Tesla is working on several significant manufacturing improvements for the Model Y production program and it includes building a giant new casting machine to produce a big part of the Model Y frame in one single piece.
We have been reporting on how Tesla plans to simplify the design of its future vehicle platforms and achieve greater automation in the manufacturing process.
Yesterday, we reported on how Tesla is working on a revolutionary new wiring architecture to help robots build upcoming cars like the Model Y.
In an interview earlier this year, CEO Elon Musk also said that Tesla is moving to an aluminum casting design instead of a series of stamped steel and aluminum pieces for the Model Y body:
“When we get the big casting machine, it’ll go from 70 parts to 1 with a significant reduction in capital expenditure on all the robots to put those parts together.”
Now a new patent application reveals this new casting machine that Tesla plans to use to build Model Y.
The patent is for what Tesla calls a “Multi-Directional Unibody Casting Machine for a Vehicle Frame and Associated Methods.”
Tesla describes the problems that come with the die casting process in vehicle manufacturing today:
“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 system that Tesla describes in its patent application fixes this problem with several ejector die portions meeting at a central hub.
According to the patent application, it was designed by Matt Kallas, a long time “Mold Making Supervisor” at Tesla who has since left to become a casting toll designer at GF Linamar.
He described the concept in the patent application:
“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 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 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 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.”
Here are drawings from Tesla’s patent application for the giant casting machine:
Tesla beleives that this design will “reduce build time, operation costs, costs of manufacturing, factory footprint, factory operating costs, tooling costs, and/or quantity of equipment.”
The automaker even notes that it will reduce the number of casting machines required to build a vehicle frame and that it could even build “a complete or substantially complete” frame itself.
“Reduce build time, operation costs, costs of manufacturing, factory footprint,” those are all things that Tesla needs to do with Model Y production in order to be able to squeeze it into the Fremont factory.
It’s also likely what Tesla is planning to do for Gigafactory 3 in China and that’s why the company is anticipating a much lower need for capital expenditure at the factory in order to start production.
When taking into account the new wiring architecture we reported on yesterday, it looks like Tesla is lining up some pretty significant manufacturing improvements that could make a big difference to Tesla’s manufacturing costs when combined together.
Elon’s vision of “the machine that builds the machine” is starting to come to life.
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