It all 'adds up' with 3-D printing

Gosport company adds an additive manufacturing capability to its established line of machine tools

Posted on 24 Apr 2018 and read 368 times
It all 'adds up' with 3-D printingIn April 2016, tyre manufacturer Michelin and the Fives Group collaborated to form AddUp, which they jointly own.

At the start of 2018, the company appointed Geo Kingsbury as the sole agent for its consultancy service throughout the UK and Ireland, as well as to sell and service its automated additive-manufacturing (AM) machines and to provide consumables and back-up support (www.addupsolutions.com/en).

Richard Kingsbury, managing director of Gosport-based Geo Kingsbury (www.geokingsbury.com), said: “The AddUp AM systems are based exclusively on powder-bed technology, with successive layers melted and fused by one or two laser beams under computer numerical control; and because these systems are intended for the economic round-the-clock production of large volumes of high-quality components, rather than prototype quantities, the solutions are highly automated.

3D 1Michelin, for example, uses what AddUp now calls FormUp 3-D printing machines to produce — annually — 1 million tyre mould inserts for producing sipes (thin slits running across the tyre surface, designed to improve traction in wet or icy conditions).

“Due to the large production quantities they can make, AddUp AM systems are aimed at original equipment manufacturers and their ‘top-tier’ suppliers.

“The process has been honed to achieve the highest levels of repeatability for the production of parts that are top-quality in terms of their high surface finish, metallurgical integrity and dimensional accuracy. Often, components are net shape, without any need for further processing.”

Mr Kingsbury also says that, with economic of powder usage of key importance, AddUp machines can produce metal parts with a minimal need for support structures, or no supports at all.

This means that complex parts — especially those with overhangs — consume less material, with build rates that are faster, and post-processing that is minimised.

He also says that detailed steps have been taken in the construction of the company’s AM machines to limit operators’ exposure to powder.

History in AM


Despite its recent formation, AddUp is offering AM production solutions that have been developed over many years. The Fives Group entered the sector in 2011 with the design and manufacture of its first metal laser deposition machine.

Michelin started working on AM as early as 2003, as it was keen to introduce innovative sipes into the tread patterns of tyres (it was not possible to produce the required mould inserts in any other way).

The technology also shortened the time to market and delivered cost savings.

Currently, AddUp offers one size of machine — the FormUp 350 — with a 350 x 350 x 350mm build chamber, which is the ideal size for producing Michelin’s sipe mould inserts.

This model will be joined by a larger and a smaller machine later this year, to create a range of three FormUp machines.

The existing model is powered by one or two 500W ytterbium fibre lasers with a spot position accuracy of ±35µm.

Other features are a choice of layer thickness between 20 and 100µm, a programmable oxygen supply, bi-directional re-coating, and advanced powder management (including automatic reservoir filling during machine operation). Component reproducibility is to within ±30µm, even on dimensions as small as 0.2mm.

The powder materials currently available are: 1.4404 grade 316L stainless steel; 1.2709 grade 18Ni300 maraging steel; Inconel 718 and 625; titanium alloy Ti-6Al-4V; and AlSi10Mg grade aluminium alloy.

Based in Clermont-Ferrand (central France), AddUp’s European Technology Centre is the hub of the firm’s world-wide activities.

It is headed by CEO Vincent Ferreiro, who has a PhD in materials science and held senior positions in petrochemical multi-national Total before moving to Michelin, where he was tasked with finding new sources of growth outside the tyre business — hence the decision to market the AM production process.

New opportunity


Having used a 3-D printing bureau early on to make mould inserts and verified the effectiveness of the resulting tyre sipes, Michelin bought 10 metal AM machines to continue the work in-house.

While satisfactory in operation, the equipment struggled to maintain the levels of repeatability and reproducibility that Michelin needed, and all attempts to improve the results failed.

When (in 2012) Michelin commercialised its AM offering, it committed considerable engineering resources to produce a completely new design of fully automated machine, which the company used to produce sipe inserts of a complexity and accuracy not previously possible.

As a result, it was able to introduce two new types of tyre “with outstanding performance characteristics” that “took the USA by storm”.

The enhanced AM capability at Michelin’s Clermont-Ferrand facility also enabled the launch (in Europe) of the Crossclimate tyre — the first to be officially approved for use in both summer and winter conditions.

3D 2Buoyed by these results but lacking ‘a track record in building production machinery’, Michelin sought a partner to manufacture the FormUp machine range (starting with the existing 350 model) and selected the Fives Group for its expertise in machine tool building and automation.

Mr Ferreiro said: “We were already delivering machines into aerospace supply chains in France and the USA. With the automated mass-production capability of our AM systems, the automotive, energy, medical and tooling sectors will also be early targets.

“After a manufacturer has designed what will undoubtedly be a high-value part, we undertake detailed feasibility and profitability studies that assess a number of factors before designing a customised production plant.”

Currently employing about 80 staff from both the Fives Group and Michelin, AddUp continues to grow and expand world-wide.

The company also has ‘collaboration partners’ that include Aubert & Duval, ESI Group, FUSIA, Michelin, Safran, VOLUM-E, Zodiac Aerospace, the French National Centre for Scientific Research and various universities.

The company will also continue to develop its 3-D printing technology under a programme known as SOFIA (Solutions pour la Fabrication Industrielle Additive métallique); it has also planned a six-year research programme “to develop the entire metal AM value chain”.

There will be a particular focus on the aerospace industry, as well as improving metal powders, machines, energy sources and processes — plus designing new optimised components and developing the knowledge base with regard to the health-and-safety risks in metal AM.

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