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Virginia Tech uses 3D printing for sustainable tire retreading

The multi-institution project leverages 3D printing technology to improve efficiency and sustainability in commercial vehicle tire retreading

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Chris Williams, L.S. Randolph Professor in Mechanical Engineering, and his team at Virginia Tech have been chosen by the REMADE Institute for a $1.5 million project to improve tire retreading efficiencies. This work is crucial for the commercial vehicle industry which depends on regular tire retreading to keep vehicles operational. According to Virginia Tech, annually, around 14.5 million tires are retreaded in the US alone, which, despite creating less waste than total tire replacement, still results in nearly 9 pounds of excess material waste per tire and can negatively impact vehicle fuel efficiency.

The funding, equally shared between the REMADE Institute and Virginia Tech, will be used to explore solutions for these inefficiencies. The REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership set up by the US Department of Energy, is the first US institute dedicated to progressing the country’s transition to a circular economy – aiming to maximize the reuse and recycling of materials.

Virginia Tech uses 3D printing to improve efficiency and sustainability in commercial vehicle tire retreading.
This tire is being used for testing the team’s retreading method. Photo by Reilly Henson for Virginia Tech.

The project is anticipated to contribute significantly towards the country’s energy conservation and emissions reduction targets. The team’s approach involves the use of 3D scanning technologies, the development of new materials that can be 3D printed and withstand the demands of commercial vehicle tires, and industrial robots programmed to print these materials at specified locations on the used tires.

“We are really excited to undertake this challenging project, which integrates advances in polymer science and manufacturing including 3D scanning, 3D printing, and industrial robotics,” said Williams. “If all goes well, the resulting retreading technology could result in annual reductions of about 90 metric kilotons of tire waste and 800 metric kilotons of CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions across the retreading industry.”

Virginia Tech uses 3D printing to improve efficiency and sustainability in commercial vehicle tire retreading.
Different attachments are used for the robotic arm that 3D-prints polymer material onto worn tires. Photo by Reilly Henson for Virginia Tech.

Collaborating with Arizona State University and Michelin, the team will leverage expertise in polymer science, high-performance elastomer synthesis suitable for 3D printing, tire design, performance characterization, and industrial sustainability goals. The primary objective is to develop a novel manufacturing process that selectively deposits these materials along the tire surface to meet industry performance requirements, reducing waste and potentially improving fuel efficiency.

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Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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