Tesla is Turning to Diecasting in a Big Way

The electric-vehicle OEM proposes to implement a new forming technology for aluminum automotive bodies.

The Tesla Inc. Model Y crossover vehicle is scheduled to make its commercial debut in 2020, and auto enthusiasts as well as the finance and pop-culture media will be tracking that development closely — just as with all information from the luxury electric vehicle builder and its celebrity CEO.

One novelty about the Model Y has less to do with Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk and more to do with a former mold-making supervisor for the Palo Alto-based automaker, Matthew Kenneth Kallas, who is credited as the inventor of a “Multi-Directional Unibody Casting Machine for a Vehicle Frame and Associated Methods,” for which Tesla has filed a patent claim. (Kallas, it has been reported, is no longer employed by Tesla, but holds a prominent position designing tooling for an automotive high-pressure diecasting business.)

Musk, however, provided some insight to the strategy driving its objective for such a machine. Interviewed earlier this year, he opined that automotive body design and manufacturing is fraught with inefficiencies because such assemblies involve multiple cast and/or stamped pieces welded or joined together. “When we get the big casting machine, it’ll go from 70 parts to one, with a significant reduction in capital expenditure on all the robots to put those parts together,” Elon Musk explained in a podcast.

The patent application for the big casting machine offers a similar premise: “Typically, in the context of vehicle frame manufacturing and the diecasting process, multiple diecasting machines are each used to cast different components of a vehicle frame. For example, a single diecasting machine cell in a factory may be dedicated to casting a single frame component. These components from each casting machine are then assembled or secured together (e.g., via welding) by factory workers or robotic systems to form a vehicle frame (e.g., a unibody vehicle frame). Because diecasting generally involves higher capital costs relative to other casting and manufacturing processes including assembly of many individual components (e.g., due to high costs of casting equipment and metal dies), there remains a need for an improved diecasting machine and associated methods thereof, particularly as related to casting a vehicle frame to reduce work required to achieve a final assembled product.”

The patent application then proceeds to describe how Tesla’s “big casting machine” will form aluminum auto bodies:

“In one aspect, a multi-directional casting machine for a vehicle frame configured in accordance with embodiments of the present disclosure, includes: a central hub having a cover die portion and a plurality of ejector die portions translatable relative to the cover die portion. The plurality of ejector die portions are configured to meet at the central hub. The plurality of ejector die portions includes a first ejector die portion configured to translate along a first axis between a closed position and an open position.

“The first ejector die portion is adjacent (to) a first side of the cover die portion in the closed position and spaced apart from the cover die portion in the open position. A second ejector die portion is configured to translate along the first axis between a closed position and an open position. The second ejector die portion is adjacent (to) a second side of the cover die portion opposite the first side in the closed position and spaced apart from the cover die portion in the open position. A third ejector die portion is configured to translate along a second axis extending substantially perpendicular to the first axis between a closed position and an open position. The third ejector die portion is adjacent (to) a third side of the cover die portion in the closed position and spaced apart from the cover die portion in the open position. The plurality of ejector die portions form a mold cavity corresponding to at least a portion of a vehicle frame.”

In its summary, Tesla contends that the new machine will “reduce build time, operation costs, costs of manufacturing, factory footprint, factory operating costs, tooling costs, and/or quantity of equipment.”

Whether Tesla’s patent achieves its operating objectives is not yet known, but the automaker has apparently succeeded (again) at injecting novelty and instigating new interest in an established manufacturing sector.

TAGS: Materials
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