Automobile News, Opinion

Tweel: An airless tire by Michelin

Tires play an important role in the overall performance, stability, durability of the vehicle and their response in various conditions make them typical in itself. Whether you have a scooter, a motorcycle, a car or even a truck, along with fuel you also need to go to air filling stations for maintaining the tire pressures. When we go for long rides, we usually do a visual check of the vehicle and tire pressures are definitely monitored. What if I say, that in future you might not have go to air filling stations or check your tire pressures. Yes, I am talking about airless tires which are developed by French Tire Company “Michelin“.

These tires are now a reality and Michelin has taken them into the production stage. We will be going through the development of tires in automotive industry and then go for knowing more about “Tweel“. Tires play an important role in the overall performance, stability, durability and safety of the vehicle and their response in various conditions make them typical in itself.

The first tires in the industry were having bands of leather, steel and then the wooden wheels came into existence. However it was the pneumatic tires made of rubber which took the vehicle performance and stability to higher levels. The rubber tires started getting implemented everywhere from light weight vehicles to heavy weight trucks. The basic parts of a tire carcass include treads, bead, sidewall, shoulder, plies and rims are associated with them to form a functional wheel. Based on their construction, they are divided into bias, belted bias and radial tires. One more thing added to this category is the “Airless Tire“.

Michelin Tweel airless tire
Tweel: An airless tire (Source: www.michelintweel.com)

Design of Tweel

Tweel is an airless design proposed by Michelin and they have started their first production. Unlike pneumatic tires, this will not be having any compressed air and thus it cannot burst no leakage and cannot become flat. It is supported to the rim with the help of polyurethane spokes. These spokes will perform the role of compressed air i.e absorbing the shock. Tweel on getting loaded or even during obstacles will try to get the shape of the obstacle beneath it and then try to overcome it. Tweel can be described as rubber sandwiched between steel. The stiffness of these tires is directional i.e they can have high vertical stiffness and smaller lateral stiffness. In case of a heavy loader which has lower speeds but for its higher weight carrying capacity, the vertical stiffness can be kept higher and lateral stiffness can be lowered. However in pneumatic tires this parameter does not provide such flexibility. The treads can be grooved similar to the existing pneumatic tires. The overall result is a deformable and non-pneumatic mobility solution.

Michelin Tweel airless tires
Compression of Spokes in Tweel (Source: www.michelintweel.com)

Benefits and Drawbacks of Tweel

Tweel is one single unit, replacing the current tire-wheel assembly. Once they are bolted on, there is no air pressure to maintain, and the common problem of unseated beads is completely eliminated. Tweel performs like a pneumatic tire, but without the risk and costly downtime associated with flat tires and unseated beads. The variation in stiffness will help in achieving high performance in suitable targets. Unlike radial tires, the treads around the tire if worn out can be replaced by a new one. This reduces impact on the environment. Michelin expects the tread’s life to be two to three times as that of conventional tires. They have shown good signs in off-roaders and also in military applications. However, as of today the prototypes for cars are under development and their success in other automotive applications will enhance their growth and demand. The initial prototypes were reported with problems of noise and vibration. They have been successfully solved in the next prototypes.

 Tweel Products:

Based on the success of Tweel Michelin has come up with products like Tweel Terrain, Tweel Turf and Tweel Hard Surface. Tweel Terrain has been designed for skid steer loaders on a wide range of surfaces. Tweel Turf is available exclusively for John Deere Z-Trak Series Movers.  Even NASA has contacted Michelin to develop a Tweel like tire for next generation lunar Rover and hey have come up with AB Scarab Wheels. So presently, Tweel is getting its presence in agriculture, loaders and military vehicles and in future they have a great chance of getting implemented in automotive vehicles as well. With products like Tweel coming into existence, we can even imagine more innovative technologies in the automotive industry in coming times.

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This is Gopal Singh Rathore. I have done my B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from VIT University, Vellore. I am an auto enthusiast and remain curious to learn about automobiles. I have participated in BAJA SAE INDIA in 2012 and 2013 where I was involved in a team from my college for making an off-road vehicle. I was in the suspension department of the team. I love writing about automobiles and is always curious to learn about them at anytime.