There's absolutely no doubt about it. The potential of 3D printing is so huge that traditional manufacturing processes will be replaced in the short to medium term in many sectors. Michelin, for example, is already working on using a 3D printer to produce entire tires, but these are miles away from actually being used on our roads. Nevertheless, the additive manufacturing of three-dimensional parts has already become established as an industry standard in Michelin’s production processes. The layered structure using selective laser welding is an integral part of developing highly complex tire baking molds for vulcanization. This will make it possible to design molds that would be impossible with conventional production methods based on metal forming.
For example, the highly complex baking molds for cutting-edge winter tires with sipes positioned at precise angles and distances already contain up to 4,500 metal strips, some of them extremely intricate. Michelin has had the foresight to have been looking at the possibilities of additive manufacturing in mold making for 15 years and used first-generation 3D printers to create prototype tire baking molds. The company first utilized its own machines to produce molds using metal printing in 2009. Michelin has now joined forces with a partner for the latest step into the future of metal printing, forming the joint venture AddUp with French technology developer and plant engineer Fives. As a specialist in the additive manufacturing of metal parts, AddUp develops, produces and sells products and global industrial solutions using 3D printing. Parts up to 143 inches long based on steel, nickel, titanium or aluminum alloys can be manufactured, which makes the innovative joint venture one of the leading companies on the market. Its portfolio ranges from manufacturing components to developing and supplying complete machines for production.