Jul 14, 2017 | By Tess
Shandong Linglong Tire, a China-based manufacturer of automotive tires, has teamed up with the Beijing University of Chemical Technology to develop 3D printed tires made from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) rather than rubber. In a recent development, the partners said they had successfully produced and tested a prototype of the innovative additively manufactured tire.
The 3D printed TPU tire, which is the first of its kind in China, offers a few advantages over traditional rubber-based tires, including less heat build-up and consequently lower rolling resistance with TPU treads. Additionally, Shandon Linglong Tire says that TPU is both safe and easy to use and can easily be recycled when tires are worn out or damaged. Rubber tires, as many will know, are extremely difficult to recycle.
Another big bonus of 3D printing tires from TPU is that they are much less expensive to produce and maintain than traditional rubber tires. As the Chinese company expressed, it believes TPU will be the “main material for the next generation of green tire.”
To make the innovative tire, the joint team of researchers used FDM 3D printing to extrude layer after layer of TPU material. The 3D printed tire’s design incorporates a hexagonal honeycomb structure, which is one of the strongest infill patterns for a 3D printed object.
Traditional tires are made using a tire mold, which are costly and time consuming to make. 3D printing, said Shandong Linglong Tire, will streamline the entire process, making it not only cheaper, but also faster and overall more efficient. “The tire manufactured with polyurethane materials has the features of the simple manufacturing process, safety, endurance, environmental protection, and cycle use of waste tires,” said the company.
Having successfully tested their first 3D printed TPU tire, the partners will move on to advancing the tire’s design and the TPU’s composition in order to improve heat and moisture resistance, as well as overall performance. Perhaps someday soon, we’ll actually get to see these 3D printed TPU tires hit the road.
Goodyear’s “Eagle 360 Urban” 3D printed tire concept
3D printed tires, while not in use yet (at least not on production vehicles), are becoming an increasingly popular idea for car manufacturers. Both Goodyear and Michelin, two of the top tire manufacturers in the world, have released concept designs for futuristic 3D printed tires. And while these (both pretty experimental) concepts may never become a reality, we definitely agree with Shandong Linglong Tire: there is a future for 3D printed tires.