Robert Ring is the associate editor of Construction Business Owner.
Last week, I visited Michelin’s Laurens Proving Grounds for a demonstration of the Michelin Tweel, an airless radial tire. The company is currently focused on the Tweel’s utility on skid steers and is touting it as a solution that eliminates the drawbacks of both pneumatic and solid tires without compromising on performance. After witnessing a demonstration of the product and getting some hands-on time with it, I have to say, the Tweel is an impressive invention.
In their attempt to eliminate machine downtime while maintaining performance, Michelin has developed a tire that has elasticity without the risk of going flat. It also has resilience without the shock of solid tires. In lieu of air or solid rubber, the Tweel uses deformable spokes to form the load-bearing portion of the tire.
When in use on flat ground, the spokes generally maintain their form. When traversed over small to moderate obstacles such as planks, curbs or rip rap, they flex just enough to negotiate the terrain smoothly. They cause neither excessive bouncing nor excessive jolting, as pneumatic and solid tires do, respectively, in such situations.
While no damage-causing conditions were demonstrated during the visit, Michelin claims that when spokes are cut or even when the tires are place on top of a controlled explosion, the damage causes deteriorating performance over time rather than instantaneous failure. Additionally, they claim tread lifespan to be slightly longer than treads on pneumatic tires, and the Tweel can be retreaded as needed.
Check out the demonstration and image below. The video shows three identical Caterpillar skid steers each equipped with a different type of tire. The first is outfitted with the Tweel, the second with solid tires and the third with pneumatic tires. Note the differences in jolt, bounce and load loss.