Posted on September 13, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] is best known for its partnership with Japanese battery maker and Gigafactory partner, Panasonic. But, it turns out there's another Japanese company that is working closely with Tesla. The Nikkei Asian Review* reports on, "one company... [that is] making a name for itself with cutting edge technology that can successfully shape sheets of aluminum, a notoriously fussy material to work with... Fuji Technica & Miyazu, in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, is a key supplier, teammate, really, of Tesla Motors."
Above: Tesla Model 3 (Image: Nikkei Asian Review*)
To find out more, reporters visited Fuji Technica, and "got a glimpse of a frame for a Model S — Tesla Motors' flagship electric vehicle. It's 100% aluminum and the pride of the workers.... but they are equally proud of their collaborative back-and-forths with their peers from Tesla, based in the U.S. state of California."
Above: On their website, Fuji Technica discusses their "short lead time" process and "highly precise stamping dies" (Source: Fuji Technica & Miyazu)
Where does this pride come from? It turns out that, "Fuji Technica has also produced dies for the Model 3, a new Tesla that sports a futuristic design. The company has worked closely with Tesla from the early stages of development... Fuji Technica representatives say Tesla is a demanding customer, insisting, for example, on retaining a smooth curve on an outer panel regardless of the difficulty it might give the die-maker."
Image: Motor Trend
Nevertheless, "The company's engineers have established a good working relationship with the Tesla perfectionists, who heed constructive criticism, like, 'We would have to redesign the die if this design were to be put into mass production.' [With that said] Fuji Technica's advantage lies in its ability to create dies for shaping aluminum for mass-produced automobiles. Because aluminum is relatively light, it has become an essential material for carmakers scurrying to improve their cars' fuel efficiency."
Above: Manual finishing is key to the advantage Fuji Technica & Miyazu has gained over its foreign rivals (Source: Nikkei Asian Review*)
This is also critical for the all-electric Tesla Model 3 as less weight helps translate into better range. However, using aluminum because it's lightweight is only worthwhile if it can be made to look beautiful — especially for the stunning Tesla Model 3. To that end, Fuji Technica Director Norihiko Hoshi points out that manual work is essential to fine tune shapes: "Making dies for shaping aluminum is far more difficult than dies for steel... it's this part of our process [manual work] that makes the whole difference, when you want to manufacture a body with intricate or beautiful designs."
Although some analysts predicted Tesla would primarily use less-expensive steel for the mass market Model 3, their connection with Japan's Fuji Technica suggests otherwise. And it's no wonder as "Fuji Technica engineers can also come up with the cheapest way to get a sheet of aluminum to go from the specified sharp angle to the requested soft curve.... [and] the company thinks it has something else to parlay into profits: a brand image polished by happy clients from California."
*Source: Nikkei Asian Review