VOLVO’S NEW MEGACASTING TECHNIQUE
All cars have cast parts, but Volvo’s taking it up a notch.
It’s not new for a car to use parts from a press. But Volvo’s investing around £8bn in an upgrade to its Torslanda plant that includes enormous machines capable of pressing parts on a scale not seen before. ‘The whole idea is to replace a large number of parts with one,’ says Mikael Fermér, Volvo’s solution architect for vehicle platforms. And when Dr Fermér says ‘a large number’ he means hundreds per car. The entire back half of a new EV platform can be cast from a single piece of alloy, rather than welded together from multiple mixed-material components.
It’s an idea already being used by Tesla with the Model Y, which has large front and rear castings. Tesla, in turn, got the idea from aircraft manufacture, where it’s more efficient to cast a wing that can hold fuel, rather than build fuel tanks into a wing.
For Volvo, key to the process is a new alloy that’s cost-effective and behaves appropriately throughout every stage of the megacasting process, with its high temperatures and 8000-tonne pressure.
Fermér says megacasting will make Volvo’s life easier as the EV evolves in ways currently hard to predict. ‘As soon as you launch a new platform, it gets old; with megacasting it’s basically one casting tool and within this, you can do whatever you want.’ The idea being that if a new e-motor, for instance, is developed, with a size and shape that doesn’t fit the old platform, a new die can be designed quickly, rather than having to redesign multiple components. Fermér admits megacasting won’t always be the lightest solution: ‘If you have many parts and you’re bringing the best material for every position, it will be lighter – but it will be far more expensive.’
Today’s massive investment will in the long term make Volvos cheaper to build. It also means Volvo can reduce production waste significantly – almost 100 per cent of the material is used, as opposed to ‘more like 50-60 per cent’ for conventional manufacturing processes. ‘And when you scrap your car, we’ll want it back,’ Fermér adds. Expect the Volvos of 2042 to be made up of parts from Volvos of 2022, then.