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Tesla Revolutionizes Car Manufacturing with Quiet Breakthrough; Musk Issues New Warning on AI Risks and Calls for a “Regulatory Framework”

Bruno T
Latest News
September 14 2023 03:21AM

Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has combined a series of innovations to make a technological breakthrough that could transform how it manufactures electric vehicles and help Elon Musk achieve his goal of cutting production costs in half, according to five people familiar with the matter.

The company pioneered the use of massive presses with 6,000 to 9,000 tons of clamping force to shape the front and rear structures of its Model Y in a “gigacasting” process that reduced production costs and left rivals struggling to catch up.

In an effort to expand its lead, Tesla is nearing an innovation that would allow it to cast nearly the entire complex lower body of an electric vehicle in a single piece, rather than about 400 parts in a conventional car, the people said.

The know-how is crucial to Tesla’s “unboxed” manufacturing strategy, unveiled by CEO Musk in March, a key part of his plan to produce tens of millions of cheaper electric vehicles over the next decade and still turn a profit, the sources said.

Although Tesla has said its boxless model involves producing large subassemblies of a car at once and then assembling them, the size and makeup of the modular blocks are still the subject of speculation.

Terry Woychowski, president of U.S. engineering firm Caresoft Global, said if Tesla could gigacast most of the bottom of an EV, it would further disrupt how cars are designed and made.

“It’s a facilitator with steroids. It has huge implications for the industry but is a very challenging task,” said Woychowski, who worked for U.S. automaker GM for over three decades. “Castings are very hard to do, especially the larger and more complicated ones.”

Two of the sources said Tesla’s new design and manufacturing techniques, previously undisclosed, mean the company could develop a car from scratch in 18 to 24 months, whereas most rivals currently take three to four years.

The five people said a single large structure – combining the front and rear sections with the central body’s lower part, where the battery is housed – could be used on Tesla’s small EV, which it aims to launch at a $25,000 price point by mid-decade.

Tesla was expected to make a decision on whether to cast the entire platform as soon as this month, three of the sources said, though even if it does, the final product could change during the project validation process.

Neither Tesla nor Musk responded to Reuters’ questions for this story.


The innovation Tesla has made centers on how giant molds for such a large part are designed and tested for mass production and how the cast parts can incorporate hollow support chassis with internal ribs to reduce weight and increase collision resistance.

In both cases, the innovations, developed by design and casting experts in Britain, Germany, Japan, and the United States, involve 3D printing and industrial sand, the five people said. All spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

So far, automakers have avoided casting ever larger structures because of the “gigacast dilemma” – creating molds to make 1.5 square meter or larger parts increases efficiency but is expensive and comes with numerous risks.

After a large metal test mold is made, machining adjustments during the design process can cost $100,000 per try, or redoing the mold completely can cost $1.5 million, according to a casting expert. Another said the whole design process for a large metal mold would typically cost about $4 million.

That has been considered prohibitive by automakers – especially as a design may need half a dozen or more adjustments to achieve a perfect matrix for noise and vibration, fit and finish, ergonomics, and collision resistance, the sources said.

But Musk’s vision from the start was to find a way to cast the entire bottom of the body, despite the risks, the sources said.

To overcome the obstacles, Tesla turned to companies that make test molds from industrial sand with 3D printers. Using a digital design file, printers known as binder jetting machines deposit a liquid binding agent onto a thin layer of sand and gradually build a mold, layer by layer, that can cast pressure-die-cast alloys.

According to one source, the cost of the project validation process with sand casting, even with multiple versions, is minimal – only 3% of making the same with a metal prototype.

That means Tesla can adjust prototypes as many times as needed, reprinting a new one in a matter of hours using machines from firms like Desktop Metal and its ExOne unit.

The design validation cycle using sand casting takes only two to three months, two of the sources said, compared with something between six months to a year for metal mold prototypes.


A car’s lower body subframes are typically hollow to save weight and improve crash resistance. Currently, they are made by stamping and welding multiple pieces together to leave a void in the middle.

To cast subframes with cavities as part of a gigacasting, Tesla plans to place solid sand cores printed by binder jetting machines inside the overall mold. After the part is cast, the sand is removed to leave the voids.

But despite the greater flexibility achieved in both the design process and the complexity of large structures, there was still one more major hurdle to overcome.

The aluminum alloys used to produce the cast parts behaved differently in sand and metal molds and often did not meet Tesla’s shock resistance and other attributes.

Casting experts overcame that by formulating special alloys, adjusting the cooling process of the die-cast alloy, and also creating post-production heat treatment, three of the sources said. And when Tesla is satisfied with the prototype mold, it can invest in a final metal mold for mass production.

The sources said Tesla’s next small car gave it a perfect opportunity to cast an entire EV platform, mainly because its bottom is simpler,

The type of small car Tesla is developing – one for personal use and the other a robotaxi – doesn’t have a large “nose” at the front and back since there’s not much hood or rear trunk.

“In a way, it’s like a tray, a battery tray with small wings attached at both ends. It would make sense to do that whole,” one person said.

The sources said, however, that Tesla would still have to decide what type of gigapress to use if it decides to cast the bottom of the body in one piece – and that choice would also dictate how complex the car’s structure would be.

To punch out such large parts of the body quickly, people said Tesla would need larger gigapresses, with massive clamping force of 16,000 tons or more, which would come at a high cost and could require larger factory buildings.

Three of the five sources said a problem with presses that use high clamping force, however, is that they cannot house the 3D-printed sand cores needed to make hollow subframes.

People said Tesla could overcome these hurdles by using a different type of press in which the molten alloy can be injected slowly – a method that tends to produce higher-quality castings and can accommodate the sand cores.

But the process takes longer.

“Tesla could still choose high pressure for productivity, or it could choose slow alloy injection for quality and versatility,” one of the people said. “It’s still a toss-up at this point.”

Musk Issues New Warning on AI Risks, Calls for ‘Regulatory Framework’

Elon Musk called for a “regulatory framework” for artificial intelligence (AI) after warning U.S. senators about the risks to civilization posed by the technology under development.

The billionaire, owner of social network X, formerly Twitter, was among more than 20 technology and civil society leaders who attended a closed-door summit in the Senate on Wednesday, focusing on AI. Later, he met privately with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

“When there is something that is potentially a danger to the public, you want some kind of oversight,” Musk told reporters.

Musk, also CEO of Tesla Inc. (TSLA), told senators they should not be concerned about autonomous cars, for example, but should instead focus their concerns on what he called deep AI, said a person in the room. Deep AI is an apparent reference to deep learning, a type of artificial intelligence that teaches computers to process data in a way that mimics the human brain.

Musk, speaking off the cuff, raised specific concerns about data centers that are so powerful and large they could be seen from space, with a level of intelligence that is currently difficult to comprehend, the person said.

Among the projects initiated by Musk, the world’s richest person, is an AI company, xAI.

Regarding China, Musk recounted his previous trip to the country and said he raised concerns about deep AI and superintelligence with senior officials there.