The silent war between General Motors and Tesla, with large-format 3D printing in the background…

Last week, at the very top of the automotive industry, a small and almost completely forgotten event took place, but it may have a significant impact on the balance of power in this sector. General Motors – one of the largest automotive concerns in the world, took over Tooling & Equipment International (TEI), specializing in the production of large-format foundry molds. Its key client was… Tesla, the most dynamically developing automotive company in recent years.

TEI helped Tesla create “gigacasting” – a pioneering process of casting very large car body parts in one piece to save time and money, which has also become one of the hallmarks of cars produced by Elon Musk’s company. Now Tesla is frantically looking for an alternative, while GM can immediately start using the technology and know-how developed by its key competitor. Information on this subject was reported by the international news agency Reuters, claiming that the acquisition of TEI is a key element of General Motors’ strategy aimed at “making up for losses to Tesla”.

TEI uses large-format 3D sand printing systems produced by the German company Voxeljet. Within a few years, it gained a reputation as one of the largest users of sand 3D printing in the US, using two VX4000 machines before purchasing a third earlier this year. Thanks to this, TEI was able to print hundreds of cores for several sets of vehicles in one night. TEI had been working with Tesla since 2017. The company then signed a three-year contract with Voxeljet to purchase the first molds and printed sand cores. Working with Tesla, TEI participated in the development of the Tesla Model Y, Model 3, Cybertruck and Semi truck.

This all finally caught the attention of General Motors. This year, GM established cooperation with the company, commissioning the production of cores for foundry molds used for the serial production of structural elements of the Cadillac CELESTIQ electric vehicle. The results of this cooperation were so satisfactory that GM bought TEI – which, although theoretically remaining an independent company, will be dependent on General Motors.

Tesla continues to benefit from partnerships with three other foundry companies in the UK, Germany and Japan. At the same time, the company is trying to find another large-format sand casting specialist to fill the TEI role and even acquire key expertise in-house to reduce its dependence on external suppliers.

Reuters says TEI and the three other foundry companies have played a special role for Tesla in developing new alloys for use in sand casting, as well as techniques for heat treating large metal body parts after they are formed to improve their quality. James Womack, former director of research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that Musk’s new manufacturing initiatives were a shock to the established automotive industry, “shaking everything else.”

“It even woke up Toyota – currently the industry’s top manufacturer – to take advantage of gigacasting and other Tesla innovations,” said Womack, co-author of the 1990 book “The Machine That Changed The World,” about the Toyota production system. Womack believes that the competition to achieve even greater efficiency in the area of foundry techniques for the automotive industry is not over yet.


Paweł Ślusarczyk
CEO of 3D Printing Center. Has over 15 years' experience in buisiness, gained in IT, advertising and polygraphy. Part of 3D printing industry since 2013.

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