Tweel, the never flat Airless Tire, is being used commercially for John Deere riding mowers

The Tweel is an airless tire design concept developed by the French tire company Michelin. Its significant advantage over pneumatic tires is that the Tweel does not use a bladder full of compressed air, and therefore it cannot burst, leak pressure, or become flat. Instead, the Tweel assembly’s inner hub connects to flexible polyurethane spokes which are used to support an outer rim and these engineered compliant components assume the shock-absorbing role provided by the compressed air in a traditional tire.

John Deere and Michelin Tweel Technologies announced the new MICHELIN X TWEEL TURF for commercial ZTrak mowers. The new MICHELIN X TWEEL TURF is an airless radial tire sold exclusively for John Deere ZTrak 900 Series models with 54-, 60- and 72-inch deck sizes. Unlike traditional pneumatic tires, the MICHELIN X TWEEL TURF virtually eliminates tire downtime and is nearly maintenance free.

The X TWEEL TURF has the same dimensions and bolt pattern as a standard 24x12x12 tire, and features automotive rubber technology, allowing the tread to last up to three times longer than standard turf tires.

Michelin opened a dedicated tweel-producing factory in Piedmont, South Carolina, in the 4th quarter of 2014.

The Tweel consists of a band of conventional tire rubber with molded tread, a shear beam just below the tread that creates a compliant contact patch, a series of energy-absorbing polyurethane spokes, and an integral inner rim structure. Both the shear beam and the polyurethane spokes can be designed to provide a calibrated directional stiffness in order that design engineers are able to control both how the Tweel handles and how it handles loads. The inner hub structure may be either rigid or compliant depending on the application requirements and as such may contain a matrix of deformable plastic structures that flex under load and subsequently return to their original shape. By varying the thickness and size of the spokes, Michelin can manipulate the design elements to engineer a wide array of ride and handling qualities. The tread can be as specialized as any of today’s tires and is replaceable when worn.

Benefits and drawbacks

Potential benefits of the Tweel include not only the obvious safety and convenience of never having flat tires, but also, in automotive applications, the Tweel airless tire has the potential to be able to break a significant performance compromise that is inherent to pneumatic tires. Unlike a pneumatic tire, a Tweel can be designed to have high lateral stiffness while simultaneously having low vertical stiffness. This can be achieved because, in the design elements of a Tweel, the vertical and lateral stiffness are not inseparably linked and can thus be optimized independently. Because there is no air bladder under the tread, tread patterns can, if desired, even incorporate water evacuation through holes in the design thus eliminating or significantly reducing hydroplaning. Michelin expects the tread to last two to three times as long as a conventional tire. Because the tread rubber around the outer circumference is replaceable when worn (as opposed to disposing of a whole worn tire), the potential environmental impact of a Tweel airless tire can be less than that of a conventional pneumatic tire.

Military testing has indicated that the Tweel deflects mine blasts away from the vehicle better than standard tires and that the Tweel remains mobile even with several spokes damaged or missing.

Although it is acknowledged that the initial prototype automotive Tweel tires did demonstrate flaws with regard to noise and high speed vibration radial tire these early issues were resolved in subsequent prototypes, and current automotive Tweel prototype products have been shown to be well behaved and reliable. As a demonstration of Tweel viability and reliability, three highway driven vehicles (a 2012 Honda CR-Z, a resto-modded 1955 Morris Minor Traveller, and an Aluma brand trailer hauling a Polaris ATV which was also equipped with Tweel tires) successfully participated in the entire 2013 Hot Rod Power Tour long distance road trip event.

SOURCES – Wikipedia, Michelin, John Deere, Motor Authority, Youtube