Swedish automaker Volvo is on the verge of implementing a revolutionary new way to build its latest electric cars. As part of a $ 1.1 billion investment in its assembly plant in Torsland, Sweden, Volvo is adding a technique called large-scale casting to the car production process. This means that previously the assembly of large panels and floors of the car required several people or machines, now it can be done in one quick operation.
Mega-casting, as Volvo calls it, is a way for automakers to simplify the car production process. The ultimate goal is to replace many small parts with one large metal casting, allowing for more efficient production as well as more flexibility in design and manufacturing. This means less welding, less assembly and less room for errors when assembling the car.
One example of parts that will be made using megaliths is the floor structure of Volvo’s future electric vehicle line. Given the size of the car’s floor, Volvo will need to use very large molds that operate at very high pressures.
Although Volvo has not revealed its secret megalithic sauce, the injection molding process is basically the same for any metal, and in the case of injection molding, plastics. In this case, the molten metal under pressure is quickly expelled into a reusable form. The liquid metal then flows into the channels and crevices, eventually forming what this part might look like – in the case of Volvo, this part is more like most of a car.
Once the metal has hardened into shape, the part is released and hardened in water to cool completely before finishing. Using powerful lasers, Volvo removes unwanted excess material left over from the manufacturing process and performs several other tasks necessary to make the part suitable for use in car design. Once the part is finished, it can be used in the final design of the vehicle or sent back to the foundry so that it can be easily recycled and re-cast if any defect is found.
Using this method of production in combination with electric motors and batteries, Volvo can completely rethink the modern modular architecture of the car. This was announced by Mikael Fermer, a leading engineer behind Volvo’s mega-casting Auto Express that adapting the platform to a particular car is as simple as making a new casting. For example, switching from creating a small-sized front-wheel drive (such as a Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, or Mini Hatch) to a large three-row vehicle will simply require the use of a different floor molding to create the foundation.
One-piece casting also helps to give the vehicle a rigid structure. Combined with battery packs, the rigidity of the chassis is greatly improved. This means that the vehicle can be both more agile and potentially behave better in an accident.
Volvo says its megalithing procedure also helps reduce carbon emissions during production. But more importantly, it also helps reduce the environmental impact of your cars after they leave the assembly plant. Electric cars tend to be heavier than gas-powered cars, and because Volvo uses this method to produce its EVs, it can also be used to reduce emissions that don’t come out of the exhaust pipe created by heavier vehicles. Reducing vehicle weight creates a more efficient vehicle that consumes less energy while driving, but also reduces non-exhaust emissions from tires, brakes and road wear, which is usually exacerbated by heavy electric vehicles.
If this seems a little familiar, Volvo is not the only automaker to engage in large-scale casting in car construction. Recently, Tesla began casting parts for its Model 3 and Model Y cars using its own A 6,000-ton casting machine called the Giga Press showing that the rest of the industry may soon adopt this manufacturing technology as a way to reduce overall assembly complexity and make car platforms even more modular in the future.
Torslanda’s new injection molding machine won’t be the only improvement that Volvo’s $ 1 billion investment will bring. It will also accompany the new paint and final assembly area, as well as the battery assembly plant for the automaker’s partnership with the Swedish battery manufacturer, Northvolt. Volvo is aiming to become a battery-powered brand by 2030, and these new additions to the plant will be just one of the first steps in this direction.