We don’t know who Matthew Kenneth Kallas is, but he must have spent a lot of time playing with Mattel die-cast model cars in his formative years. Now he works for Tesla and is listed as the inventor of US Patent Application #15874348, described as a “Multi-Directional Unibody Casting Machine For A Vehicle Frame And Associated Methods,” according to PatentScope. Feast your eyes on the illustration below to get a sense of what Kallas has in mind.
This one may be a little hard to wrap your head around unless you are a mechanical engineer. Basically, using die casting technology to make the unibody frame of an automobile — a process that has been done using metal stampings for 50 years — could eliminate many of the steps in the traditional assembly process, saving time and cutting costs.
Today, a collection of stampings is welded, riveted, and bonded into a completed unibody structure in a process that can involve dozens if not hundreds of steps. If the number of steps could be reduced, the entire process could become much more efficient. Here’s more from the patent filing:
“[H]igh-pressure die casting is a metal casting process that has been in use for over a hundred years. Die casting typically includes forcing or injecting molten metal under high pressure into a mold cavity. The mold cavity is formed using two die portions which have been machined into a shape of the desired casting. Depending on metal material type being used, a hot or cold chamber die casting machine may be used, as well as squeeze casting methods, in addition to over-molding, where alloy is casted over/around existing substrates in order to achieve higher structural properties of an end product.
“One die portion is called a ‘cover die portion’ and the other die portion an ‘ejector die portion,’ and where they meet ‘the parting line.’ Conventionally, the cover die portion includes a sprue or shot hole configured to allow molten metal to flow into the dies from an injector fluidly coupled to the sprue or shot hole, and is attached to a stationary platen of a casting machine. The ejector die portion typically includes ejector pins and/or a plate to push the casting out of the ejector die portion (e.g., after solidification and the dies open), and is attached to a movable platen of the casting machine.
“Typically, in the context of vehicle frame manufacturing and the die casting process, multiple die casting machines are each used to cast different components of a vehicle frame. For example, a single die casting 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 die casting 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 die casting machine and associated methods thereof, particularly as related to casting a vehicle frame to reduce work required to achieve a final assembled product.
“The present disclosure describes embodiments of die casting machines and methods thereof that may reduce build time, operation costs, costs of manufacturing, factory footprint, factory operating costs, tooling costs, and/or quantity of equipment. Such casting machines may reduce a number of casting machines or actual castings required to cast a complete or substantially complete vehicle frame (e.g., to less than six, less than five, less than four, less than three, less than two, or one casting machine(s)).
“The present disclosure relates generally to manufacturing and assembling a vehicle frame, and more particularly to a multi-directional die casting machine for casting a vehicle frame and associated methods thereof such multi-directional casting machines may be suitable for casting a unibody vehicle frame, and more specifically for an electrical vehicle unibody frame. In some embodiments, multiple portions of the vehicle frame may be integrally formed or casted without the need for further assembly and attachment (e.g., welding, rivets, etc.).
“This may reduce a number of castings and/or steps for manufacturing or casting a substantially complete vehicle frame. For example, the die casting machine as described herein may reduce a number of casting machines or actual castings required to cast a complete or substantially complete vehicle frame (e.g., to less than six, less than five, less than four, less than three, less than two, or to one casting(s) or casting machine(s)). Accordingly, this may reduce costs associated with manufacturing including, but not limited to, factory operating costs, tooling costs, time, and other equipment and labor costs.”
Among other things, Tesla is interested in disrupting the world of manufacturing by going back to first principles and finding ways to make better products in less time for less money. Elon Musk calls it “building the machine that makes the machine.” The lessons learned from the Fremont factory and Gigafactory 1 in Nevada are already being applied to Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai.
There’s a reason why Tesla will be able to manufacture Model 3s in China less than a year after it broke ground on its new factory, while the Lucid factory in Arizona will need twice as long to begin series production. It’s hard to keep track of how many ways Tesla is ahead of other auto manufacturers.
One has to wonder how making a die cast unibody structure impacts the cost of repairs (or if repairs are even possible). Die cast metal tends to be fairly brittle and not easily reshaped or repaired. No doubt Elon and his minions have already thought of that and have a plan in place, one that will shock and amaze the “business as usual” crowd.
Keep in mind that just because a company files a patent application does not mean the item being patented will ever be used in actual production. Lots of ideas get patented just to establish a timeline of who thought of an idea first and who has exclusive rights to it in the marketplace. Will Teslas ever be manufactured using this die-cast unibody method? Nor necessarily, but they might, and that’s the important part.