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Designing and industrializing flexible composite products

The design of flexible composite products is part of the distinctive know-how that the Michelin Group can draw on to not only continue to grow in the tire business, but also expand into other areas.

Our know-how in flexible composite product design is based on our unique ability to design products which offer overall structural rigidity while remaining highly deformable locally. It is crucial to be able to manage the constraints of materials with different properties.
Bertrand Daval Tire Research Director at Michelin

Knowhow based on multidisciplinary expertise

Michelin’s know-how in product design, in particular for flexible composites, pools several areas of expertise, starting with its unparalleled knowledge of tires, the Group’s historic core business.

A tire needs to be both rigid and highly deformable in order to bear the weight of a vehicle and guide it, absorbing more than 100 million deformations during its usage phase. Tires are the cornerstone of Michelin’s expertise in flexible composite design.

To successfully design a product with the expected level of performance and create distinctive value, it is vital to understand what the product will be used for. From the very outset, Michelin forged strong relationships with his customers which have provided it with unique insights into tire use today.

Moreover, the Group can boast a level of excellence in modelling and characterizing flexible structures resulting in optimum tire weight and endurance and minimum energy loss.

Michelin’s solid expertise in prototyping objects on different scales and its extensive test and measurement capabilities are definite advantages facilitating the transition from virtual to real-life experiences and boosting efficiency in product development. This gives Michelin an upper hand over many manufacturers, enabling it to explore a wide scope of possibilities and consolidate its technological leadership.

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Knowhow at the root of the Group’s sustainability strategy

Michelin aims to design products with a lower environmental footprint without compromising on performance while factoring in the complex issue of impact transfer (the risk of making one thing better but another worse). To achieve this, the Group analyzes each stage in the life cycle of its products starting with the design phase. Flexible composites represent quite a challenge as deformation leads to energy dissipation. Michelin is a pioneer, producing a tire with a lower environmental impact as early as 1992 enabling it to acquire skills in limiting energy loss for its tires which can be applied today to flexible composites.  The product design teams also focus strongly on endurance which impacts a product’s lifespan. Just like tires, seals and belts in conveyor systems need to be tough and wear resistant.

Examples of applications:

Recent innovations reflecting Michelin’s longstanding expertise in flexible composite design include the MICHELIN Uptis, the WISAMO inflatable wingsail, MICHELIN AirProne inflatable cushions and Fenner Eagle XLD O-ring belting. These products also illustrate the potential synergies between the world of tires and other applications.

  • MICHELIN Uptis

    MICHELIN Uptis combines an aluminum wheel and a flexible load-bearing structure made from glass fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP). Airless - and therefore puncture-proof - it avoids premature tire replacement and vehicle downtime due to flats.  

  • WISAMO 

    WISAMO is a unique wind-powered propulsion system for ships which uses an inflatable wingsail.  It is intended to contribute to decarbonizing shipping by reducing the fuel consumption of merchant navy ships by at least 20%. A 100 m² inflatable wingsail was tested on the Michel Desjoyeaux sailing boat for two years and is now ready for installation on a merchant ship from Nantes in France. An 800 m² wingsail could arrive on the market in 2026.

MICHELIN Uptis combines an aluminum wheel and a flexible load-bearing structure.
WISAMO is a unique wind-powered propulsion system for ships.

  • MICHELIN AirProne inflatable cushions

    The Michelin AirProne with its kit of inflatable cushions was designed to offer relief and reduce the risk of pressure sores for patients suffering from acute respiratory distress. Just like tires, the cushions need to be sufficiently rigid to bear the weight of the patient while being deformable so as to keep the patient comfortable.

  • Fenner Eagle XLD O-ring belting

    Eagle XLD O-ring belts are much tougher, offering four times greater load capacity, making them suitable for use in increasingly tough conveying conditions while minimizing downtime and thereby reducing maintenance costs. Michelin bought out Fenner, a world leader in reinforced polymer technology, in 2018. 

Michelin’s 360° environmental approach
Michelin is well aware that the future of humankind depends on protecting our planet and conserving its resources and has adopted a holistic approach to reduce its environmental footprint, doing its utmost to operate within the limits of our planet.  

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