Of all the components on a commercial vehicle, tyres are one of the more critical items as their reliability affects not only the vehicle’s performance, but its safety as well. National heavy duty transporter Jabula Plant Hire is keenly aware of this and, for this reason, takes proactive steps to make sure that tyre life and performance are maximised.
Founded in 1995, Jabula Plant Hire has grown to be one of South Africa’s top five earthmoving and mining commodity logistics companies, on the strength of its innovative solutions and superior service. While a large part of its operations are in contract mining services, the company also helps keep South Africa’s lights on by transporting coal from the mines to the various power stations they supply.
Jabula’s head office is in Heidelberg with branches at Rietspruit, Bethal, Witbank and Leandra. At the Leandra site, Danie Els is Maintenance Manager.
“In this business, reliability is the key. To ensure unfailing reliability, we purchase new vehicles only and our trucks are replaced every three years. Similarly, when it comes to tyres, we insist that all of our 153 heavy transport vehicles and 70 earth-moving machines have their tyres inflated with nitrogen (N2),” Els explains.
Jabula has been filling its transportation and earth-moving vehicles with N2 from N2 generator supplier NitraLife since 2008.
NitraLife launched its business in 1996, and was very much a pioneer in the field of N2 tyre inflation locally; as well as being the first supplier of generators for N2 tyre inflation to the commercial transportation sector.
Jabula purchased its first NitraLife N2 generator in 2008, which was installed at the company’s Rietspruit site. Eight years later, in 2016, the company opened its Leandra depot and almost immediately installed another NitraLife generator at this site.
N2 tyre inflation brings many advantages says Els, explaining that it prevents premature tyre failures, eliminating tyre bursts and tread separation among many other things.
NitraLife’s Operations Manager Twayne Stewart explains that since its founding in 1996, NitraLife has established that transportation sector companies can save between 5 – 30 % on their tyre costs - depending on fleet and load size, and distances travelled.
“N2 escapes through tyre walls four times more slowly than oxygen (O2) and 117 times more slowly than water vapour. For this reason, N2-inflated tyres hold consistent pressure for far longer,” Stewart explains.
“If tyres are under-inflated, they tend to flex and overheat - the heat build-up being a major cause of premature tyre failures,” he observes, adding that this becomes even more important if the tyres are under a heavy load and have to cover long distances.
Air contains O2 and water vapour, two compounds which – over time – degrade tyre rubber. Once air is pumped into a tyre, water vapour is concentrated inside the casing and along with the action of O2, 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.
By replacing these compounds with high-purity N2, tyre casings are preserved and can be retreaded many more times than their air-filled counterparts. Also, stronger, longer-lasting casings mean a minimal rate of premature tyre failures.
Over the working lives of tyres, fine particles of rubber separate from the inside of the casing, creating rubber dust. When mixed with O2, this carbon-rich dust forms a highly combustible mix. Should the tyre be exposed to very high levels of heat - caused, for example, by binding brakes or a failing wheel bearing - the results could be potentially disastrous, particularly if the vehicle is transporting a load such as coal.
“Since we have used N2 tyre inflation, we have never had a tyre fire,” says Els. “Now, whenever we buy a new vehicle or earthmover, we immediately deflate their tyres and re-fill them with N2.”