3-D printing creates the company’s tire of the future.
The future of tire construction is due for a change, if Michelin’s new Vision concept tire is any indication.
The company held the world debut of the Vision at the Michelin Movin’On sustainable mobility summit in Montreal in June. The concept tire is airless, made from bio-sourced and recyclable materials, and is created on a 3-D printer.
“It’s an example of the vision of the company,” said Jean-Dominique Senard, President and CEO of Michelin. “We always have this innovation mindset, but we want to be realistic, and this expresses exactly that. With the 3-D printing, the biomaterial, the recyclable material, it’s the circular economy.”
Builds on the Tweel
The Vision’s one-piece basic construction is based on that of the Tweel, which Michelin introduced as an airless tire concept in 2005, and which is now available commercially for lawn mowers, golf carts, and skid-steer loaders. But while the Tweel uses several pairs of integrated spokes to support the tread layer, the Vision wheel has five spokes made of an interconnected weave, with the tread 3-D printed on the outside.
The tread can be reapplied when it wears down, using the same printer technology, or printed with winter tread and compound for a fast switch to a winter tire, even for a last-minute trip to a snowy destination.
Using 3-D printing was not an unusual choice, Senard said, because the company already works with the technology. It has a joint venture for 3-D metal printing, which it uses to create moulds for high-performance tires.
“We are a company that is incredibly specialized and knowledgeable in raw materials and the transformation of raw materials,” Senard said. “We understand the physics and chemicals to do this.” Because the tire is printed, rather than formed in a mould, it can be built to any size or design on the same machine.
Recycled and recyclable
The Vision tire has the potential to be made from a wide range of materials, and the display included cardboard, hay, bamboo, orange zest, molasses, plastic and electronic waste, and paper. The tire would, in turn, be recyclable at the end of its life.
The woven alveolar structure is strong enough to support the tire, which cannot blow out. Michelin said the design is based on advanced modelling and is solid in the centre, but flexible on the outside.
Makes its own appointments
The tire is also “connected” through internal sensors. It is able to monitor its condition in real time, and when it determines that it needs new tread or other maintenance, or even different tread for road conditions, it can communicate through a mobile app and even send an appointment request to the dealer.
The Vision project was launched in 2016, with input from panels of global consumers. Michelin said it is planned as a consumer product, and will be aimed as a passenger tire, not a commercial one.
Senard said it took several years for the Tweel to come to market because the company wanted to ensure that it was affordable and made sense for consumers. While an exact date wasn’t given, he suggested that the Vision could take less time than the Tweel to become reality. Innovation moves faster now than it did when the Tweel debuted, and “things that could take 10 years some time ago might take three or four years now,” Senard said.