In the beginning of the 20th century, cars were rapidly replacing the horse-drawn wagon, but most people thought horses would never be eliminated. Just some twenty or thirty years later, everyone got around with a car and horses were relegated to the farms, never to be seen again in cities except under a policeman or tourist wagon. Today, we are seeing another transformation as combustion vehicles are starting to see their replacement with all-battery vehicles, steering away from fossil fuels and embracing new technology.
Changing Technologies to Match New Vehicle Designs
All of these changes happening every 25 years or so dramatically reshape auto manufacturing and tooling for their mass fabrication. Today’s changes are no exception; the expectation of vehicles to perform better with higher efficiency or better output requires tremendous redesign of systems and assumptions of how cars work. The result produces vehicles today that are getting 50 miles per gallon of gas or now being measured in new forms of energy. In another century it probably won’t surprise anyone that a common vehicle runs on an energy source that lasts for a number of years, eliminating the pump and fuel system entirely.
However, to make all those assemblies occur, various technologies have to be applied that bring out more in a component’s usage within a car assembly.
The most apparent phase is the customization of high-performance vehicles that has become commonplace now in regular vehicle fabrication. That requires parts that involve extensive tooling versus just plain casting and forming. Complex camshafts, for example, are designed as singular pieces but operate multiple valve systems in a combustion engine. The level of expertise and complexity possible today wasn’t available just 30 years ago. Much of it is doable, with deep hole drilling and other forms of machining, due to the incorporation of computers to control the work. This increases accuracy as well as allows 24/7 production as well.
Today’s engine parts have dramatically evolved, and that requires far more machining and shaping versus just forming or building as was done in the past. Transmissions are a great example of this, involving a highly integrated machine system to translate engine energy to the wheels of a car effectively. Old transmissions maybe got up to 6 gearing systems. Today’s modern transmissions are as high as almost a dozen different gearing, maximizing power translation to even higher and higher power bands. Deep hole drilling is also used far more extensively to help integrated parts work together versus having additional external parts bolted or welded on.
Boosting Cost Control
Labor is a high-cost resource for automotive manufacturing, and it continues to increase as higher skill demands and additional hands are needed for various processes. Automation such as computer-controlled deep hole drilling, however, becomes a gamechanger, providing highly accurate work for sensitive work that can be applied in batches and can work around the clock. As a result, labor resources are freed up to be far more available for other functions where manual expertise is still a requirement, and manufacturing or machining still stays on track with high quality production.
Increased Tooling Flexibility
In the old days, people didn’t change anything in assembly lines. Instead, when a new vehicle was rolled out, an entire new assembly line was developed for that production. The idea of changing an existing assembly line was so expensive, it was rarely applied. However, with modern machining, tooling flexibility becomes a significant advantage, allowing automotive manufacturing to pivot as needed from one part design to the next as needed. This provides far more responsive manufacturing, far better match of inventory to demand, and the ability to craft new parts for improvements instead of waiting for a whole model re-do. The difference is seen now in how fast new automotive changes are coming to market that would have taken a decade previously.
Applications of Artificial Intelligence
The AI front of things is already in development. While this latest technology is still in prototype status, it is very likely going to have a huge influence on automated machining for the future, especially as systems come online that are able to sense microscopic variations and adapt for them organically versus following a program script, the commonplace computer-aided machining format used today. It will also be a gamechanger for how production and manufacturing rates are achieved as AI fundamentally replaces the need for the human worker in base functions, a trend started in automotive work years earlier with robotic tooling. A lot remains to be seen, but deep hole drilling is not exempted from this future change.