How does Michelin use metal additive manufacturing?

Michelin was one of the early adopters of Additive Manufacturing (AM) in the automotive industry and initially looked at making use of the technology from as early as 2000. The focus – manufacturing complex tyre moulds that would have been impossible with typical manufacturing techniques. To accomplish this, Michelin decided to create its own range of metal printers. After an in-depth period of research and development, the first moulds manufactured using additive manufacturing technology were completed in 2013. Michelin was the first in the world to do this with the CrossClimate tyre range that offered optimal grip over its entire lifespan on snow. This would not have been possible without Additive Manufacturing. 

In 2016 Michelin joined forces with Fives, a manufacturer and designer of machinery and process equipment, to make use of its machines and expertise in the AM sphere. This joint venture was named AddUp and combined Fives’ experience in machine manufacturing and process development with the technical accomplishments Michelin achieved during the development of its own AM machine.  

As of 2019, Michelin has metal printers situated all over the world that collectively produce over 1 million metal parts every year. 

What is AddUp Additive Manufacturing? 

AddUp is a joint venture between Fives and Michelin that aims to not only provide AM tooling for Michelin but also to provide an AM service to the industry. This service includes the supply of machinery and equipment related to metal AM, consultation on the integration of AM processes into the industrialisation of products and the provision of related training. 

AddUp currently has three technologies in its portfolio; the original technology from Michelin uses Powder Bed Fusion and the recent acquisition of BeAM and 3A by AddUp, which adds Directed Energy Disposition and Electron Beam Melting technologies. 

  1. Powder Bed Fusion – Typical metal AM process that uses a laser to melt a metal powder into the final component. Also referred to as laser beam melting (LBM). 
  1. Directed Energy Deposition – This process deposits and melts the material via the nozzle, which allows for repairs of existing components and the creation of parts without the need for supports. This system is typically retrofitted onto a 5-axis CNC mill. 
  1. Electron Beam Melting – This process also makes use of a powder bed but the difference is the process happens in a vacuum and an electron beam is used to melt the material. 

Where is it used? 

Michelin uses additive manufacturing to create moulds for various tyre models. These moulds were previously made using multiple processes that were costly and time consuming to manufacture. One of the key innovations by Michelin is to make tyres that have a tread profile which continuously changes as the tyre wears. This helps to maintain optimal grip as well as disperse water effectively during the full lifespan of the tyre. The type of tooling required to achieve these profiles cannot be manufactured with traditional manufacturing techniques. This is mainly due to their shape and the intricacy of the part. Therefore, Additive is used as it can easily achieve the required results with minimal time and cost. The image below indicates a typical mould part. 

Figure 1 – Michelin Tyre Mould 

Some of the Michelin tyres that currently make use of AM moulds are listed below. 

FormUp 350 

The FormUp 350 is the flagship AM machine from AddUp that was initially designed to meet a specific production requirement for Michelin. This machine is currently producing hundreds of thousands of production parts per year that are successfully being used in high-volume manufacturing plants. Some of the key applications of this machine are listed below: 

  • Automotive 
  • Energy
  • Medical 
  • Tools & Moulds 
  • Sports

In Conclusion 

With metal Additive Manufacturing often being relegated to advanced industries with small production lines, one-off components and exotic materials, it is often thought to be unsuited to high-volume environments like the automotive industry. AddUp has proved that not only can its machines create large production volume parts, but these parts have been successfully used in some of the most intensive manufacturing processes by a leader in the tyre industry. It is clear that metal AM is beginning to move from specialised to mainstream applications, and AddUp is at the forefront of this revolution.  

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