Tesla as a company has a knack for doing big things so it should come as no surprise that Gigapresses will be found in its factories. These are very large by all standards, possibly dwarfing your apartment.
The Gigapress is the most powerful die casting machine ever built, with a 61-kilonewton clamping force capability. They weigh over 400 tonnes and require more than 20 flatbed trucks to transport just one.
They measure 20 meters by 7.5 meters by 6 meters, they are made by the Italian manufacturing group known as IDRA and the company has enjoyed Tesla’s patronage for more than a while, from what we’ve heard. Many of the current orders are yet to be fulfilled.
Interestingly, even though the name Gigapress goes with Tesla’s Gigafactory, the name was actually coined by IDRA. Tesla uses the Gigapress to build the chassis in its cars into a single piece.
This means the automaker deals with a maximum of three parts instead of a hundred more if it had practiced bolting and welding stuff together. Like the auto industry has always been doing.
A Gigapress works like any other die casting machine, as they use a plunger to pour hot molten metal into a mold that will be reused. The impressive difference is the scale at which a Gigapress does it.
To get a fair idea take for example a plastic toy car, which is usually made from a solid piece before the tires are put in place. Now imagine that the entire chassis of the car is made in the same way but this time made of metal.
The chassis will be in a maximum of three pieces consisting of the front and rear parts attached to the battery pack structure. With the Gigapress, the vehicle chassis is manufactured in various stages.
The preparation step involves spraying soybean oil into the mold, which is necessary to make it easier to remove the finished chassis easily. This is important in order to make the mold easily reusable.
The Gigapress melts the metal using Tesla’s external furnace, which combines aluminum and silicon to make its chassis, which technically means it’s an alloy.
The alloy melts at approximately 850 °C after which the correct amount is poured into the mold by a plunger. After cooling to 400 °C the mold is opened and the chassis is moved by the robot to a pool of water to be cooled to 50 °C. Finally, the chassis will be checked for defects and the rough edges will be trimmed. After which all the required holes will be drilled by the robot.
Gigapresses require a lot of investment and space to install, so Tesla may have seen clear benefits before committing to them. The fact is that Gigapress is a game-changer in the auto industry.
The most obvious advantage is speed because, despite their large ratio, they work very fast. Per IDRA specifications the aluminum-silicon alloy can go from molten metal to chassis in less than 100 seconds which is a very high speed.
When you compare this to all the steps of labor involved in fabricating and then fastening over 100 parts together. This simply means that Tesla can make more cars than the rest.
JP Morgan visited a Gigapress in action and came back impressed. They did some quick math using a cycle time of four to five minutes and estimated that a factory with 10 Gigapresses running frequent shifts could produce 350 000 Model Y chassis a year.
And that’s because the Model Y chassis requires two Gigapresses, a figure that increases when the Gigapresses operate closer to specification by the manufacturer. People from the Fremont factory have been seen to actually complete the job in less than 200 seconds, even though they are still being optimized.
This means that a new factory can easily make 100 000 units in its first year of production. Such large numbers are basically unheard of in the world of automaking. Remember that Tesla wants to make 750,000 vehicles this year and 50% more next year.
One of the non-secret weapons is the Gigapress. Fremont Austin with GigaPress firing in Shanghai and Berlin. The target of more than one lakh vehicles does not seem so unattainable.
The next advantage of Gigapresses is cost savings. Some muskets are fanatical about reducing the cost of production per vehicle despite a considerable initial investment because they eliminate a lot of operating costs.
For example, a single Gigapress renders about 300 robots redundant because there isn’t a lot of coupling or lifting to do. According to Musk himself and he is saying something after his push for a robot-powered production process for the Model 3.
Gigapresses have actually cut space requirements by about 30 percent. The manufacturing cost is very low I mean we see about 30 reductions in the size of the body shop.
This may be surprising given the large size of the machines but less space and fewer robots mean a smaller maintenance budget. People will lose their jobs but from an economic point of view, Echo Press means a lot.
Think about the logistics involved in making over 100 parts in different locations. Monitoring the quality and delivering them to the assembly plant. Tesla has been able to avoid all of that with its army of Gigapresses.
All told the cost of building the chassis is reduced by about 40% when Gigapresses are included. Remember again Musk really wants to make a cheap electric car. With all the cost reduction here and there, a $25,000 electric car might look more realistic.
We know that Tesla is setting up research and production facilities in China to figure out how to make a very cheap car. You can guess that a GigaPress is going to be one of the first things to be installed.
The cars themselves benefit from a single-piece chassis. For one they do not suffer from defects inherent with weak joints or misaligned parts such as welding and bolting parts. While being structurally superior they also weigh less, which translates into a greater range for the same battery capacity.
It basically means that Tesla has found a faster and cheaper way to outdo its predecessors and make better cars. Tesla continues to outdo the competition as it has placed more GigaPress orders from IDRA.
It will likely use a Gigapress for its upcoming Cybertrucks and semi-trucks, even though the former’s steel structure will require more power to cast. Musk revealed that an 8,000-ton casting press would be needed to make the pickup truck’s previous body cast.
Interestingly, IDRA itself announced that an order has been placed for an 8,000-tonne casting machine. without specifying who the customer is. But it distanced itself in a way that the Gigapress will be used by a major global manufacturer to build new energy vehicles that Tesla points to.
In addition to that industry expert Sandy Monroe, who criticized the number of parts in the Model 3, has been informed by sources that Tesla will employ 11 Gigapress at four of its plants to scale up.
The Berlin plant will have at least one when it comes online this year and Fremont already has one in Shanghai.
Tesla isn’t actually the first automaker to employ casting because Cadillac, BMW, and Audi have used them in their models. But no one has attempted to do it at the mega casting level Tesla is doing.
How the rest of the industry will try to catch up remains to be seen. But we know it is not an industry that stands a chance to change things. So Tesla may be able to hold on to its edge for a while.
Even JPMorgan predicts that only new startups stand a chance to follow Tesla’s lead here because they are agile enough to adapt to the changes. For now, the only other company employing GigaPress is based in South Korea and doesn’t even make cars.
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