Michelin's 3D-Printed Tyres Coming to a Future Near You

Posted by: Lydia on 15/11/2017

Category: General


Tyres have gone through their own quiet revolution in recent years and decades. Not only have design and styles changed, but the materials and creation process to deliver a set of four rubbers have changed as well. While progress has been great so far, there are clear signs that the biggest leaps forward are still to come.

French manufacturer Michelin has recently revealed a prototype for a remarkable new tyre. Not only will it be airless, but it will also be far stronger than a regular tyre. Better yet, it will be made from green materials, meaning it’s a win-win for autos and the environment around the globe. Here’s a closer look at this prototype and what it means for the car world as a whole.

The 3D advantage

Michelin’s goal to produce tyres via 3D printing signifies a big step forward for tyres. While electric engines have quickly provided the market with a green option for the technology under the bonnet, the way in which tyres are constructed has made the transition to sustainable materials a more difficult challenge.

With 3D printing changing the way in which tyres are produced, over time this process could deliver a more environmentally-efficient construction process. Beyond this, it would also allow tyre manufacturers to use a greater variety of natural materials such as orange zest. The benefits here would be two-fold: to deliver a cleaner construction, and a greener tyre overall.

The digitisation of tyres

This new announcement is also exciting for what it signals about tyre technology. With Michelin joining other tyre manufacturers and car clubs that have announced their ambition to change the way tyres operate with cars, it’s expected we’ll soon have more interactive tyres.

The exact way in which this interactivity will work is still being implemented, but soon your dashboard could display not only your fuel levels, but also your tyre pressure and tyre wear.
Alongside this, your tyres could interact with your dashboard and your other tyres too.

If one of your tyres suddenly deflates or sustains damage, there could be the potential for the other tyres to expand, increase their traction, and institute other measures to ensure your car can come to a stop safely without skidding.

The challenge of safe but sustainable tyres

While the tyre of tomorrow could deliver some great new safety features, it will also come with its own new challenges. Building a tyre with sustainable materials will be environmentally friendly, but it does pose a difficult question: “How can you build a tyre that is strong enough to last for years on a car, but green enough to biodegrade once worn out?”

While the current tyres we have on our roads will need to become greener over time, for the moment, because they don’t degrade in a natural environment, they’re completely safe to use on the road. While this challenge isn’t small, it's safe to say Michelin knows a little something about tyres, having sold over 187 million since 1889. Accordingly, finding a way to create a tyre that delivers the best of both worlds represents a key stepping stone between now and the new 3D tyre’s release.

The AI vs. human factor

Michelin’s tyre plans also show another big change is underway in tyre manufacturing. Soon we may also see a difference in the design of our regular cars and self-driving vehicles. While self-driving cars continue to have ongoing kinks and tweaks that need to be worked out, the AI behind them means that tyre wear and tear will no longer depend on the individual driver.

While it’s well-known that any driver roaring off at traffic lights or doing hard braking will wear their tyres out fast, it’s also a reality that even the best drivers still have some unique (read: bad) habits that can wear out their tyres. With this in mind, it may take a little longer upon Michelin’s release of a tyre for the self-driving car to make its way to the wheels in your driveway as well.    

Print your own tyre repairs

For all the challenges and potential of 3D-printed tyres, surely the possibility of making tow trucks a relic of the past has to be the most exciting. We’ve all encountered a flat tyre at times, and if you’re really unlucky, more than one, meaning that the single spare in your boot won’t get you back on the road.

With 3D printing set to not only be used more in business, but in our own homes in the future as well, we can look forward to more interactive tyres, as well as an easier repair process. For all the hard work that needs to happen in the coming years to make this new tyre technology a reality, it's clear that once it's ready for market, our whole driving experience will change.

More so than perhaps any other industry, the world of cars is all about revolution. Each year, there’s always a faster speed to chase, a new piece of tech to add, and even a new way to power vehicles, as electric and hybrid cars continue to change the way our engines run. This - as well as many new vehicles and retro revivals - are making this a hugely exciting time for new and veteran motorists alike.

With the pace and scale of change seen under the bonnet and across the dashboard, it’s no surprise tyres are also set to experience great changes in design, construction, and use. Sure, we may not see 3D-printed tyres tomorrow, but they’re surely not too far away. The months and years ahead promise to be full of innovation and excitement for car fans.

What other auto innovations are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below.

Image: Pixabay