Michelin reveals its tire for the future at Movin’On
At Movin’On 2017, the renamed Challenge Bibendum, Michelin introduced its Vision concept tire, which is airless, connected, rechargeable, customizable, and organic, and it incorporates both wheel and tire. The dream is within reach in the next 10-20 years, say key company executives, because the solution is a convergence of innovations already being explored by the Michelin Group’s R&D teams.
“We first challenged our researchers to 2050, and they said you can count on us to go faster than that,” said Terry Gettys, Michelin Executive Committee Group member and Executive Vice President of Research and Development, in unveiling the Vision concept at Movin’On. “It is a system solution of products and unprecedented services. It’s an airless tire made from completely recyclable materials. It’s inspired by nature, with a very light, efficient structure.”
“They project between 10 and 20 years, [although] it depends on their success in research projects,” revealed Gettys. “Some of the components will be ready earlier than that. The connectivity will arrive in 2 to 3 years. The most difficult will be the overall structure for the tire.”
Inspired by nature, the mobility solution includes services such as on-demand 3D printing for changing tread needs and is integrated into the framework of a circular economy embodied the Michelin Group’s vision of the sustainable mobility of the future.
The Vision is just the latest Michelin tire innovation aimed at future consumer and social needs, which started in recent years with the Energy tire it developed at the start of the vehicle electrification revolution in the 1990s.
“After 10 years of research, Michelin introduced its first (low-rolling-resistance) energy tire (for hybrids and electric vehicles) more than 20 years ago,” said Pete Selleck, Chairman and President of Michelin North America Inc., at Movin’On. “Rolling resistance is so important. 93% of the environmental impact of the tire occurs while it is in use due to rolling resistance. Since the first energy tire, Michelin has further improved rolling resistance by more than 25%."
Continued rolling-resistance reduction is a primary motivator in making tires more sustainable. “Michelin has committed to reduce by 20% the CO2 emissions of the tire due to its use by 2030,” added Claire Dorland Clauzel, Member of the Group Executive Committee, Director of Sustainable Development, Brands and External Relations, during Movin’On.
Autonomous & connected
The connected and autonomous vehicle revolution figures heavily into the company’s future strategy.
Michelin expects autonomous vehicle technology to develop rapidly, said Gettys. Company researchers and engineers are designing the Vision concept for future vehicles, “a significant part of the park could be autonomous vehicles. So what we are expecting there is that we will be able to optimize the tire much more for comfort and noise than for handling, because you no longer have a driver. You still [need] handling capability, grip, and rigidity to maintain stability of the vehicle, but you don’t have a driver and are no longer optimizing for steering feel and the pleasure of the linearity, which constrains us today. So we think we can shift the compromise much more for comfort and noise while still maintaining stability.”
“The more the vehicle is autonomous, the more the performance of the tire is important,” said Clauzel. “If you have no driver in the car, it’s very important for the vehicle to have all information. The unique object in contact with the road is the tire, so we know that incorporating sensors in the tire is going to help the autonomous vehicle. So for us, the autonomous vehicle is good news—and good news for technology.”
The system’s connectivity means that it will have lots of information about the customer experience, said Gettys, with the capability of knowing destination, climatic conditions, and driving style to be able to propose from the system an optimization of the tire for the experience.
For communication, Gettys admitted that Michelin engineers “are developing both direct (with sensors) and indirect methods. So the tire will be able to communicate on its condition—the amount of wear that is remaining, its potential for traction—and be able to inform the system if that going to be an adequate solution for the trip that’s planned, said Gettys.
Printed tread & bio-material construction
One concept component that “is especially unique and revolutionary for the tire industry, is the tread pattern,” said Gettys. “Its design and its material is ‘rechargeable’ through a process that’s available through an infrastructure (to be established), to rapidly reload the tread band to optimize the customer experience."
As an illustration, the company showed a video of a driver planning for a wintry mountain trip for which the remaining tire tread depth, type of rubber, and pattern was not ideal, so a 3D printed recharge was proposed.
“Today we are very advanced with lots of materials,” said Gettys of Michelin’s additive experience. “We have a 3D-printing startup with metallic components in what we call AddUp, a joint venture with Fives, and we are actually producing those machines.” The first examples will be on the market in March of 2018.
“With our experience with 3D printing, we think that can be rapidly adapted” to the technology needed for 3D printing thin tire treads. Regarding long-term durability of a 3D-printed tread, “we are confident that can be feasible in the 10- to 20-year range.”
Commercialization questions remain. “We don’t know how the [recharging] stations would be distributed. It could be in partnership with governments to put those in public/rest stop stations, or if it will be with our tire-distribution networks and have them at replacement market dealerships. That is all a concept to be evaluated.
“We think the cost will be very efficient, because the tread is intended to be very thin; you will only be adding a few millimeters of tread,” said Gettys. Because of the construction of porous tread support, “water will penetrate the matrix structure, so as a result you can be very frugal about the amount of rubber that you actually need to drive on, and the biodegradable materials will be long lasting.”
The vision for the Vision airless tire is that it will be composed of naturally sourced materials, which are 100% biodegradable. This fits in with Michelin’s overall mission for sustainable mobility.
“We want to totally recycle our future products, and we want them to be made eventually from 100% natural, renewable sources,” said Gettys. “Natural rubber fits into the plan. It currently represents 30% of Michelin’s raw material consumption. The other 70% are largely derived from petroleum, so we are developing alternatives for those components. We are well along the way to have bio-sourced elastomers to replace the synthetic elastomers that are derived today from petroleum in the early 2020s. The next big component will be the fillers, the carbon black and the silica. We need to find organic solutions. But that is longer term.”