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News . 3D Printing

10 Aug 2017

Current car tyres are pretty cumbersome and they are prone to punctures and wearing out. Replacing them costs motorists billions each year, and disposing of used tyres is a major environmental headache. Until now, that is. Tyre company Michelin has addressed pretty much all these issues at once with its revolutionary (in both senses!) VISION concept tyre. A tyre that’s airless, biodegradable and 3D-printed. Ready to burn some rubber?

Michelin’s 3D printing approach could mean that additive manufacturing entirely replaces more traditional (and wasteful) mould-based manufacturing techniques.

Tyres with worn tread mean reduced control of the vehicle, less certain road handling, and less efficient braking. To solve this, Michelin proposes its ‘Print&Go’ system – using 3D printing in special roadside stations to add exactly the right amount of tread to tyres, or to convert summer tyres to winter tyres. If snow or ice is forecast, at the push of a button you can have the correct type of tyre on your car without having to turn a single wheel nut.

This will not only make driving safer, but give tyres a longer life – meaning fewer of them to be disposed of. When your VISION tyres do eventually reach the end of their natural life, there’s more good news. That’s because ‘natural’ is the important word here: Michelin used ‘bio-sourced’ ingredients to develop their new tyre, including bamboo, paper and molasses (so we’re anticipating that they’ll really stick to the road). Biodegradable tyres would be a radical step forwards – over 300 million conventional rubber tyres are currently discarded in the USA alone each year.

Using 3D printing has enabled Michelin to introduce another important innovation. Additive manufacturing allows the complex architecture within the VISION tyre to support the vehicle without the need for air. It’s the kind of intricate geometry that would be impossible to create without recourse to 3D printing.

Michelin refers to the internal design as being based on an alveolar structure, that is, inspired by the system of small air sacs in our lungs. This breath-taking use of technology to create airless, biodegradable, rechargeable tyres means we may all be able to breathe a little more easily in future – in tricky driving conditions, and everywhere on our planet.

Not content with making tyres in a smarter way, Michelin will also make the tyres themselves smarter. They will be fitted with sensors to allow the driver to monitor their performance via an app. In other words, a tyre that lets you know when it’s tread is getting low, and can then be recharged – or even repurposed – at the press of a button.

Michelin is confident that the VISION is not merely a concept, but a practical demonstration of tyres that will be on the market in the relatively near future. The company claims to be working on real-world applications of the technologies involved in creating the VISION tyre.

The Michelin Man is one of the world’s most recognised trademarks and now, in the shape of 3D printed tyres, we may be recognising the future of an industry which still has a great deal riding on it. Additive manufacturing is clearly on a roll.