Is EDIWheel the answer to the tyre labelling question?
While the products sold in the tyre industry are undoubtedly high-tech, those working in the business are amongst the first to admit they are anything but computer technicians. So when people start talking about computational protocols such as EDIWheel, and waxing lyrical about how this evolution of the commonly know EDI standard, people’s eyes tend to glaze over. However with many of us still wondering how the tyre retail and distribution sectors are going to handle the administrative nightmare that 2012’s labelling law could bring with it, Tyres & Accessories asks if the EDIWheel standard can help solve the problem.
When the much ballyhooed labelling law comes into effect in less than six months time, tyre distributors will be obliged to provide the right European label (denoting rolling resistance, wet braking and sound characteristics) for each product sold. The label doesn’t actually have to be stuck to the tyre you are buying when you drive away, but this information does have to be accessible at the point of sale. With around 200 brands on the UK market and hundreds of fitment options, the numbers of stock keeping units must be in the tens of thousands.
So if you were to sell a tyre, which didn’t have a label physically on it in the depot, where would you get the labelling information from? Seven phonecalls and a fax later you could still be none the wiser. Alternatively, let’s imagine the scenario of fleet order of millions of pounds of tyres across hundreds of part numbers. Who is going to check that the customer has the right access to all the right labels? The obvious solution is to use computers. But where would you find all the most popular brands’ labelling information? That’s where EDIWheel can offer a helping hand.
Oliver O’Reilly, who works for Continental but is part of the EDIWheel quintet of specialists that have been liaising with manufacturers, distributors and software houses on behalf of the five sponsors of the standard with a view to successfully introducing a unified standard in the UK, told T&A that EDIWheel is all about offering unified solutions and “changing the way we work.”
“When I speak to a customer what I ask them is to put the technical issues to one side for the time being and explain that we are trying to take the business away from the human data input aspect and instead connecting systems so one computer can talk to another computer using the same standard,” which will improve, accuracy, speed and efficiency, while reducing costs.
However the EDIWheel standard is already something like 10 years old and is commonplace in key markets such as Germany. So why has the UK market taken so long to catch on? “EDI is already well established at the vehicle manufacturer level so it has always been easier tosend tyres to the OEMs. Despite this no single standard for linking computers making enquiries about tyres together existed.”
As a result a few key players from the manufacturing sector (the quintet of sponsors of the standard we mentioned earlier – Bridgestone, Michelin, Goodyear Dunlop, Continental and Pirelli) put their heads together to come up with a unified standard that would mean your computers could crack communication with one of the of the above and have to do little else to repeat the procedure with the other four companies’ systems. The idea was that these technical guys would come up with a straightforward solution that was flexible, extendable and compatible.
Tyre labelling applications
So, if you will excuse the pun, in order to avoid re-inventing the wheel, the process began by developing the protocol on the basis of compatible instructions that already exist in the EDIFact standard developed by the UN. Therefore the foundation of EDIWheel is actually a series of compatible EDIFact instructions that were immediately useful to the team developing the standard. However, things like stock enquiries and the ability to store tyre labelling didn’t exist, so they were added. The result is the tyre computer equivalent of a single European currency (if it is not stretching the image too far). Buyers are now able to order and make stock enquires from a number of suppliers (including some large wholesale businesses in addition to the top five premium tyre makers we have already heard about) without having to speak a different language each time.
Further developments to the standard, additional software developers and more suppliers are expected to join the EDIWheel fold. One example of the latest kind of application of the protocol is with invoicing. The EDIWheel standard already allows for EDIFact based invoicing routines, but in the future it will also allow for XML based invoices (XML = eXtensible Markup Language). This means that the software houses that produce the systems you use on the computers in your depot will be able to do increasingly complex things with invoices, enquiries and receipts.
The beauty of the fact that EDIWheel is a standard is that it is not dependent on any one system. True, if a large manufacturers’ server went belly up those trying to buy would have to attempt to do this by another route. However unlike large volume online systems like Google’s Gmail or Facebook which can get overrun with enquiries or worse still hacked from time to time, this system is all about linking buyers and suppliers directly, meaning if one went down another would be able to take its place. There is no central EDIWheel cloud. And therefore there can be no central EDIWheel downfall. Furthermore, data shared this way comes via the https protocol, meaning it is secure. If something catastrophic happens and one tyre supplier’s system goes down it has to be fixed as O’Reilly explains: “If our system falls over we have to fix it. Same for Pirelli, Bridgestone etc or CAM, MAM. However this is rare and being business critical the fix will have a top priority. However by using HTTPS, data on the move between buyer and supplier enjoys the routing robustness of the internet.”
When it comes to developing the software applications those in the business need to place their orders, check stock levels or whatever else, the UK’s leading tyre software development houses (including Cam Systems, MAM Software, Team Systems and Tyreman) have all invested in producing compatible solutions. According to Oliver O’Reilly, is not exactly open source – meaning its complete specifications are open to anyone free of charge – but the protocol is wide open to those that purchase a development licence. These are available for a one-time payment of between around 2500 euros and 1500 euros per software house depending on whether they wish to develop their products based on every command in the EDIWheel book or just selected options.
According to those behind EDIWheel’s introduction to the UK market, those with bespoke systems already connecting them with their suppliers by other means then have the option of utilising the systems other benefits. And tyre labelling data has to be at the forefront of this. What the tyre labelling feature allows connected systems to look up the labelling performance of any tyre of any EDIWheel manufacturer any time day or night, potentially answering the question raised by the 2012 legislation. This can then be printed and/or shown to the relevant customer meeting the legislative requirements. However, this obviously doesn’t work for manufacturers which haven’t adopted the EDIWheel standard and therefore there is still potential for confusion amongst those sourcing tyres by non-EDIWheel means.
So can EDIWheel comprehensively answer the labelling question in time for the 2012 deadline? Yes. The question of whether or not the system will, however, is entirely dependent the parties involved. Take-up is said to be progressing well, and there is no other single universal standard, but as is always the case, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.