Tesla (TSLA) is poised to revolutionize electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing through a series of groundbreaking innovations, aiming to cut production costs in half and further dominate the market. Five insiders with knowledge of Tesla’s developments have shed light on this transformative shift.
Gigacasting Breakthrough: Tesla initially introduced “gigacasting,” a process utilizing massive presses with 6,000 to 9,000 tons of pressure, to mold the front and rear structures of the Model Y. This innovation significantly reduced production costs and set Tesla ahead of its competitors.
Underbody Revolution: To extend its lead, Tesla is on the cusp of a breakthrough that would enable the die casting of nearly the entire complex underbody of an EV in a single piece, a stark contrast to the conventional method requiring about 400 parts.
This innovation is a key element of Tesla’s “unboxed” manufacturing strategy, essential for Musk’s plan to produce millions of affordable EVs in the coming decade while maintaining profitability.
Unboxed Model Clarity: Tesla’s “unboxed” approach involves simultaneous production of large sub-assemblies for cars and subsequently joining them. However, the exact size and composition of these modular blocks remain uncertain.
Accelerated Development Timeline: Tesla’s new design and manufacturing techniques could enable the company to develop a car from scratch in just 18 to 24 months, whereas competitors typically take three to four years.
Cost-Efficient Platform: A single large frame combining front and rear sections with the middle underbody, housing the battery, could be employed in Tesla’s forthcoming small EV with a targeted price of $25,000 by the mid-2020s.
Innovation Challenges: Despite these innovations, casting large structures poses challenges due to design adjustments and costs. Tesla overcame these obstacles by using 3D printing and industrial sand to create test molds.
This approach allowed for cost-effective adjustments and rapid prototyping, reducing design validation cycles from months to mere weeks.
Hollow Subframes: Tesla plans to cast subframes with hollows by inserting solid sand cores within the mold, later removing the sand to create voids. This method enhances weight reduction and crashworthiness.
Special Alloys and Heat Treatment: Tesla’s innovations involve crafting special alloys, optimizing alloy cooling, and implementing post-production heat treatment to ensure castings meet crashworthiness and quality criteria.
A Unique Opportunity: Tesla’s upcoming small EVs, designed for personal use and robotaxi applications, feature a simpler underbody design without significant front or rear overhangs. This design lends itself well to being cast in one piece.
Challenging Press Choices: To manufacture large body parts quickly, Tesla needs larger gigapresses with clamping power exceeding 16,000 tons. This choice would dictate the complexity of the car frame.
Quality vs. Productivity: Tesla faces a decision between high-pressure presses for productivity and slower alloy injection presses for quality and versatility. Each choice presents unique advantages and trade-offs.
Tesla’s relentless pursuit of innovation could reshape the EV manufacturing landscape, driving down costs and accelerating development timelines, ultimately solidifying its position as a leader in the industry.
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