As if taking a cue from the precious metal mines that once abounded in this area of southern Spain, Michelin wanted to keep one of its most prized jewels, the Michelin Experience Center, hidden from prying eyes in Nijar (Almería). Almeria (CEMA). The French giant has nine facilities of the same type around the world, although each of them has a different purpose.
Opened on January 2, 1973, this gigantic 4,500-hectare test laboratory, located in a natural area of extraordinary and peculiar beauty like Cabo de Gata, is largely unknown, largely due to the manufacturer’s desire to leave it. The hub with its notable strategic value and the secrecy of the research work carried out in it. If it’s appropriate to use this expression for such a land expansion, we can say that Michelin has kept CEMA under wraps for the last half century.
The Almería center mainly works on large-format tires for agricultural use or civil engineering, although it also carries out other tests, including aircraft wheels. Its biggest feature is actually not that it can carry out these tests, but that it is its own engineering group that is responsible for their design, at the company’s internal request or at the request of other brands. And what is not confirmed on the site, tested in 33 moving vehicles owned by the facility. In addition, it works as a laboratory for the analysis of the results it receives.
The largest and most expensive tires
For example, it produces some of the largest covers sold in the world, such as the 63-inch covers mounted on a Caterpillar 997F mining truck that we were able to see on our last visit, as well as some of the most expensive covers. The market, the price of which exceeds 150,000 euros.
For figure lovers, we also note that CEMA includes 55 tracks that are more than 150 kilometers in total and on which more than 250 cars drive and cover about 20 million kilometers every year. Up to 170 people are employed in the center, up to 400 if we include subcontractors and, of course, it creates indirect jobs in the region.
In addition to track 1, which surrounds a large part of the enclosure and on which activity began in 1973, stands out track 25, with its maximum drop of 35%, or the one known as Magic-City, dating back to 1981. Welcome to self-driving cars. The latter, intended for crying tests, avoided the painful filming of drivers, and in it they turned first. landfills Caterpillar 769B.
In 2000, CEMA acquired the first example of the Caterpillar 797 series, which is the benchmark for heavy-duty trucks worldwide, and recently acquired its latest evolution, the aforementioned 797F. We are talking about a real moving building that measures 15 meters long and about 10 meters high and has more than 3000 CVs and tires that are twice the size of any human. Seeing this mastodon approach, which can reach 65 km/h, would be a terrifying experience if we didn’t know the proven track record of all the drivers who work at the center, who are forced to pass grueling skills tests to get behind the wheel of each one. from cars..
The test we saw the mining giant perform consists of a constant speed of 10 km/h on a track made of very heavy stones: the porphyry of the Cartagena area, which changes every few passes. self-feeding600 tonnes on the back – including 200 tonnes of its own weight – crushes them) to push the tire’s demands to the limit with its knife-like edges.
At a nearby track, we witnessed another test in which a loader places its front end on a dirt mountain to confirm that the tires do not move on the rim they are mounted on. Here and there we see trucks plying their routes without drivers mysterious which can last for 24 hours.
In the third experiment we look at, one of the CEMA-owned cars repeats a round trip on a special track dedicated to measuring noise (from the tires, not the car). They inform us that this test, for obvious reasons, failed in the very strong winds that often occur in the area, although this particular enclave was strategically chosen to avoid it.
Why in Almeria?
More than one wonders how Michelin originally chose a place as remote as Cabo de Gata to house CEMA. The choice was due to the rarity of the site, which must have a high and stable temperature throughout the year and little rainfall, among other reasons, because rain breaks the pavement of this labyrinth. In addition, it had to be in Europe and less than two hours by plane from the Ladow Research Center, Michelin’s research headquarters near Clermont-Ferrand, the company’s headquarters.
Jorge Pato has been director of CEMA since April 1, 2022, a short period long enough for him to decide to permanently establish his residence in Almeria, at least during the less hot months of the year (and spend the rest when he retires, in New Cantabria). This engineer from Montes joined Michelin in 1990 as an organization technician at the Valladolid plant, from where he later moved to the Aranda de Duero and Vitoria plants.
In 2011, he returned to Valladolid, where he was responsible for the production of mixes before being appointed last year to take charge of a factory that has become, as he tells us, a key element of the Michelin group “with a great past and better. the future”.
Source: El Diario