A piece of manufacturing news from Tesla Motors caught our eye, that Elon Musk’s car company plans to die-cast major underbody structures — in effect the chassis — for its cars. All the ingredients beloved of the popular tech press are there, a crazy new manufacturing technology coupled with the Musk pixie dust. It’s undeniably a very cool process involving a set of huge presses and advanced 3D-printing for the sand components of the mould, but is it really the breakthrough it’s depicted as? Or has the California company simply scored another PR hit?
We produced an overview of die casting earlier in the year, and the custom sand moulding in the Tesla process sounds to us a sort of half-way house between traditional die casting and more conventional foundry moulding. I don’t doubt that the resulting large parts will be strong enough for the job as the Tesla engineers and metallurgists will have done their work to a high standard, but I’m curious as to how this process will give them the edge over a more traditional car manufacturer building a monocoque from pressed steel. The Reuters article gushes about a faster development time which is no doubt true, but since the days of Henry Ford the automakers have continuously perfected the process of making mass-market cars as cheaply as possible. Will these cast assemblies be able to compete with pressed steel when applied to much lower-margin small cars? I have my doubts.