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Tesla eyes aluminum casting for body panels

Electric vehicle maker reportedly testing rapid casting as replacement for cold metal stamping.

California-based electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla reportedly is testing new aluminum casting technology in Germany that would allow the firm to create large cast components to be used in place of cold-stamped ones.

A Twitter comment from Tesla founder Elon Musk indicates the new metal casting technology will involve the “biggest casting machine ever made” that “will make [a] rear body in a single piece, including crash rails.”

A Reuters article following up on the Tweet says the new casting process is being used on Tesla Model Y production in Germany. It is unclear whether recycled-content aluminum is playing a role in the new process, or if it could in the future.

A shift from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to EVs threatens the market for many recycled-content die-cast aluminum components, in a potential trend commented upon by London-based CRU in 2018.

The role of aluminum scrap in the wider EV body panel market remains uncertain, as does any impact from Tesla’s experimental technology.


The new casting process still involves large metal presses, known as Gigapress machines, according to a Tesla blog Reuters quotes. Those sizable presses are made by the Travagliato, Italy-based IDRA Group. That machinery maker, on its website, says as part of its sustainability commitment it will “sponsor R&D activities in the use of secondary alloys and actively reduce [the] use of primary aluminum.”

Manufacturers and the metals industry, including the aluminum sector, have been paying greater attention to the role of recycling in reducing carbon emissions, possibly by placing a higher value on recycled-content metal.

In the automotive assembly sector, Reuters says aluminum “has proven cumbersome to use in large components because it is difficult to stamp into complex shapes. To get intricate ridges and other shapes, aluminum pieces have needed to be glued or riveted, since welding deforms the metal.”

Tesla and IDRA’s technology has been designed to inject molten aluminum into a casting mold to avoid the use of fasteners or welds. Robots have been designed to extract the still hot cast and molded aluminum part quickly and efficiently.
 

Source: Brian Taylor, recyclingtoday.com

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