Tesla’s gigacasting process, which uses giant casting machines to make car bodies with just a few massive cast parts, allows the company to greatly simplify chassis assemblies, saving loads of time, money and factory space. Other automakers, including Ford, Hyundai and several Chinese brands, have taken a keen interest in the technology.
Tesla’s process relies on massive Giga Presses from Italian firm Idra, which have been the subject of many a gee-whiz YouTube video. A company called Tooling & Equipment International (TEI), a specialist in sand casting techniques, is much less famous, but has also played a key role in Tesla’s development of gigacasting molds.
Now it appears that GM, for once, may have stolen a march on Tesla by acquiring TEI, which became part of GM’s Global Manufacturing division in July. “Sources with direct knowledge” told Reuters that GM paid less than $100 million for TEI. It’s unknown whether Tesla was also among bidders for the company.
“TEI will remain its own business entity with GM as its parent company,” GM said, adding that it acquired TEI “to bolster its portfolio of innovations and secure access to unique casting technology.”
It also scored a rare PR victory over the smug California (oops, make that Texas) carmaker. The unnamed sources told Reuters that the TEI acquisition is part of GM’s strategy to catch up to Tesla. We were beginning to doubt that the automaker had any such strategy, after its recent shot in its own corporate foot.
Tesla may have to scramble to find a replacement for TEI, or—as it has often done in the past—develop the necessary expertise in-house. Reuters has reported that Tesla depended on TEI and three other suppliers, for a rapid prototyping technique that uses casts made out of industrial sand.
Starting from a digital design, TEI and its colleagues use 3D printers called binder jets to build sand molds that can cast molten alloys. These can be printed quickly and cheaply, allowing Tesla to swiftly iterate designs for body parts.
According to Reuters, TEI began working with Tesla in 2017 to develop Model Y, and has since been involved in gigacasting mold prototyping for Tesla’s Model 3, Cybertruck and Semi.
GM also has history with TEI. In 2021, the two companies worked together to create underbody castings for the upcoming Cadillac Celestiq EV, and TEI invested in a new dedicated production line for the Celestiq. This led to TEI winning the casting industry’s equivalent of an Oscar: the 2023 Casting of the Year award from the American Foundry Society.