How companies can adapt to fulfill the forging requirements of modern electric vehicles.
By Tom Lefaivre, President & CEO, Anchor Harvey
It has been said that new Electric Vehicle (EV) technology is poised to upend the automobile manufacturing industry and completely change the forging industry in many ways. But are such claims true? If so, what effect will the switch to EVs have on the traditional forging industry? This article explores the possible impacts of EVs on the forging industry.
Internal Combustion Engines vs. Electric Vehicle Motors
Internal combustion engines are fundamentally different from motors in electric vehicles. But why are there fewer forgings in an EV motor than in a traditional engine?
- Transmission Differences: An internal combustion engine must maintain a constant momentum and a consistent number of revolutions per minute (RPMs) within a specific range. The transmission in an internal combustion engine thus requires a high level of complexity. On the other hand, an EV motor can spin at nearly any RPM without issue, which makes building the transmission a much simpler process.
- Temperature Regulation: Traditional engines generate a tremendous amount of heat, while electric vehicle motors generate significantly less. As such, an EV motor’s cooling systems are less complicated, requiring fewer forged components to cool all components adequately.
- Powertrain Differences: The powertrain of an electric vehicle motor is not nearly as complicated as that of a gas-powered car and requires fewer forged parts such as rods, pistons, shafts, and gears. While the powertrain of an internal combustion engine requires over 2,000 forged parts, the powertrain of an electric vehicle has less than 100.
What Does This Mean for the Forging Industry?
The United States is pushing toward electric vehicles, and this push will, over time, impact the forged parts industry. Here are a few possible effects on the forging industry that may happen over the coming decades:
- Contract Bidding: As the manufacturing of electric vehicles begins to match and eventually outpace traditional vehicles’ production, fewer forging contractors will be required to complete a vehicle. This paradigm shift could lead to challenging contract bidding processes that eat into revenue. However, such challenges may be offset by increased demand for electric vehicles that lead to sharp spikes in EV production, requiring manufacturers to source parts from multiple vendors.
- Consolidations: More than half of the Chevrolet Bolt’s components are sourced from the Korean technology giant LG Electronics. This kind of consolidation and single-source manufacturing could happen in the forging industry. As car companies seek a more straightforward and shorter supply chain, forging shops may need to consolidate. Such market consolidation isn’t a certainty, but it remains a distinct possibility to account for in the coming years.
- Diversification: Many shops already forge for many different industries, providing high-quality custom aluminum forgings for aerospace, automotive, defense, sport, and specialty applications. Forging shops that specialize in automotive forgings may have to diversify their industry applications.
- Demand Changes: The price of forgings contributes to a car’s overall cost and provides an expected baseline price range regardless of design engineering. Electric vehicles, as they exist currently, are priced primarily due to the cost of their battery technology. As battery prices fall, EVs may eventually become as affordable as a standard car, increasing the demand for EVs. As demand for Evs increases, so to will the need for parts, potentially offsetting otherwise adverse market effects on the forging industry.
The most important thing to bear in mind about these possible effects on the forging industry is that they remain uncertain. While some of these effects will manifest in the coming years, how many and to what extent remain unknown.
What Can Be Done?
Forging shops will have to adapt, and there will be a need for market awareness and self-awareness among forging shops nationwide. Each forging shop will have to answer some questions for themselves.
How Will the Auto Industry Change in the Future?
The truth is that no one can truly predict how the automotive industry will look in the far future. However, it is unlikely that some of the most extreme predictions about the effects on the forging industry will come to pass. Electric vehicles are sure to become a larger portion of the total automotive market, but it is by no means guaranteed that the traditional auto industry will disappear completely.
Does My Company Fit into the Changing Automotive Industry?
Yes. Any company can adapt to the changing landscape if they remain versatile. Forging shops, particularly if they rely on automotive forging for most of their current business, need to remain open to adapting to the road ahead. That could mean diversifying production into other industries, focusing on capturing work in EV forging supply chains, or perhaps some altogether different approach. To stay ahead of any industry changes, companies just need to keep making progress and continue to forge forward.
Tom Lefaivre is President and CEO of Anchor Harvey, a leading data-driven aluminum forging company. Anchor Harvey recently announced the launch of its Electric Vehicle Workgroup to create high-strength, lightweight forged aluminum components — such as steering knuckles, control arms, suspension components, structural nodes, and more — built for increased range in support of automotive manufacturers creating the next generation of transportation.