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Metal stamping in manufacturing allows fabricators to produce shaped components of various sizes. It’s a method where people apply force to a material with a press and die to cause deformation or separation, resulting in a piece of the desired shape. As people become more interested in electric vehicles (EVs), people will see EV manufacturing changing the use of stamping in the automotive industry.
A car’s body, chassis and container shell are some of the many parts formed with stamping. A well-equipped fabrication plant can handle large production runs. As automotive companies increasingly prioritize EV production, what will this mean for the current uses of stamping in manufacturing?
No Near-Term Stamping Equipment Changes Expected
Something on the minds of many metal fabrication professionals is whether they’ll need to quickly transition to using different equipment to accommodate the uptick in EV production. Thomas Schmider, director of automotive at stamping equipment provider Schuler Inc., doesn’t think that’s an immediate worry.
He discussed the body-in-white architecture that involves welding a car’s frame. Schmider says the process differs for gas-powered versus EVs. Even so, he noted how EV automakers typically use the same stamping presses for large body panels as conventional automobile manufacturers.
However, Schmider expects successful companies that provide stamping in manufacturing will prepare for the rise in EVs by pursuing Industry 4.0 technologies. The increased production of electric vehicles was not the sole prompt that caused decision-makers to invest in Industry 4.0 offerings, but it is often a major factor.
Schmider explained how newer stamping plants often navigate their startup phases by having just one line producing a significant variety of parts. Industry 4.0 offerings could help people overcome the associated limitations of that modest setup.
Additionally, he brought up how EVs are causing a trend toward more diverse materials, including high-strength steel and nonferrous materials. Schmider thinks the latter may eliminate some stamped components. For example, Tesla uses giant die castings for single large parts rather than making them from multiple fastened stamped pieces. This approach eliminates 370 elements from the design. However, Schmider isn’t concerned, pointing out that some EVs have pressed components that combustion-engine cars don’t. That should help things balance out.
The main thing to remember is that electric vehicles won’t make stamping in manufacturing obsolete. However, it’ll likely involve some process changes.
Stamping in Manufacturing Is Shifting Toward EVs
Many companies are increasing their EV production. That makes sense, particularly as many world leaders set ambitious emissions targets. Gas-powered automobiles are significant generators, so reducing their sales and production could help the planet.
However, many companies are standing out by committing to eventually becoming all-electric automakers. Volvo and Toyota are two of them. Others — including Audi, Nissan and Volkswagen — have announced less ambitious but still-impressive goals to produce more EVs.
When consumers realize EVs are easily accessible and have many of the features they want, they’ll be more likely to strongly consider these options. People working in metal-stamping facilities must be ready for industrywide changes that may cause temporary workflow fluctuations and require open-mindedness about adapting.
Other challenges may arise related to how many automotive companies are still producing conventional cars along with EVs. That could cause additional challenges in the stamping workflow, including requiring metal fabricators to purchase more machinery to keep up with the workload. It may also lead to some clients waiting longer for order fulfilment.
EVs Require Lightweight but Durable Parts
Designers and engineers from automotive brands working on the newest electric vehicles often focus on making their creations as lightweight as possible. That should make the cars more aerodynamic and allow them to go more miles per charge. Some companies are trying futuristic materials, but it could be a while before those are feasible at scale. That’s one of the reasons why aluminium is a frequently chosen material.
Lucid Motors Tries Teamwork to Iron Out Aluminum Stamping Procedures for EV Manufacturing
Lucid Motors is one example of a company taking that approach with its EVs. It uses aluminium for battery pack covers and door rings.
However, reaching that point required several years of collaboration between Lucid representatives, AP&T North America Inc. and Fischer Group GmbH. Together, the companies worked out how to use hot stamping in the most cost-effective ways. Part of the process involved simulations to see risks associated with potential wrinkling and cracking during the metal-forming process. Lucid Motors also chose high-strength aluminium for its hot-stamping line, first tested in Sweden.
The trials involved numerous aluminium alloys from various suppliers. The people involved used them to determine the optimal stamping process, material and heat treatment specifics. They then used the stamping line to create parts for Lucid Motors’ beta prototype and release candidate cars.
Many people don’t realize how complex EV manufacturing is unless they’re directly involved. Take electrical connectors, for example — an essential component in engines, headlights, dashboard systems and more. Manufacturing these components requires a four-step process, with stamping being the first. However, modelling and real-world testing, as Lucid Motors did, shows what works well and which methods need improvement.
General Motors Facilitates Stamping in Manufacturing
Lucid Motors is not alone in focusing on aluminium for EV manufacturing. General Motors announced in the autumn of 2022 that it would invest $491 million into producing aluminium and steel-stamped parts at its Marion, Indiana, facility. This ramping up of stamping in manufacturing goes beyond EVs and will benefit all of the brand’s future products. However, it’s a safe bet that many of those will be EVs.
GM representatives are already working with car dealerships, helping salespersons warm customers to EVs. Plus, General Motors plans to eventually have only electric vehicles in its product lineup.
Stamping in Manufacturing Must Evolve
Automotive manufacturers had to respond to the need and desire for electric vehicles to remain successful. Metal fabricators specializing in stamping will embark on similar transitions. Being open and willing to do things successfully will help them easily navigate the coming changes.