Case in point: Korean-based company Hankook unveiled a successful test run of its prototype, the iFlex: an airless tire. While a non-pneumatic tire is certainly a new development, the concept is not a new one. Militaries around the world use airless tires in heavy transport vehicles. The details around Hankook's particular design show an awareness of the process of manufacturing being just as crucial as the end result itself.
The iFlex comes in three sections: an outer layer, inner layer, and central frame fitted around the hub. The outer layer is, of course, the section built to interact with the ground the most. The inner layer is a mesh network of spokes (made from organic, rice husk material), designed to absorb the impact passed through from the outer layer. The central frame links the two together, but is also available in multiple colors; a clever built-in nod to the average car-buyer's desire for personal customization. Probably the most interesting change Hankook made is finding a way to manufacture this model in four steps, when the standard tire model takes at least eight. Reusable materials, not needing pneumatic maintenance, and a shorter process greatly contribute to the promise of the iFLex reaching the holy grail of mass production.
Although the company is a little quiet on this latest test run, the results they disclosed sound promising. The car driving with iFLex tires reached a peak of 80mph without any issues in durability, stability, hardness, slalom (ability to zigzag), and speed. You can view Hankook's promotional video for the iFlex below:
(Note: Bridgestone Americas is also working on an airless tire design).
Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).