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Gigacasting offers lower production costs. Picture: SUPPLIED
Gigacasting offers lower production costs. Picture: SUPPLIED

Toyota Motor said this week it will adopt a technology Tesla pioneered known as “gigacasting” as part of a strategy by the Japanese carmaker to improve the performance — and lower the price — of future electric vehicles (EVs).

Toyota is not alone in following Tesla’s breakthrough. Here is a look at gigacasting and how the innovation is forcing carmakers to emulate Tesla.

What is gigacasting?

The gigapress is an aluminium die-casting machine adopted by Tesla at its factories in the US, China and Germany. The house-sized machines are able to produce aluminium parts far bigger than anything used before in vehicle manufacturing.

The “giga” in the name is a nod to Tesla’s convention of calling its plants “gigafactories”. Other vehicle producers have taken to calling them “megapresses”, which also can refer to smaller, but still huge, machines.

In operation, the press takes in an 80kg shot of molten aluminium, or more, into a mould where it is formed into a part, released and then quickly cooled.

Tesla has developed an aluminium alloy that also allows it to skip the heat treating traditionally used to increase the strength of the cast part.

What’s the payoff?

Typically, more than a hundred individually stamped metal parts have been welded together to make a car body.

Fewer parts, lower costs and a simplified production line have contributed to Tesla's industry-leading profitability, analysts have said.

For Tesla, the use of a single component in the rear of the Model Y — its best-selling model — allowed it to cut related costs by 40%, the company has said.

In the Model 3, by using a single piece from the front and rear of the vehicle, Tesla was able to remove 600 robots from assembly, Elon Musk has said.

It can also cut a vehicle’s weight — an important consideration for EVs where the battery pack alone can weigh more than 700kg. And it has the potential to reduce waste and greenhouse emissions from a plant.

Toyota said it expected that using aluminium die-casting would eliminate dozens of sheet metal parts from assembly and reduce waste.

Who makes these machines?

Tesla sources its presses from Italy-based IDRA, which has been a unit of China’s LK Industries since 2008. 

Competitors of IDRA and LK include Buhler Group in Europe, Ube and Shibaura Machine in Japan, as well as Yizumi and Haitian in China.

The global aluminium die-casting market was worth almost $73bn last year and is projected to top $126bn by 2032, showed an AlixPartners analysis.

Who is chasing it?

In addition to Toyota, General Motors, Hyundai Motor and affiliates of China’s Geely — Volvo Cars, Polestar and Zeekr — are using the technology or planning for it.

Zeekr has started using huge aluminium die casts for a multipurpose van it makes for sale in China, and has said it will introduce the technology for other models.

Volvo said last year it would invest more than $900m to upgrade its plant near Gothenburg, Sweden, to include megapress technology.

What’s the catch?

Cost is one. Tesla records most of its sales with just two models: the Model 3 and Model Y. High sales volume on just two platforms make it easier to justify the investment in new production technology. Other EV start-ups also have that advantage.

For legacy carmakers with more complicated product line-ups and factory machinery that is already amortised, the decision to invest tens of millions of dollars in new casting technology can be a harder call, analysts have said.

Cars with body sections cast into single pieces could also be harder or more expensive to repair after an accident. That could add to the cost of operation for EVs.

Already insurance companies are writing off EVs with low mileage if they have damaged batteries because there is often no way to repair even slightly damaged battery packs. 


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