German company Erlau celebrates 70 years since the first chain link designed for tyre protection
A small drawing registered by Erlau
in 1943 marks a pivotal moment in the history of bulk materials handling. At that time mining methods were changing as the lumbering steam shovels, rope-operated excavators and horse-drawn rail tubs, which had themselves superseded the pick and shovel, were being replaced by wheeled, hydraulic loading shovels and tipper-bodied trucks.
Based on the technology recently developed for agricultural tractors, these new and highly-manoeuvrable multi-tasking machines were already being used in operations such as sand and gravel extraction.
Over the decades the loaders have become larger, more sophisticated and standard equipment on many sites.
Initially, because pneumatic tyres were easily damaged by abrasive or sharp materials, hard rock miners found that due to unacceptably high tyre replacement costs, they were denied the advantages of their soft-rock cousins.
With new compounds and steel cords, tyre technology advanced to accommodate ever-larger machines, but the inherent flexibility of the tyres continued to make them vulnerable to harsh conditions.
Already well-known for its round-link industrial chains, German company Erlau was inspired to adapt its snow-chains to overcome the problem of premature tyre loss from heavy abrasion and sidewall damage: thus were born the first, albeit crude, tyre protection chains (TPCs).
According to the company, which was founded in 1828 in Aalen, Swabia, 70km east of Stuttgart, Patent Application, 04.01.1943, describes the very first chain link designed for tyre protection.
As with all innovations, Erlau’s tyre protection chains took time to perfect.
The company’s research and development worked closely with the users of its tyre protection chains to overcome the challenges of geology, environment and machine applications, and over 500 patents followed, registering refinements in link design, mesh geometry and advanced metallurgy.
Once tyre protection chains were established as a cost-effective solution for mining loaders, other applications quickly followed.
Today, after celebrating 70 years of tyre protection at the recent bauma construction equipment show in Munich, Germany, Erlau TPC offers TPCs made from lightweight, energy-efficient, cost-effective alloys that are tough enough to absorb the most aggressive attrition and strong enough to repel sidewall piercing flints and slate.
“Nowadays, when Erlau TPCs can extend the working life of tyres by as much as ten times and bring operators the added bonuses of assured plant availability and greatly reduced costs per loaded tonne, many owners are fitting Erlau chains to their wheeled loaders, from the smallest to the industrial giants,” says the company.
“Erlau has been rewarded with over 65% of the world tyre protection market but this success has not made the company complacent.
“Ongoing investment in state-of-the-art production and assembly facilities [three in Europe and one in South America] enables Erlau TPC to promptly fulfil large, whole-mine orders while the R&D department continues to create components that speed TPC installation and provide comprehensive protection for wheeled loaders, dozers, graders, scrapers, pipelayers and haul trucks.”
As well as mining and quarrying, Erlau tyre protection and traction chains can also be found protecting tyres in tunnelling, pipelaying, scrap metal handling, demolition, steel-making, forestry and the military.
Erlau is a subsidiary company of the family-owned RUD
Group, which was also founded in Aalen in 1875, and now has over 1,500 employees in over 120 countries. It achieves annual sales of more than €170 million.
It has also been officially selected as a Hidden Champion of the 21st Century and a Top 100 Innovator. Hidden champions are usually small and medium enterprises (SME) producing inconspicuous products, but in the market for these products they are ranked top in the world. They export most of their products, contributing to the current account of their countries.
Among its products are Terraplus, a lightweight traction chain with toothed links that give extra bite and safe travel over soft ground and ice-covered site roads, and Easylock, which is designed to make TPC installation and removal fast, safe and economical.
In a departure from its chain technology, Erlau’s Sideflex adapts sophisticated memory polymers for “cost-effective sidewall protection for haul truck tyres,” while embedded within a TPC’s sidewall, the Erlau Smartlink RFID records and shares a TPC’s service life.
“By making possible the widespread use of pneumatic-tyred loaders and trucks in mining and quarrying, this first link, which evolved into the ubiquitous accessory we see today, revolutionised materials handling across the entire spectrum of heavy-side industries,” says Erlau.