Wheels of Fortune

Michelin North American no-air tires for skid steersIn April 26, 2013, representatives from Michelin North America attended the 2013 Edison Awards, an international ceremony symbolizing the persistence and excellence personified by Thomas Edison at the Navy Pier in Chicago. Michelin’s X-Tweel SSL was awarded the Silver Award in the Transportation category. The awards honor the best in innovation and excellence in the development of new products and services.

“This is a tremendous honor for Michelin,” said Tim Fulton, head of Michelin Tweel Technologies. “Michelin’s Tweel first fascinated the world with the concept of the airless radial tire, and we are now using this revolutionary technology in the construction, agriculture, refuse and landscaping industries.”

The idea for an airless tire started in 1995 for Michelin. Engineers at the Michelin Technology Center in Greenville, S.C., invented up the Tweel, essentially a combination of the tire and the wheel. When air pressure wasn’t a concern, the configuration of the tire could be completely changed. According to Michelin, the Tweel replaces the 23 components of a typical radial tire. The main construction of the Tweel is its ridged hub connected to a shear band with flexible polyurethane spokes, all functioning as a single unit.

The Tweel was introduced to the public in 2005 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on wheelchairs and Segways. It was recognized by TIME magazine as “one of the Most Amazing Inventions of 2005” and acknowledged by the InnoVision Awards Program. Eight years later, Michelin is making further technological strides by launching the Tweel to the skid steer market.

The Tweel has been slow to the market thus far because Michelin believes in developing products that can be used right away today, said Fulton. He considered skid steers to be an “easy sandbox to play in” for the Tweel, as the machines are slow. Michelin still hasn’t worked out the kinks of getting the Tweel product to be successful on fast moving machines, like passenger cars.

“Tweel is a new construction, a new theory,” said Jack Olney, marketing and sales for Michelin Tweel Technologies. “Innovation takes time. Tweel is working to identify markets where rapid adaptation is possible.”

Skid steers with bias tires typically experience several flats per month, and due to these flats, many operators turn to solids or foam filling. The Michelin X-Tweel SSL solves this problem by delivering “no maintenance, no downtime and no compromise.” Compatible with most skid steer models, the Tweel provides the advantages of no maintenance of air pressure, easy mounting, damage resistance, increased operator comfort, reduced operator fatigue, improved productivity, longer wear life than pneumatic tires and excellent traction.

At a press event in April at Michelin’s expansive testing grounds in South Carolina, the Tweel was demonstrated alongside pneumatic and solid tires. The differences were definitely apparent. While nothing can make a ride over rocks, dirt piles and other random debris in a skid steer enjoyable, the Tweel does seem to provide a level of comfort not found in air-filled or solid tires. The flexible polyurethane spokes transfer energy to reduce bounce and absorb shock. The Michelin product also rolled over and fell off curbs like it was a normal, everyday experience. No popped tires here.

The X-Tweel SSL does cost more than competing tires, but Michelin says the key is owner value — fewer repairs and less downtime. Flat tires and air pressure checks are eliminated, greater stability means greater operator productivity, the Tweel’s increased footprint size provides longer wear-life than its competitors and its puncture resistance delivers continuous mobility.

Video from Michelin’s demonstration of the Tweel for skid steers can be found online at www.ceunbound.com, so you can compare for yourself. If you don’t like all your insides jostled during a work day, maybe some Tweels are in your future. Especially if you like the idea of not checking air pressures or changing flats.

Kelly Pickerel is an associate editor of Compact Equipment, based in Brecksville, Ohio.