3D Printed Tires? It’s All Part of Michelin’s Plan

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Tires aren’t exactly the most exciting part of your car and it may not seem like they’re especially high-tech, but there’s a lot more than you think that goes into designing a good set of tires. Today, there are complex rubber compounds for all kinds of driving conditions. Many people opt for all-season tires because they don’t want to have stacks of tires in the garage, but Michelin sees a time when it may be as simple as printing out a new tire tread.

At the Movin’ On with Michelin conference in Montreal, the big news was the Uptis airless tire. No air means no more flats or dangerous blow outs and it means no more worries of uneven wear due to improper inflation. The Uptis is a prototype today, but Michelin plans to put it into production by 2024.

An airless tire means you get back your precious time, which would otherwise be spent sitting and waiting for a new set of tires to be installed. You also save the cost of those tires. The environment wins, too, because this will reduce the roughly 200 million tires that are scrapped every year due to inflation issues.

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Eric Vinesse, Michelin’s executive vice president of research and development, said the Uptis isn’t the endgame, but rather another step in the evolution of tire technology. One of the next steps is 3D printing. He’s not just talking about 3D printing a tire when it’s time for a new one, but 3D printing a new tread as needed.

Those who live in sunny climates where snow isn’t an issue don’t usually have to face winter roads. They don’t have to deal with the annual tire swap that happens every fall when temperatures get cold enough to make winter tires a safer choice.
The rest of us break out the winter tires from storage and schedule a time to make the switch.

Sure, there are all-season tires out there, but the best tire for cold weather is a winter tire. Unfortunately, it’s not practical for everyone to store a full set of tires over the summer and it’s not always financially possible to make the purchase in the first place. The introduction of 3D tire treads could help solve those problems.

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Vinesse sees it as a solution not just for those who live where it’s cold, but even for those who might make the occasional cold-weather road trip. “You want to go skiing on the weekend, you get a new winter tread printed before you go,” he said.

There’s still development that needs to happen to make that vision a reality. “Today, there’s no 3D printing of rubber materials,” Vinesse said. “We’re very active in metal 3D printing where are strengths are and rubber is quite some way down the road.”

You won’t be seeing 3D printed tire treads tomorrow, but it’s just a matter of time. “It doesn’t seem impossible. We feel Uptis is opening the first steps towards that. We can imagine removing the tread once it’s worn and putting on a new one.”

Airless tires today, 3D printed tires tomorrow. The future of tires is a high-tech one that will save money and time and have a reduced environmental impact.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin

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