An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Tesla has combined a series of innovations to make a technological breakthrough that could transform the way it makes electric vehicles and help Elon Musk achieve his aim of halving production costs, five people familiar with the move said. The company pioneered the use of huge presses with 6,000 to 9,000 tons of clamping pressure to mold the front and rear structures of its Model Y in a “gigacasting” process that slashed production costs and left rivals scrambling to catch up. In a bid to extend its lead, Tesla is closing in on an innovation that would allow it to die cast nearly all the complex underbody of an EV in one piece, rather than about 400 parts in a conventional car, the people said.
The know-how is core to Tesla’s “unboxed” manufacturing strategy unveiled by Chief Executive Musk in March, a linchpin of his plan to churn out tens of millions of cheaper EVs in the coming decade, and still make a profit, the sources said. While Tesla has said its unboxed model involves producing large sub-assemblies of a car at the same time and then snapping them together, the size and make-up of the modular blocks is still the subject of speculation. Two of the sources said Tesla’s previously unreported new design and manufacturing techniques meant the company could develop a car from the ground up in 18 to 24 months, while most rivals can currently take anywhere from three to four years.
The five people said a single large frame — combining the front and rear sections with the middle underbody where the battery is housed — could be used in Tesla’s small EV which it aims to launch with a price tag of $25,000 by the middle of the decade. Tesla was expected to make a decision on whether to die cast the platform in one piece as soon as this month, three of the sources said, though even if they do press ahead the end product could change during the design validation process. The breakthrough Tesla has made centers on the how the giant molds for such a large part are designed and tested for mass production, and how casts can incorporate hollow subframes with internal ribs to cut weight and boost crashworthiness. To overcome the obstacles associated with this manufacturing technique, Tesla is collaborating with firms that use 3D printing technology to create sand molds for casting, which is cost-effective and allows for rapid design iterations. The sand casting process significantly reduces design cycle times compared to traditional metal mold prototypes.
Tesla also plans to use solid sand cores within the molds to create hollow subframes, addressing weight and crashworthiness concerns. However, there is still a decision to be made regarding the type of press to use for casting large body parts, with trade-offs between productivity and quality.