A vital component of the Tesla Model Y is a single giant casting that replaces thousands of individual stamped metal parts. It helps simplify the vehicle’s design, reduce weight, and boost efficiency. In addition, the process cuts assembly time and costs. It is not surprising that other automakers are chasing this breakthrough.
Toyota Motor (7203.T) said this week it would adopt a technology Tesla (TSLA.O) pioneered known as “Gigacasting.” Toyota is not alone in following Tesla’s breakthrough. Several other EV startups and legacy carmakers are also looking into mega press production technology capable of producing aluminum castings far more significant than anything previously used in auto manufacturing. The machines are called Giga presses, a nod to Tesla’s convention of calling its plants “Gigafactories.” Other automakers have used the term “mega presses,” though these may also refer to smaller versions of the machine.
The Giga press can produce an entire car’s front or rear underbody. This single casting replaces a series of stampings, which would have required about 70 separate robot operations to assemble. The new method can reduce that number to just two operations and significantly improve the overall quality of the bodywork and frame.
A robotic system pumps molten aluminum into the press to make the casts. The machine then shapes it into a part and releases it. After a few seconds, the metal is hardened and cooled. The result is a more substantial, lighter piece that requires no further heat treatment and eliminates the need for welding and joining.
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Unlike welded structures, the castings are dimensionally accurate. This means there is no tolerance drift, which can be a challenge in the complex geometry of modern vehicle designs. It is also faster than welded structures since the robots do not need to align and clamp the individual parts before they are assembled into an integrated unit.
Another benefit of the Giga press is that it can cut the number of robots needed on the line. Tesla says it reduced the number of robots on its assembly line by 70% when it switched to mega casting for the Model Y. That’s a significant saving, considering that most robots on the assembly line are required to move the car around as they work.
One downside to the technique is that the large castings are more complex to repair than the welded pieces. This could be a problem if the Cybertruck or any other future Toyota electric vehicles are involved in a low-speed crash that would typically require the replacement of just a fender or bumper.
For many automakers, switching to mega-casting will depend on how much it can help lower the cost of their upcoming EVs. For startups, such as Tesla, with their high sales volumes on a limited number of platforms, the investment in new production technology might be easier to justify. For legacy automakers with more complicated product lineups and expensive factory machinery, the move to mega-casting might be a challenging sell.