The R&D Tax Credit Aspects of 3D Printing Vehicle Wheels


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Transportation is one of the most important aspects of everyday life across the globe. The US publisher Ward’s estimated as of 2010 there were over 1.015 billion vehicles on the road throughout the world, all of them run on wheel systems. An entire wheel is made up of several components such as the rim, hub, spokes and tire. Without the wheel, it’s difficult to fathom how our current means of transportation would even look but even so, the same wheel has been generally used for decades with little innovation over the span. Only recently has there been innovation for the wheel as companies are beginning to experiment with 3D printing wheels, which would be eligible for R&D tax credits.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • Must be technological in nature
  • Must be a component of the taxpayer’s business
  • Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process
  • Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives

Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax for companies with revenue below $50MM and for the first time, pre-profitable and pre-revenue startup businesses can obtain up to $250,000 per year in payroll taxes and cash rebates.

Companies Experimenting with 3D Printed Wheels


Iochpe-Maxion is a global automobile components manufacturer headquartered in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which operates in two divisions of the automotive sector, wheels and structural components. In 2012, Iochpe-Maxion acquired Hayes Lemmerz International to combine the expert wheel businesses to create Maxion Wheels. Maxion Wheels has grown into the largest manufacturer of steel and aluminum vehicle wheels with manufacturing locations in 12 countries and a presence in every major automotive region. Maxion further expanded their competitive product line as they partnered with several 3D printing companies and universities to work on the development of several concept wheels. One wheel that came into development particularly stood out as the 3D printed wheel was lighter and stronger than steel because it was made with a composite-reinforced tape-like substance. The material utilizes low energy when in motion, which saves on fuel economy as well as wear and tear on the tires. Maxion’s goal is to develop mass produced 3D printed wheels with the same features as steel/aluminum without the dense and heavy nature of large metal wheels.

Local Motors

Local Motors is a ground mobility company located in Phoenix, Arizona that focuses on shaping the future of transportation for the better. The company partnered with the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop and deliver technology to produce the world’s first production 3D printed vehicle. The agreement between the companies will explore making vehicle construction more efficient in every way, including lower production time, costs and part control, coupled high standards of control and safety. This initiative includes 3D printing of wheels, which will be a part of the 3D printed vehicle and will be available open source for users to download and print or edit to their desire. The game changer is having the entire wheel printed in less than 3 pieces with the entire vehicle being comprised of 50 parts; this is a significant reduction to having over 20,000 parts in one vehicle.


Goodyear is a leading tire manufacturer that produces tires for nearly every application and supplies all of NASCAR’s vehicles with necessary racing tires. The popular tire manufacturer unveiled a concept wheel known as the “Oxygene” tire, which would be produced through 3D printing methods and feature living moss growing within the sidewall. The wheel utilizes rubber powder from recycled tires and is capable of absorbing more shock and has greater mobility and development potential than current wheels. The main feature of the Oxygene is that it can circulate moisture from roads and the air to force photosynthesis to occur within the 3D printed sidewall containing the moss and then release the healthy oxygen back into the air. This concept wheel, if applied to 2.5 million vehicles in a city, can generate around 3,000 tons of oxygen and absorb more than 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide.


Michelin is one of the leading tire manufacturers in the world, as they operate 19 plants in 16 locations with over 22,000 employees. Michelin has been working on the development of a 3D printed tire that boasts a unique set of advanced environmentally friendly features that are pushing sustainable mobility forward. The tire is called the “Vision” and is not only an airless tire but a wheel that requires no inflation or rims with a mechanical structure strong enough to absorb impact and pressure. The Vision is made entirely of biodegradable materials and can easily be retreaded as well as collect diagnostic information for drivers with onboard sensors.

Linglong Tire

Linglong Tire is a Chinese tire manufacturer that recently designed and developed a tire using 3D printing technology and even successfully tested it with the help of Beijing University of Chemical Technology. The tire is made from thermoplastic polyurethane material instead of rubber and has a higher resistance to heat and lower rolling resistance than standard rubber tires. The 3D printing process eliminated the need to make a tire mold and made the entire process faster while at a lower cost. The process also utilizes environmentally friendly materials that are durable and easily recycled, helping the strain that rubber manufacturing has had on the environment in areas such as Beijing.


The old saying “reinventing the wheel” is used when someone is merely doing what has already been done. The 3D wheel examples above demonstrate that even the wheel can be reinvented and in a very effective way.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below. 

Charles Goulding and Ryan Donley of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed wheels.


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