PIEDMONT, S.C.—Michelin North America Inc. has budgeted about $50 million to convert a 135,000-sq.-ft. structure in Piedmont to the first manufacturing site for its non-pneumatic Tweel tire/wheel assembly, the company said at the plant's christening on Nov. 20.
Pete Selleck, Michelin North America chairman and president, called his company's decision to build the Tweel in South Carolina another dramatic example of Michelin's long-standing commitment to breakthrough innovation.
Michelin technicians developed the Tweel—a network of elastomeric polyurethane spokes fused to a wheel hub and a circular outer flat rubber-covered rim—at the Michelin Americas Research Co. in Greenville, S.C.
The concept debuted at the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and a commercially viable product for industrial applications went on the market in late 2012.
“Differentiating us from competitors, the Tweel is the industry's first commercialized airless radial solution and verifies Michelin's leadership for the next generation of mobility,” said Ralph Dimenna, head of Michelin Tweel Technologies.
As a non-pneumatic product, the Tweel offers a solution to the dilemma of flat tires that plagues the landscape, construction, contracting, refuse/recycling and agricultural industries, Michelin said.
“The Tweel enables Michelin to enter new markets and expand its reach in existing business segments within the low-speed application category,” Dimenna said. “The industry is hungry for solutions contributing to productivity, safety and bottom lines.”
The new plant—a converted multi-use building previously occupied by a New York-based designer and manufacturer of home furnishing products—will allow Michelin to boost output of Tweel SSL skid-steer tires and begin production of Tweel Turf tires to fulfill an original equipment contract for Deere & Co. for the John Deere ZTRAK 900 Series zero-turn commercial mowers.
The structure sits on a 12.9-acres plot. Michelin did not disclose the number of employees working at the new plant, its 10th in South Carolina and 16th in the U.S. Piedmont is an unincorporated census-designated place south of Greenville in Anderson County with a population of about 5,000 inhabitants.
Selleck said one day he believes the Tweel technology could be used on passenger cars, but he said "more exhaustive research and testing to make sure that it is right" is needed.
The tire could be especially useful in developing countries where poor roads necessitate slower traffic, Selleck said.
"Right now we do not know when Tweel tires will be on passenger cars," Selleck said. "We do know that the low speed applications are just the beginning. And we do know Michelin will always be the first."