Airless tires are finally coming to jobsites, where tire punctures are notorious. Now, Michelin is making some available for heavy equipment. Safety improves.
Non-pneumatic tires (NPT) have been on the wish list of contractors and industry owners for many years. Light, airless tire choices have been limited to riding lawn mowers and golf carts. In this podcast, Dan Clark tells of the Tweel, now in production from Michelin.
The Tweel is a rubber tread tire with plastic spokes, designed for low speed, off-road situations. This airless tire is for skid steer loaders. But Tweels for other applications are coming soon.
Dan also tells of the progress made in the prototype airless tire for underground mining by Big Tyre of Australia. Bridgestone also has a non-pneumatic tire in development. But Michelin’s Tweel is actually being manufactured, and is available now.
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Dan Clark: Imagine a flat tire once a week. Yes, some heavy equipment average a flat per week. How about zero?
Hi there, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites. Worksites covered with nails, garbage and other puncture problems. The promise of airless tires has been an empty one up until now. Companies are reinventing the wheel. Literally. And safety benefits.
Michelin, in November, opened a manufacturing plant in South Carolina for the Tweel, a fusion of the tire and wheel. Tweel. It has an outer band of conventional rubber tread connected to the hub by a series of energy absorbing poly-resin spokes—yes plastic spokes. This is not a prototype. It’s in actual production.
The Tweel is being made for skid steer loaders. You see them in construction, on farms, in landscaping and at landfills. This loader has a long history of flat tires and rough rides for drivers. Along with no flats, the Tweel will give the loader a smoother ride, preventing injuries and spilled loads.
Michelin began developing this airless tire in the late 90s. They built prototypes for wheelchairs, Segways, passenger cars, they even made a version for NASA to use on moon rovers. But it took until this year to refine it for commercial industrial applications. Besides the skid steer loaders, they’re also making Tweels for commercial lawnmowers.
* No air, no blowouts. And that’s a safety success.
* No air also means less maintenance. No need to check for air pressure.
* A longer lifespan than a traditional tire.
* They can be installed on equipment currently in use.
* They have improved traction. That means less bouncing around over bumps. Loads aren’t as likely to spill, employees aren’t as apt to get injured from being bounced around.
* And Tweels are less likely to spin against objects such as curbs. They maintain contact with the ground better than other tires.
Other companies have airless concept tires for heavy equipment and we may see them soon in the marketplace.
In Australia, where they spell “tire” with a “y,” Big Tyre has a prototype airless tire for mining equipment. That’s some heavy duty work. They’re developing it with the Australia Coal Association. Unlike the Tweel’s plastic spokes, it has a series of leaf springs connecting the outer rubber covered band to the inner hub. They have three generations of prototypes but none are ready for market.
Bridgestone created two versions of their Air-Free Concept Tire, but it’s not in production yet.
Michelin, meanwhile, broke through with the Tweel. Tweels for ATVs are also being developed. But, will the Tweel materialize for other construction vehicles? And what about cars and trucks?
Currently the Tweel works for low-speed, off-road applications. It’s possible we’ll see Tweels on passenger cars someday. If so, you’ll be able to ditch the spare tire, eliminating weight and freeing up space. But, currently, Michelin is focusing on vehicles that experience a lot of flat tires and rougher rides.
That’s all for this episode on Airless Tires For Heavy Equipment. Come back for more ways to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, a service of Creative Safety Supply. creativesafetysupply.com
Tweel images provided by Michelin