industry. Others have been dubious of the number, arguing that the jobs saved were negligible.
Truck tires are categorized by vehicle position: steering, drive axle and trailer. Each type is designed with the reinforcements, material compounds and tread patterns to optimize performance. A relatively new concept in truck tires is the use of the wide singles. In the usual dual configuration, there are two tires per position, each between 275-295 mm wide. The wide or “super” singles replace these with a single tire, usually 455 mm wide, allowing for less tread to be contacting the ground. This means a weight savings of about 200 pounds per axle, thus improving fuel economy.
Discarded tires represent a headache in disposal. They are undesirable in landfills in their manufactured state since they not only take up a lot of space but they also trap methane gases that can damage landfill lines designed to keep contaminants from polluting local surface and groundwater.
Fortunately, recycling and repurposing possibilities abound for the tire. Everything from tire swings to tires that football players run through, pass through and beat on. Also, shredded tires are used in field turf, playground covering, moveable speed bumps and, ironically, they’re now utilized in landfills as a lightweight backfill in gas venting systems and operational liners.
Of course, all of this may soon seem as outdated as the log wheel. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ announcement that his company may soon be making deliveries via drones seems to suggest a Jetsonian world where tires are obsolete.
Bezos isn’t the only one talking drone-livery. The United Arab Emirates has announced it’s developing drones to deliver critical documents such as identification papers. Even more critical, Silicon Valley may give us its greatest innovation: drone tacos. A company called Tacocopter has announced its mission to soon deliver its sweet, sweet product via drones, a prospect that means the wheel may soon have serious competition for that No. 1 commerce-development ranking.
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