December 21, 2023
📰 FEATURE STORY
Can gigacasting revolutionise the automobile sector?
The global automobile sector is big business with plenty of competition. Companies try to outdo one another, not just with car models and prices but also by figuring out innovative and cheaper ways to make cars. Automobile manufacturers have a lot on their plate. They need to keep up with emerging regulations and technology. An innovation could be a welcome addition to their manufacturing process.
One innovation that more manufacturers are chasing is called gigacasting. It’s replacing structural sections of a car with a single piece of die-cast aluminium alloy. This could change the way automobiles are made in large assembly lines. Some argue it could revolutionise the sector. Others aren’t convinced about its long-term prospects.
In many ways, the automotive industry has long been at the forefront of manufacturing best practices and technological innovation. They’ve even set the standards for the manufacturing landscape. Getting to this stage took decades.
Mass production in the early 20th century was a turning point in manufacturing. That included the automobile sector. Henry Ford famously capitalised on the emergence of mechanised production. He installed the first conveyor belt-based assembly line at his factory at Ford’s Highland Park, Michigan plant. Since cars were made faster, production costs were reduced.
The idea of manufacturing at scale wasn’t that believable to many. Back in the 1910s, people still relied on technology from the Industrial Revolution.
While mass production brought in a new era of manufacturing, automation revolutionised it. Machines that were able to build a car by putting together the components at a fraction of the cost in half the time of a human workforce meant lower prices and more cars.
While innovations have been introduced in automobile manufacturing, the assembly line has remained a constant for over a century. It’s the champion of high-volume manufacturing and absorbed innovations. Companies had it all figured out.
Now, there’s more innovation in the pipeline – robotics and blockchain, for example. Then there’s gigacasting. Let’s look at casting first. It’s the process of pouring super hot metal into a mould and cooling it to make a solid metal shape. In the automobile sector, it’s used to make a lot of small casts and bind them together by bolting or welding.
Gigacasting doesn’t involve making small parts or casts. Instead, it’s just one big piece. Tesla really bet big on this method. The company uses huge presses with 6,000-9,000 tonnes of clamping pressure to mould the front and rear structures of its Model Y. They’re supposedly close to finalising a process that would allow them to die cast nearly all the underbody of an Electric Vehicle (EV) in one piece compared to about 400 parts in a conventional car.
Elon Musk sees this as part of the company’s unboxed manufacturing process to make millions of cheaper EVs. Other companies have taken note. Earlier this year, Toyota announced it’ll adopt the technology to help improve its performance. Hyundai, General Motors, and Volvo are other companies also looking at gigacasting.
While companies are betting big on gigacasting and see it as the future of the automobile manufacturing process, some are sceptical about its prospects. Can it really be the next big thing?
VIEW: It’s the next big thing
If you’re a company that’s mass manufacturing cars, you need to keep costs down so you can continue to make a lot of them. Here’s where gigcasting is primarily beneficial. There are fewer parts, a simplified process that leads to lower production costs. That means mass manufacturing becomes a profitable enterprise.
Tesla is the best use case. Using a single component in the rear of the Model Y, its best-selling model, ensured the reduction of related costs by 40%. For its Model 3, by using a single piece for the front and rear, the company removed 600 robots from the assembly process. Then there’s the weight. It’s an important factor for EVs since a battery alone can weigh about 700 kg.
For companies like General Motors, Toyota, and Volvo, the gigacasting process will definitely come in handy for EVs since they’re the future of automation. With gigacasting, companies can make smaller EVs that aren’t as expensive as sedans. Toyota, specifically, wants over half of its 2030 sales to be EVs. This will be possible with some form of the gigacasting process.
COUNTERVIEW: Many shortcomings
While some big companies are on board the gigacasting train, others aren’t convinced. Some are sceptical about its supposed weight advantages and repairability. Let’s tackle the latter. The cost of repairs has increased due to stricter crash tests and the influx of new technology and materials. Replacing entire die-cast sections instead of smaller individual parts would make it uneconomical for the consumer.
Gigacasting isn’t cheap. Setting up these massive machines has huge initial startup costs. They could have distortion issues in the metal and necessitate extensive end-of-line inspection scanning. All of this comes after ordering the big piece of equipment, setting it up, and figuring out how to work it efficiently and fit it into the manufacturing process.
The economic benefits of this relatively new technique have come under the scanner. For new manufacturers, it might not make sense to adopt it due to the typical time frames for cost-depreciation of welding robots and other equipment used for existing vehicles. The French Automobile Distribution Federation (FEDA) recently issued an alert about environmental and financial consequences for consumers. FEDA said large vehicle components need more material and energy compared to smaller ones.
- Breaking the mould: The rise of gigacasting and the implications for fleets – Fleetworld
- Gigacasting: The hottest trend in car manufacturing – S&P Global Mobility
- How Tesla Made ‘Gigacasting’ The Most Important Word In The Car Industry – The Autopian
- Gigacasting will change how you buy, sell and crash a car – Moneycontrol
- Tesla reinvents carmaking with quiet breakthrough – Reuters
- Why are other automakers chasing Tesla’s ‘Gigacasting’? – Reuters
- Gigacasting – an engineering headache for automakers? – Just Auto
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Gigacasting can revolutionise the automobile sector.
b) Gigacasting can’t revolutionise the automobile sector.
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