According to Reuters, General Motors (GM) has acquired Tooling & Equipment International (TEI), a firm responsible for helping Tesla develop its ‘gigacasting’, a 3D sand printing method for producing large car body parts in a single piece, for ‘less than $100 million’.
GM’s acquisition of TEI signals its intent to manufacture cars more affordably and efficiently. This move comes as Tesla aims to launch a $25,000 electric vehicle (EV) and plans to produce millions of affordable EVs in the next decade. With TEI now under GM, Tesla is relying more on its other sand 3D printing casting partners in Britain (Grainger & Worral), Germany, and Japan, while also reportedly seeking a new sand casting specialist or developing such expertise in-house to reduce dependence on external suppliers.
Automakers like Ford, Hyundai, and Toyota are emulating Tesla’s gigacasting method to match its design and manufacturing efficiency. Tesla’s gigacasting approach, a core part of its ‘unboxed’ manufacturing strategy announced by Elon Musk, aims to halve assembly costs for future vehicles. This method involves creating the structural platform and subframes in one piece, and then assembling them with other concurrently produced parts.
TEI, alongside Tesla’s other suppliers, enabled rapid prototyping using sand casting, a key factor in Tesla’s ability to develop cars economically within 18 to 24 months, significantly faster than the industry norm of three to four years. TEI’s expertise, dating back to 2017, has been pivotal in developing molds for Tesla’s various models.
When TEI was up for sale, GM recognized the potential to acquire gigacasting knowledge. This realization was confirmed during due diligence and possibly earlier, as GM had previously collaborated with TEI for the Cadillac Celestiq EV’s underbody castings. GM’s acquisition led to TEI establishing a dedicated production line for the Celestiq and integrating TEI into GM’s Global Manufacturing division. TEI won the 2023 Casting of the Year award for the Celestiq castings and remains its own entity under GM’s ownership. The acquisition strategically places GM closer to Tesla’s gigacasting expertise.
Tesla’s lead in manufacturing innovation has been notable, but GM’s acquisition of TEI provides it with a direct insight into Tesla’s gigacasting methods. TEI’s role in creating test molds from industrial sand using 3D printing and digital designs has been crucial. This process allows for rapid, cost-effective mold creation and adjustments. TEI and its counterparts have also been integral in developing new alloys and heat-treating techniques for Tesla’s large metal parts.
James Womack, a former MIT research director, reportedly views Musk’s manufacturing initiatives as a significant industry disruption, prompting even Toyota to adopt gigacasting and similar innovations. Womack anticipates ongoing competition for manufacturing efficiency, noting that cutting-edge efforts often require more time to mature and may involve some failures.