Why Tesla Could Become the Next Apple

Why Tesla Could Become the Next Apple

May 23, 2017

By Mohanbir Sawhney, Fortune Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s bold prediction that his $53 billion company could one day be as valuable as Apple the most valuable company in the world with an $800 billion market cap, is based on his logic that Tesla will disrupt manufacturing with automation by going after the “machine that makes the machine.” While it may seem just pie in the sky, there is a case for Tesla to become the next Apple. Tesla is betting that it can create a fully automated manufacturing process that will be as revolutionary as Henry Ford’s continuous assembly line. Ford revolutionized manufacturing in 1913 by creating a process that broke the assembly of the Ford Model T into 84 distinct steps as the car moved down the line on a conveyer belt. The process revolutionized production and dropped the assembly time for a single vehicle from 12 hours to 90 minutes. Ford was able to reduce the cost of the Model T from $850 to $300 and produce a car every 24 seconds. Ford ended up selling 15 million Model T cars by 1927, and the continuous assembly line remains the foundation of automobile manufacturing to this day. Although automation with robots has dramatically improved the efficiency of automotive manufacturing, the final assembly is still a manual process.   Tesla aims to combine its capabilities in advanced software and artificial intelligence (AI) with advanced automated manufacturing capabilities it acquired in November 2016 by buying Grohmann Automation to create a factory that will produce very high volumes at much lower costs than today’s auto factories. A fascinating insight from Tesla’s blog: The “factory becomes more of a product than the product itself.” Tesla believes that it can usher in the next manufacturing revolution by dramatically increasing production volumes and reducing labor costs in manufacturing. So why won’t other auto manufacturers follow suit and overtake Tesla? First, their products, as well as their factories, are bogged down by legacy. Tesla’s electric cars are significantly easier to manufacture than internal combustion (IC) vehicles. Tesla’s Model S has fewer than 20 moving parts, compared with almost 1,500 moving parts in an IC-engine car. This means that there are...

Carbon Fiber, Steel, Put New Twist on Automotive…

Carbon Fiber, Steel, Put New Twist on Automotive…

May 12, 2017

“Carbon Fiber, Steel, Put New Twist on Automotive Lightweighting” By Charles Murray, Design News Hybrid approach enables engineers to cut weight in high-load, high-volume auto applications. In a new twist on automotive lightweighting, engineers from Eaton Corp. are combining steel with carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastics to cut weight in high-load, high-volume powertrain applications, such as differential housings and transmission gear sets.   Eaton engineers say the new approach not only allows them to handle the high torque loads of those components, it enables them to do it in a way that’s economically palatable for automakers. “Typically, when we talk about metal replacement in vehicles, we’re looking at lower-load, thermoplastic parts, like under-hood parts that use nylon,” noted Kelly Williams, research and technology manager for polymers and nanocomposites at Eaton Corporate Research . “But higher-load, harsher-environment applications like this haven’t been done. This is a new approach, as far as we know.” Williams said that the automotive supplier is working with at least two automakers on replacement of cast iron differential housings with hybrid parts made from steel and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). The hybrid housing, which is subjected to torques as high as 4,000 lb-ft, uses a steel frame to carry the higher loads and employs the CFRP to carry medium-level loads. Even with its equivalent load-carrying capacity, it weighs about 40% less than the cast iron version, Williams said. “In terms of strength and stiffness, this approach can be comparable to cast iron,” Williams told Design News. “Carbon fiber alone is not as stiff as steel — its modulus is not as high as steel — so that’s why we use both materials.” Carbon fiber composites have a specific modulus of 14 GPa cc/g, versus 25 GPa cc/g for steel, she added. To be sure, CFRP has been used previously in vehicles and in aerospace applications, but generally not for high-load, high-volume parts, largely due to manufacturing cost constraints. Eaton was able to reduce costs, however, by combining the steel frame with the overmolded composite, enabling the creation of a quick, net-shape parts that need little secondary finishing. As a result, cycle times are shorter, making it less costly and more suitable for...

Are Autonomous Cars Disrupting the Supply Chain?

Are Autonomous Cars Disrupting the Supply Chain?

Apr 25, 2017

By Charles, Murray, DesignNews In the development of self-driving vehicles, Tier Two suppliers say they’re communicating directly with automakers in ways they hadn’t previously. During a two-week period in early February of this year, Chris Jacobs of Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI) criss-crossed the country, visiting the offices of virtually every major automaker to discuss such technologies as radar, Lidar, and microelectromechanical sensors. A decade ago, Jacobs wouldn’t have gotten his foot in the door with the automakers to discuss such subjects. But thanks to the emerging importance of self-driving cars, Jacobs says he and his colleagues have suddenly become very important. “Just in the last year, it’s been insane,” Jacobs, general manager of ADI’s advanced driver assistance systems and automotive safety, recently told Design News. “Now, the OEMs [automakers] want to develop non-disclosure agreements with us. And they want us to develop prototypes for them without a Tier One [supplier], so they can try them out on their test tracks. This would have never happened 10 years ago.” Meet more than 9,100 qualified buyers and decision makers searching for new products, the latest technologies, and state-of-the-art processes across the full spectrum of advanced design and manufacturing at our East Coast Advanced Design & Manufacturing Expo. June 13-15, 2017 in NY. Indeed, the time-honored order of the automotive supply chain seems to be changing, and the autonomous car may be behind it. In the past, Tier Two vendors, such as Analog Devices, didn’t communicate with automakers. Rather, they reported almost exclusively to the Tier Ones, such as Delphi Automotive PLC, Robert Bosch GmbH, Visteon Corp. and Continental AG. The Tier Ones, in turn, worked with the automakers to build bigger products, integrating sensors, software, semiconductor chips, and other parts from the Tier Twos. Under such arrangements, Tier Twos were generally discouraged from contacting the OEMs (the automakers) directly. “We would want to talk to them, and they would say, ‘Talk to the Tier One,’” Jacobs said. Now, that’s changing. Today, Tier Two electronics suppliers say they’re connected directly to the automakers on a separate dotted line – at least when it comes to autonomous cars. They’re neither more nor less important than the Tier One....

GM to Invest $1 Billion in U.S. Manufacturing Operations

GM to Invest $1 Billion in U.S. Manufacturing Operations

Apr 24, 2017

By Design-2-Part Magazine DETROIT—General Motors (GM) will invest an additional $1 billion in U.S. manufacturing operations that include multiple new vehicle, advanced technology, and component projects, the company announced recently. Details of individual projects will be announced throughout the year, GM said in a press release. The company also announced it will begin work on insourcing axle production for its next generation full-size pickup trucks, including work previously done in Mexico, to operations in Michigan, creating 450 U.S. jobs. “As the U.S. manufacturing base increases its competitiveness, we are able to further increase our investment, resulting in more jobs for America and better results for our owners,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, in the release. “The U.S. is our home market and we are committed to growth that is good for our employees, dealers, and suppliers and supports our continued effort to drive shareholder value.” GM’s announcement is part of the company’s increased focus on overall efficiency over the last four years. With a strategy to streamline and simplify its operations and grow its business, GM reports that it has created 25,000 jobs in the U.S.—approximately 19,000 engineering, IT, and professional jobs and 6,000 hourly manufacturing jobs—and added nearly $3 billion in annual wages and benefits to the U.S. economy over that period. At the same time, GM reports that it has reduced more than 15,000 positions outside the U.S., bringing most of those jobs to America. During that period, the company says, it has moved from having outsourced 90 percent of its IT work outside the U.S., to an insourced U.S.-based model. “We will continue our commitment to driving a more efficient business,” said Barra, “as shown by our insourcing of more than 6,000 IT jobs that were formerly outside the U.S., streamlining our engineering operations from seven to three, with the core engineering center being in Warren, Michigan, and building on our momentum at GM Financial and in advanced technologies. These moves, and others, are expected to result in more than 5,000 new jobs in the U.S. over the next few years.” General Motors (www.gm.com) has also been facilitating its supplier base to do the same. The company has been executing...

Has Tesla Found a Better Way to Test and Validate Vehicles?

Has Tesla Found a Better Way to Test and Validate Vehicles?

Mar 24, 2017

By Charles Murray, DesignNews Electric carmaker might shorten the beta test phase of its forthcoming Tesla Model 3 vehicle. A recent statement by Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk has auto insiders wondering if the electric car maker has found a better way to test and validate vehicles, or if it is embarking on a risky new course. In the statement made on an exclusive investor-only call last week, Musk reportedly suggested that the beta test phase of the company’s moderately-priced Model 3 EV is being shortened, and that its “early release candidates” are already being built on production tooling. According to various electric car websites, such as Elektrek, Tesla engineers used sophisticated design-for-manufacturability analytics, enabling them to limit the number of pre-production iterations of the vehicle. The result is that the quality of the so-called “release candidates” is higher than it was for the company’s earlier products, the Model S and Model X, reports said. “The most plausible interpretation of this statement about release candidates is that (Musk) has opted to short-cut development testing of prototype vehicles,” noted Sam Abuelsamid, senior reach analyst for Navigant Research , in an e-mail to Design News. “In all likelihood, he is assuming that they can get by with more simulation testing and less testing of physical prototypes.” If that is indeed Musk’s plan, it would be a departure from the way automobiles have traditionally been tested, validated and manufactured. In common practice, beta testing involves months and tens of thousands of testing miles on vehicles built on pre-production tooling. In the case of the Model 3 (photo, left), that phase may have been short-circuited, but it’s difficult to know definitively because Musk often uses different terms than other automakers when describing the process. Tesla did not respond to an e-mail from Design News asking for clarification. Automotive experts said the industry will watch carefully to see if the Silicon Valley carmaker’s software-centric approach is successful, but many were skeptical. “Everybody is trying to accelerate the process of launch,” noted David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research . “But if you say you’re going to skip part of the normal process in validating your tooling,...