Tire Technology Vs. Track for Compaction Fighting
Since tracks were introduced to agriculture, their makers have commonly claimed reduced compaction and enhanced traction compared to wheeled equipment. In recent years, tire technology has come a long way in leveling the playing field in both regards.
"When we look back at agriculture post World War II and even Korea, many tractors were on steel tracks for the traction they offered," said Michael Vandel, marketing segment manager, Michelin North America Agricultural Tires. "Wheeled equipment was introduced to try and match the traction offered by those tracked machines with new and bigger tires."
The smoother rides and ability to drive wheeled machines on roads, combined with the improved traction, pushed track equipment to the side of the field. In recent years, track tractors have made a comeback, with improved suspension and rubber cleats replacing steel and reducing the need for transport between fields.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELIN NORTH AMERICA AGRICULTURAL TIRESTire companies have increased the size, width and load carrying capacity of agricultural tires. This was done to increase the tire’s footprint and spread out the load while allowing them to maintain traction. Although traction with track vehicles no longer offered a significant advantage over wheeled equipment, tracks' impact on soil compaction did. Spreading out the weight of the tractor and its load over a longer footprint became a major competitive feature as researchers identified yield loss due to compaction.
"Tracks have made a comeback in some markets," noted Vandel. "Growers in those markets have moved from bias tires straight to tracks."
In response to grower concerns, tire companies introduced competitive technology. Size, width and load carrying capacity have all increased significantly to increase the footprint and spread out the load while maintaining traction.
"The longer the footprint, the less the compaction and the more traction you'll have," said Vandel.
However, he pointed out that footprint alone can be deceiving."While the result may be only six psi across the total footprint, the pressure actually increases at the drive wheels and bogey wheels."
Vandel compared that with properly designed new radial tires like those with Michelin Ultraflex technologies. How well the casing deflects and spreads the footprint determines how much pressure is on the footprint. He noted that the industry has reached the point with some tires where one psi in the tire equals one psi on the ground, consistent across the footprint. He points to Michelin AxioBibs as having that 1:1 ratio.
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