Reinventing the Tweel
Michelin’s airless tire series hits the market
After more than a decade of tinkering, the first of Michelin’s Tweel series is hitting the market, beginning with the 12N16.5 X-Tweel for skid steers.
The Tweel–a tire and wheel assembly comprised of a rigid hub, connected to a shear band by flexible, deformable polyurethane spokes and a tread band–won the Silver Award in the Transportation category at the 2013 Edison Awards ceremony last month.
As Michelin continues its development process, the Tweel will be offered in heavier and faster applications, but for now, “the skid steer loader is a nice easy sandbox for us to play in,” Tim Fulton, head of Michelin’s Tweel Technology, said at a press event for the tire.
“Tweel is… still in its infancy,” he said, noting that for more than a hundred years, the biggest advantage of pneumatic tires was air. The performance and comfort it offered helped transform the world into the vehicle-based society it is. “Air is a magical material,” Fulton added.
The challenge many equipment operators face, however, is catastrophic failure and the associated downtime created when a pneumatic tire fails. “Many applications are very destructive to tires,” he said. “You start to add up a bit of operating costs.”
Michelin’s Jack Olney, Tweel sales and marketing, noted that one reason why so many tire technologies are used among skid steers is that none of the traditional options offers reliability and performance without compromising some other aspect.
Key advantages of pneumatic tire include:
Low contact pressure,
Low vertical stiffness,
Low rolling resistance over rough surfaces, and
Low mass per unit load carried.
Many operators will trade these features for more uptime with solid tires or foam infected tires, but face trade-offs in terms of factors like operator comfort.
“With the Tweel, we don’t believe there is a compromise,” he said. “It offers all the advantages of the traditional air-filled tire without the inherent risk associated with air loss.”
On April 30, I saw the Tweel in action at Michelin’s Laurens Proving Grounds. In comparison to traditional and solid tires, it offered better bucket retention, easier handling, and a smoother ride.
The video below, from our sister site, Equipment World, shows a comparison of skid steers maneuvering 4- by 4-inch beams and ballast. The first skid steer is outfitted with Tweels.