Wheely-Safe is a British technology company founded with the goal to revolutionise wheel and tyre security through the development of simple, low cost and effective systems to prevent, initially, wheel loss from buses, coaches, trucks and trailers. Interview with Gary Thomas, Group Director at Wheely-Safe. Easy Engineering: A brief description of the company and its activities. Gary Thomas: After three decades working in the industry, I had seen more than my fair share of wheel-loss accidents. One case involved a torque wrench which had fallen out of calibration. The engineer at the time thought that the wheel nuts were tight, but because the wrench wasn’t working properly, they were loose. The driver took the vehicle out and the wheel came off down the road. Reviewing all the safety systems on the market at the time, I realised that none could truly provide protection for such mechanical and human error. Something totally different was needed, and the problem needed to be looked at from a completely new perspective. That different perspective came from my old school friend Gary Broadfield – a former Director of Technology and serial inventor for Nokia. After lengthy discussion with Gary, I felt he would be the perfect business-partner, because of his uncanny ability to look at issues from outside ‘the fishbowl’ of traditional mechanical engineering. In fact, having invested serious time looking into the issue, Gary deduced that the way standard wheel rims attach to hubs was flawed. He firmly believes wheels would be less inclined to detach if they were secured with a single central nut – much like on Formula One cars. But changing the design of every wheel on the road isn’t a reality. Instead, we jointly set out to develop a safety product that would eliminate the threat of wheel loss once and for all. Product Shoot of ‘Wheely Safe’ product. Existing solutions on the market such as brightly coloured indicator tags only detect potential wheel loss situations on stationary vehicles during a driver’s walkaround inspections; but wheels don’t detach when a vehicle is parked, and wheel nuts only start to loosen once a vehicle is underway. E.E: What are the main areas of activity of the company? G.T: We were determined to find the answer, and this has become our absolute focus. For the first few years we concentrated on developing a solution, testing prototypes and obtaining global patent protection. After nearly a decade refining and miniaturising the original concept – as well as securing a series of complex, global patents – the first-generation product was launched onto the market at the end of 2018. During its development, we added extra features including an intelligent tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) to monitor for tyre under-inflation, fast leakage and internal air temperature, and also an on-board heat sensor that, due to its location next to the wheel rim and braking mechanism, could detect brake or hub issues involving low or high temperatures. E.E: What’s the news about new products? G.T: In just a short time, Wheely-Safe has developed a proven solution to a longstanding road safety issue which had previously remained unsolved for generations. And its potential for fitment to vehicles internationally is huge. Right now, we have Wheely-Safe firmly established in the UK market, but we are actively working to develop future franchises with established local distribution partners, with an initial focus on appointing partners in key markets within Australasia, Europe and North America. We are getting regular enquiries from international fleets which want to fit our sensor technology, as they’ve seen the success our products have had with transport companies in the UK. Our business is poised to expand rapidly this year, and we’re confident the franchise model is our most effective route to market on a global scale.” E.E: What are the ranges of products? G.T: The latest generation systems are already fitted to thousands of vehicles in the UK, across fleets of all sizes, including buses, coaches, trucks and trailers. Plus, we offer an intelligent TPMS-only product for light commercial vehicles too. E.E: At what stage is the market where you are currently active? G.T: Whilst initially the focus has been on engineering kits to fit most commercial vehicles on our roads, looking ahead, we have other sectors firmly in our sights too. Indeed, wheel loss brackets to fit earthmoving, agricultural and industrial sectors are currently being developed. Put simply, any vehicle or wheeled machine has the potential to benefit from Wheely-Safe. E.E: What can you tell us about market trends? G.T: Everywhere we go, when we demonstrate our products to fleet operators, the response seems to be ‘no brainer’. I don’t think we’ve had any negative responses. The only issue we occasionally get is that some firms seem to think by using a product like ours it questions the quality of their maintenance. But that’s not the case at all. We are just offering protection against those scenarios that you have no control over. The interest internationally is massive, and that’s why the plans to adopt a franchisee approach to cater for global demand is so important. I am getting emails every single day from companies who want to buy the product from abroad. Only this week we’ve been talking to a fleet in Reykjavik! E.E: What are the most innovative products marketed? G.T: With Wheely-Safe, our range is straightforward, but the level of innovation built into every single one of our products is huge. Right from the outset, we were determined to make the technology simple enough for everyone to use, and we’re confident we’ve achieved that. The set-up of our wheel-loss system is simple. Robust sensors fit to a bracket that straddles two-wheel nuts. If a nut starts to loosen, a signal is instantly transmitted to the in-cab display unit, alerting the driver of the problem. When connected to the vehicle’s telematics system, alerts can also be sent to the transport office. Product Shoot of ‘Wheely Safe’ product. This means that a driver receives an alert the instant a potential wheel loss issue is detected – no matter what speed they are travelling, or in what weather conditions – allowing them to pull over safely. Factor in the other alerts we can provide too – such as warnings for brake and hub overheating, tyre underinflation, rapid pressure loss or high tyre temperatures, and there’s nothing else like it on the market. E.E: What estimations do you have for 2023? G.T: Some operators have said to me ‘we’ve never had a wheel loss before’. That may well be the case, but they’ve been very lucky because there are so many variants involved with keeping the wheel on and so many variants that can cause the wheel to come off. My response is always the same, ‘why do you fit a fire alarm in your house if you haven’t had a fire before?’ The potential market for us is huge. We genuinely don’t see any reason why our sensor technology can’t be fitted all over the world. We know that if it is, our roads will become a whole lot safer.