Image courtesy of IDRA

Tesla’s Giga Press Has Led To Systemic Industry Change, & Now EVs Will Cost Less To Build Than ICE Vehicles By 2027

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The electric vehicle (EV) era brings with it an unpredictable variety of demands. With the popularization of EVs and diversified consumers’ tastes, automakers are facing the need for high-mix, flexible-volume production instead of low-mix, high-volume production. One of the ways that automakers have responded is with smart factories that utilize new manufacturing platforms modeled after the Tesla giga casting process. A giga press can produce super-sized structural components, and, due to their lightweighting, there’s a secondary benefit: those lighter components can reduce the gross weight of vehicles.

So, in order to achieve lightweighting purposes, more and more aluminum castings are used in the automotive vehicle structures to reduce volume, improve fuel efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These new manufacturing processes, in conjunction with lower battery costs, mean that EVs will be less expensive to build than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars by 2027, according to Pedro Pacheco, vice president of research at Gartner.

Utilizing the giga press has altered the way EVs are manufactured, and Pacheco suggests that the EV market has evolved into a “survival of the fittest” period compared with an earlier “gold rush” for EV makers.

Traditionally, most automotive companies relied on flow production line systems operated by conveyors. In the past few decades, automakers tried to produce as many vehicles as possible while cutting manufacturing time and cost. Therefore, a production and assembly strategy which can produce one or two products in a line has been very common.

Part of the paradigm shift from ICE vehicles to EVs is a change away from traditional production strategies. By 2027, Gartner predicts next-generation battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will, on average, be cheaper to produce than comparable ICE vehicles. Thank you, giga press.

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Tesla revolutionized the auto industry when it introduced the use of “giga presses” — massive casting machines — to make large single pieces of vehicle underbodies, to improve production and to reduce worker demand. A giga press is a series of high-pressure aluminum die casting machines. Molten aluminum weighing more than 100 kg is injected into the cold-chamber casting mold with a velocity of 10 meters per second. The cycle time is about 120 seconds, resulting in 30 completed castings an hour. About 500 castings can be produced each day using three 8-hour shifts.

A giga press can modularize and simplify body components to dramatically improve vehicle production speed. By replacing 60 or more welded components with a single module, gigantic aluminum die casting machines are helping automakers to simplify manufacturing and cut costs by up to 40% in some areas. “We’re reaching this tipping point earlier than expected,” Pacheco told Automotive News Europe. “Tesla and others have looked at manufacturing in a radical new way.”

In order to further reduce the weight and simplify the vehicle assembly process, the castings used in cars are getting larger, with many previously individual parts integrated together. Applications of aluminum castings in automotive vehicles are mainly in two situations:

  • complex structures, such as engine blocks
  • parts integration.

The Company behind the Giga Press

Today, IDRA produces the largest machines in the world, 8000 and 9000 ton die casting machines that are being used to accelerate the global move towards electric and hybrid vehicles. IDRA’s giga presses ranges in size from 19.7 x 7 x 6 meters to 22 x 8x 6.5 meters and have a clamping force ranging from 5,500 to 9,000 metric tons. With the industry struggling to preserve profit margins amid surging raw materials prices, automakers including Toyota, General Motors, Hyundai, Volvo Cars, and Chinese electric vehicle startup NIO are turning to companies such as IDRA for help.

IDRA, which was absorbed into Chinese group LK Industries in 2008, has been developing giga presses since 2016. Competitors of IDRA and LK include Bühler Group in Europe, Ube and Shibaura Machine in Japan, as well as Yizumi and Haitian in China.

The mega-castings in use at Tesla’s Gigafactory Texas from IDRA are about 19.5 m long, 7.3 m wide, and 5.3 m high. Tesla’s plan all along has been to use two huge single castings for the front and rear underbody and to connect them with a battery pack that is acting as part of the body structure. The rear underbody casting is the integration of 70 different parts, and a new 3-section assembly strategy will reduce the total number of parts of this structure by 370.

Tesla already operates giga presses in all of its facilities, including in Grünheide, near Berlin, where it says it can produce a Model Y in 10 hours — about three times faster than electric cars built by competitors. Tesla’s automotive facility in Fremont, California, reconcentrates manufacturing onsite as in-house own-brand componentry, especially heavy parts, or by requiring hitherto distant global suppliers to locate in proximity to the main manufacturing plant.

IDRA’s newest and biggest giga press — the 9,000 — is being used to build Tesla’s Cybertruck. To apply this method, aluminum with little deformation and related patents were developed.

Final Thoughts

There are many aluminum casting processes, including sand casting, shell mold casting, pressure die casting, lost foam casting, permanent mold casting, investment (lost wax) casting, centrifugal casting, squeezing casting, semi-solid casting, continuous casting, etc. The aluminum castings from different casting processes have different gas content, surface finish, and mechanical properties, which will give them different joinability by fusion welding and mechanical joining, so to achieve a good joint of cast aluminum, selecting the right casting process to make the cast parts is equally important as choosing the right joining method and the right joining process parameters.

A concurrent impact on manufacturing methods such as the design of related and surrounding parts to battery cells and motors may be influenced by the giga press innovation and could affect the material and modularity of the components.

Since its founding in 1946 by Adamo Pasotti, IDRA has always been the technological reference point for the die casting of non-ferrous alloys in Italy, in Europe, and worldwide. The term giga press was coined by IDRA CEO Riccardo Ferrario for the first order of an OL 5500 CS HPDC machine in May 2019. IDRA giga press goals include the development of new architectures for the die casting cell with a central cell controller integrating and monitoring the press and all other peripheral equipment, so as to ensure the central role of control programming and the simplification of the commissioning of die casting plants at the clients’ premises.


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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1310 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna