Groupe Michelin is looking to plastics to take the air out of its global tire business.
With its concept tire and wheel combination - called the ``tweel'' - the French tire giant is showing how it wants to manipulate polyurethane and other plastics to replace the industry standard.
``Major revolutions in mobility may come along only once in a hundred years,'' said Terry Gettys, president of Michelin Americas Research and Development Center in Greenville, S.C.
``Tweel enables us to reach levels of performance that quite simply aren't possible with today's conventional technology,'' Gettys said at the concept's debut Jan. 9 during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
A typical tire and wheel assembly has a steel core supporting a pneumatic, air-filled rubber tire. By comparison, a tweel resembles a wagon wheel, Gettys said. A hard thermoset PU inner core takes the place of the steel, while flexible PU spokes radiate out from the center to an outer edge, which retains a typical rubber outer tread.
Michelin has considered various plastics, all with elastomer content, said engineer Bart Thompson. For now it is concentrating on PU.
The tweel has piqued the interest of the military, since it would stand up to punishment even in combat zones.
So far, the tweel has limited commercial applications. The iBot motorized wheelchair from inventor Dean Kamen will begin using a tweel soon. Kamen, inventor of the Segway electric scooter, also has put the tweel on his concept Centaur, a four-wheel, off-road version of the Segway.
Michelin thinks the tweel's next commercial applications could be construction equipment and military vehicles. Gettys said a full application for passenger cars will take another 10-15 years.