Metal 3D printing: revolutionizing industrial processes
Michelin has been using and developing cutting-edge metal 3D printing technologies for several years. This technology makes it possible to manufacture parts that would otherwise be impossible to produce. AddUp, a joint venture created in conjunction with the industrial engineering specialist Fives, offers our expertise to other industries.
A new technology creates new opportunities
Until now, parts were manufactured via machining, where material is removed from a block of metal, leaving only the desired part. With 3D printing, the process is reversed: material is applied in layers, usually as a powder or liquid, and fused using a tool such as a laser. This is why the technical term for 3D printing is additive manufacturing. This technique opens the door to remarkable possibilities. It speeds up the production process and allows manufacturers to make an infinite number of precise, durable parts on order in completely original and complex shapes.
Additive manufacturing marks a cultural shift for parts designers.
From the early 2000s, we felt that additive manufacturing held huge potential for our curing molds. A mold is made of thousands of steel strips. For example, a winter tire mold can contain up to 4,500 of them. Innovation can bring about incredible progress, and our engineers are now only limited by their imaginations. However, because this technology is still in its early stages and often used only for prototyping, external suppliers were not able to provide us with turnkey solutions.
Michelin takes a vested interest in 3D printing
To meet our needs, we decided to draw from existing solutions to develop our own system. Since 2009, we have had our own machine with which we manufacture some of our molds. We are the first manufacturer to offer tire ranges using this technology. It has enabled us to design unique tread patterns for the MICHELIN CrossClimate+, the first tire approved for use in winter conditions and which offers optimal traction on snow for the entire life of the tire; our MICHELIN Premier A/S and MICHELIN Premier LTX ranges, which feature tread patterns that change with use for enhance traction on wet roads for the entire life of the tire; and our MICHELIN X-Line Energy and MICHELIN X-Incity tires, which improve gas mileage for heavy goods vehicles. 3D printing also helps lower production costs. This technology was used in the new MICHELIN XGuard range to offer competitively priced tires to carriers in the Asian market.
We are probably the leading metal 3D printing manufacturer in the world, having produced more than a million parts.
To continue moving forward, we strive to go even further. This is how we found the Fives group, which designs machines and production lines for all industrial sectors around the world. It was immediately obvious that our operations were complementary: we combine Fives’ capacity to create and implement machines with Michelin’s development and exploitation of these machines. Our joint venture AddUp has been using these strengths since 2015 to develop metal 3D printing.
taking metal 3D printing beyond tires
With AddUp, we have a machine that can produce parts at a volume of over 2,563 cubic inches (14” x 14” x 14”) using powders of steel and nickel, titanium and aluminum alloys. Additionally, we offer our customers a variety of services ranging from design to production. The aim is to make our expertise available to other sectors, including aeronautics, healthcare, energy, transport and luxury. This market, for which we produce around 800 to 900 machines annually, is poised for rapid growth. At Michelin, we have also started to produce new and replacement parts for our machines, which reflects the broad potential of this manufacturing process.
Our target is to capture 10% of the global market for additive manufacturing equipment within the next five years.
SOFIA: expanding metal 3D printing
SOFIA is a program that seeks to develop solutions for industrial metal additive manufacturing in France. Initiated by AddUp and supported by the French government, SOFIA brings together academic and industrial players working in this field, including powder and machine manufacturers, research laboratories and industrial users. Its aim is to connect skills and create synergies across the entire value chain. Our Group participates in the process, both as an industrial player using the technology and through AddUp.