Airless, 3D-printed concept tires can’t go flat, never need replacement

Although the lifespan of a tire depends on an variety of different factors, most will need to be replaced about every five years. However, a new 3D printed tire prototype from Michelin may one day outlast your vehicle — and then some.

At the Movin’On exhibition in Montreal, Michelin unveiled its 3D printed Visionary Concept tire. Unlike traditional air-pressurized tires, the 3D printed prototype doesn’t need to be inflated. Instead, the Visionary Concept tire uses a honeycomb pattern based on generative design models found in nature, such as coral and the air sacs in human lungs. This design diminishes the risk of a blowout or flats due to punctures.

While traditional rubber tires gradually lose their tread as a result of friction, this prototype uses 3D printers to “replenish” this tread as needed. A series of sensors built into the tire monitor the tread wear and provide real-time information about performance and maintenance.

This information is relayed to drivers via an app, where individuals can then preemptively order 3D printed tread replacements. These new 3D printed treads can be tailored for an array of settings to compensate for seasonal weather, more rugged terrains, and even different driving styles.

michelin visionary concept 3d printer tire text front
Jimmy Hamelin/Michelin

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the Vision tire is also made from bio-sourced and biodegradable materials, including (but not limited to) natural rubber, bamboo, paper, tin cans, wood, and plastic. Michelin also minimized the amount of rubber in each of these “organic” tires to further reduce the overall environmental impact.

The entire wheel is produced from recyclable materials, which means that once the tire has reached the end of its life (“thousands and thousands of kilometers” down the road, according to Michelin), the tire itself will also be recyclable.

However, as this tire is still just a prototype, it looks like we’ll have to deal with our wildly inefficient, archaic, pressurized rubber tires for the time being. Michelin’s Executive VP of Research and Development, Terry Gettys, believes it will be at least another 10 years before the finalized Visionary Concept tire reaches the market.