Tesla Gigafactory Production Line

Tesla has invented a car-making technique called “gigacasting” that could cut manufacturing costs in half and help Elon Musk achieve his dream of profitably supplying the world with millions of cheap electric vehicles.

The process uses giant presses that can exert up to 9,000 tons of clamping pressure to cast a car’s chassis and frame in a few pieces that would then essentially snap together. In conventional factories, those large assemblies are made of hundreds of parts welded together.

The new process is a key element in Tesla’s plan for a small electric vehicle (EV) that it has said will be sticker-priced at $25,000 and be available by 2026. 

There will be two versions: one for use as a robotaxi and the other for personal use. The vehicles will have little or no hood or trunk overhang but will essentially be a passenger compartment on top of a battery tray.

The new method “has a huge implication for the industry, but it’s a very challenging task,” Terry Woychowski, president of engineering firm Caresoft Global, told Reuters. He was an engineer with General Motors for more than 30 years. “Castings are very hard to do, especially the bigger and the more complicated.”

The new process not only could halve a car’s manufacturing costs; it also could allow Tesla to bring a new model from design to market in 18 to 24 months instead of the three or four years conventional car companies need, people familiar said to Reuters.

However, the infrastructure for gigacasting can cost as much as $4 million per mold to create and the process also is fraught with risks, the insiders noted.

Once a mold is made, it might need a dozen or more adjustments to produce just the right form to maximize strength, minimize vibration, and solve other minor glitches. Other auto companies have decided that’s too great a cost to risk.

To solve that problem, Tesla didn’t deal with companies making conventional molds.

Instead, the company worked with firms in Britain, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. that specialize in making test molds using sand and 3D printers. Guided by a computer, a special printer lays down layers of sand and a binding agent, building up a structure able to cast molten metal.

Using sand instead of metal to make and test molds can eliminate 97 percent of the cost of that step in creating a new vehicle, one engineer told Reuters. 

Reducing the cost by that degree would allow Tesla to test, discard, and remake a mold any number of times, reprinting a new version in a few hours.

When the mold is perfected, then the company can use it to produce a metal version suitable for use in mass production.

There are challenges yet to overcome, but Tesla already has vaulted several. The company is expected to decide this month whether to go all-in on gigacasting.

TRENDPOST: The remaining challenges Tesla faces in gigacasting are the hardest and could require monstrous presses that would require a bigger factory building than Tesla has yet built. However, Tesla, like other disruptors, seem to thrive on challenges.

Tesla is likely to go ahead with gigacasting, but not at the scale it would like. It will learn by doing and, eventually, will lead the industry into gigacasting entire car frames and chassis as it has planned all along.

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