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What is gigacasting and what does it mean for the automotive industry?

Vehicle bodies in white at Tesla Fremont Gigafactory
Vehicle bodies in white at Tesla Fremont Gigafactory

Gigacasting is a buzzword in the automotive industry at the moment, with a number of automakers announcing the fact that they are turning towards this new production method in order to reduce the cost of future vehicles and streamline the manufacturing process.

Put simply, gigacasting is the use of extremely large casting machines that are capable of creating substantial parts of a vehicle’s body in a single piece, rather than relying on numerous components that are traditionally welded together.

Tesla arguably dragged the process into the public conscience with its Model Y, which used gigacasting methods to create large sections of the underbody, reducing its overall manufacturing costs and streamlining the EV-maker’s production process.

Tesla Gigafactory Texas
Tesla reduced the number of robots in its factories thanks to gigacasting methods

What exactly is gigacasting?

Tesla boss Elon Musk, a figure that has arguably spearheaded the gigacasting movement in the automotive industry, puts it best when he posted on X, formally Twitter, ‘With our giant casting machines, we are literally trying to make full-size cars in the same way that toy cars are made’.

The gigacasting process requires enormous high-pressure die-casting machines that consolidate multiple parts into one, usually involving aluminium and aluminium alloys as the source material.

Whereas the underbody of today’s vehicles might be made of hundreds metal sections welded together, a gigacasting machine presses these components in one machine, and delivers large chunks of a vehicle’s underpinnings in neat packages that are less labour intensive.

What are the benefits of gigacasting?

When it comes to the manufacturing process, gigacasting is designed to streamline and speed up a production line, reducing the need for multiple complex parts to be individually bonded together.

This means the manufacturer saves precious time that, in turn, can save it money in the long run. These savings can be passed on to the consumer.

However, there is a question mark over this point, as introducing gigacasting to the manufacturing process often requires huge up-front investment that the manufacturer then has to claw back.

Aside from the increased production line efficiencies, gigacasting generally reduces the number of weld points, which can help reduce the overall weight of the finished part, as well as improve structural rigidity.

Tesla said that, compared to Model 3, the gigacasting method used on Model Y replaced 171 parts, eliminated 1,600 welds, and removed 300 robots from the assembly line.

This is important when it comes to modern electric vehicles, which are typically larger and heavier than their internal combustion engine counterparts, as any weight saving generally equates to improved electric range.

As with 3D Printing, gigacasting can also help automotive designers achieve more complex shapes and structures, which offers more freedom when it comes to producing eye-catching and desirable future vehicles.

Toyota Takaoka Plant
Toyota is looking towards gigacasting to help it ramp up EV production

Are there any downsides to gigacasting?

As previously mentioned, there is a high initial investment when it comes to both purchasing the gargantuan machinery required for gigacasting and then introducing this to an existing production line with minimal disruption.

It is also worth noting that pressing multiple structural parts into one giant metal piece makes accident repair more difficult and more costly, as smaller sections can’t be removed, repaired or replaced as easily.

Plus, and to get a little scientific, it is a lot harder to achieve a completely defect-free structural casting from a gigacasting machine.
This means that the waste rate can be higher for manufacturers, which can negate the savings made from introducing the machinery in the first place.

What manufacturers are using gigacasting?

Tesla pushed the technology in a big way, punching out three large pieces to make up the underbody of its Model Y: two gigacasted front and rear sections and a midsection made of aluminium and steel to store batteries.
However, recent reports have suggested that Tesla is to pause its efforts to take its gigacasting processes to the next level, where it was rumoured the entire underbody of an upcoming small-vehicle platform would be made from a single gigacasted piece.

This hasn’t stopped the likes of Geely-owned Volvo from pursuing the technology in a bid to make the production of its future electric vehicles more efficient and reduce its overall carbon footprint by simplifying their manufacturing process.

Similarly, BMW is exploring ways of interdicting gigacasting to its production lines, while numerous Chinese EV makers (Xpeng and Zeekr, to name a few) are already looking at Tesla’s methods in order to remain competitive in the market.

Toyota, the world’s biggest carmaker by annual sales, is also investigating the process as it plans to ramp up EV production in the coming years.

Tesla Model Y
The Model Y pioneered the use of gigacasting for Tesla

What does this mean for future cars?

The advent of battery electric vehicles and the speed of their adoption has shaken up the automotive industry, forcing car makers to rethink the way they design and produce on a mass scale.

In order to reduce the overall cost of electric vehicles, manufacturers are also seeking ways to improve efficiencies on the production line and gigacasting could assist here, theoretically reducing the cost of future cars – particularly EVs.

The additional structural integrity and weight saving will also benefit future electric vehicles, increasing range and ensuring they are safer on the road. Plus, the reduction of parts and processes reduces the energy consumption of each unit produced, reducing the overall carbon footprint.

However, there is still a question mark over the repair costs, as many industry insiders feel that producing a vehicle underbody from a single piece of metal will prove extremely difficult to repair in the event of an accident. This could have the knock-on effect of pushing up insurance premiums.