Special Report: Automotive


By Lynn Stanley

Automotive suppliers work to meet current demands and seek plot points to an unpredictable future.

January 2023- Since Ferdinand Magellan completed the first circumnavigation of the world in 1522, the wind’s unpredictability has dictated the speed and path needed to reach a destination. In 1847, U.S. Navy geographer Matttttt hew Fontaine Maury published the first Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic to help captains plot the best sea lanes for their voyages. Pointing a boat into the wind while maintaining direction requires a high-risk tack called “closed hauled.” Skillful navigation by the captain and the concerted effort of the crew keep the boat flat for additional speed while avoiding capsizing. A ship’s complement can reach port by sailing closed hauled and creating a zigzag pattern through the wind.

U.S. automotive suppliers are also facing headwinds as e-mobility vies for market shares with cars and light trucks powered by internal combustion engines. Some industry leaders are ready to write the obituary on ICE vehicles, but FFJournal queried four people who think this prediction is premature. They are: Joseph McCabe, president of AutoForecast Solutions LLC; Renishaw Inc. General Manager Dan Skulan; AIMS Metrology Co-Owner and Vice President Mark Gearding; and Steve Cichanowicz, AIMS operations manager.


     Joseph McCabe,AutoForecast Solutions LLC


ICE vehicles are expected to increase by 36 million units and maintain dominant market share through 2030, accompanied by robust demand for aftermarket parts and service.

“We know electrification of vehicles is coming,” says McCabe. “One can purchase an EV or hybrid now. But it’s a macro trend that may not be realized for another 10 to 15 years. Predictions change monthly, so no one really knows what e-mobility will look like a decade or so from now.”


McCabe points to cost, resource limitations, range anxiety and infrastructure (such as charging stations) as hurdles electric vehicles will have to overcome to reach market saturation. Climate legislation and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRARA ) were signed into law in 2022 to reduce emissions 40 percent by 2030. Despite the tax credits these laws offer to consumers to purchase EVs, the price tag for them remains out of reach of most Americans.

“Part of the price hike can be attributed to resource shortages that include components for semiconductors and the elements used in battery chemistry such as nickel, lithium, copper and cobalt,” McCabe says. “When you couple production of batteries with the goal to be a green society, it’s a difficult balancing act. Mining is not a green process. And cobalt is mined by slave labor.” IRARA legislation was passed in part to bar EV tax credits by 2024 if any battery components are manufactured or assembled by a “foreign entity of concern” or if those batteries contain minerals extracted, processed or recycled by a foreign entity of concern, he says, “but you can’t make changes like that overnight.”

While the mileage range of electric vehicles is rising, the infrastructure to support battery-powered cars remains deficient. “You won’t find a charging station at every exit,” says Gearding. “If you do, it may not be in a convenient location. Then there’s the question of how long it will take to charge your car.”

Proper disposal of EV batteries raises other questions. “One of the concerns we hear being raised is that there is currently no system to coordinate collection of spent EV batteries or track them to determine if they are being unsafely accumulated, illegally abandoned or improperly managed,” says Skulan.

With automotive electrification in its infancy, job shops and fabricators are looking at ways to balance current parts production and capital equipment choices with the need to strategically position themselves to adjust to future changes. McCabe, who has accrued 25 years in the automotive forecasting business, believes understanding the business landscape at a fundamental level can help suppliers mine important intel.


     A. Renishaw REVO-2 system measures automotive component using 5-axis scanning.


     B. Honda quality exempt staff measures automotive part with AIMS 5-axis HB.


     C. Renishaw Modus software programming from 3D (digital twin) model.


“In 2016, North American vehicle production peaked at 17.8 million in a strong U.S. economy,” says McCabe. “At the time, growth was driven by 14 traditional automotive OEMs. Fast forward to today. There are currently 28 vehicle manufacturers. We’ve doubled the number of carmakers but we’re producing fewer vehicles. Traditional OEMs are competing with auto tech companies who are using a different business model to gain entrance to the marketplace.”

According to McCabe, carmakers like Tesla use a direct-to-consumer model that allows them to build to order, “minimizing the need for trim level pre-builds and inventory- based selling.”

“The new consumer’s buying decisions are socially motivated,” he continues.

“Subscription business models where a customer pays a periodic fee for the use of one or more vehicles versus a transactional-based purchase are also becoming increasingly attractive. Legacy OEMs, on the other hand, are anchored to a dealership network business model,” which carries the cost of maintaining dealerships, insuring cars, moving them periodically to avoid wear spots and maintaining a salaried sales force.



    Source : AutoForcast Solutions

In the current climate, “if you have enough capital, a charismatic leader and a great design you can be in the car business overnight,” McCabe says. “But a lot of these BEV companies have never built a car. It opens a door of opportunity for job shops and fabricators who already have metalworking skills and manufacturing experience. Proactive suppliers need to consider how they can translate their core capabilities.”


Challenges closer to home include supply chain problems that have forced automakers to limit or stop production on new cars, trucks and SUVs. In 2022, auto companies shipped 8 million fewer cars than anticipated due to part shortages. Yet suppliers are still being asked to “provide razor-thin margins.”

Customers are also requiring automotive manufacturers to provide 100 percent parts inspection. Metrology equipment such as hardbearing 5-axis coordinate measuring machines gives suppliers a tool that meets current demand and helps them to maintain a flexible manufacturing stance.

“The majority of job shops are being run by 100 employees or less,” says Skulan. “We are seeing that prudent small businesses devote at least 80 percent of their workload on parts they know won’t change and no more than 20 percent on EV. They are focusing on components like body panels, sheet metal stamping, steering, suspension, transmissions and brakes.”

“Regardless of how a part is made, metrology is used for setting up new processes, controlling the processes and measuring the outcome,” Skulan continues. “A hard-bearing 5-axis CMM that can be moved onto the shop floor and placed next to a CNC machine, laser cutting equipment or a stamping press can capture precise, usable intelligence at the point of use. Fundamentally, real time metrology is foundational to anything that is digitally driven.


    Dan Skulan, Renishaw I


     AIMS Operations Manager Steve Cichanowicz and co-owner and Vice President Mark Gearding with 5-axis LM.


“Pairing our CMMs with Renishaw’s 5-axis probe systems allowed us to put multi-sensor inspection and intelligence-gathering tools into the hands of operators,” says Gearding. “With 5-axis inspection, a company can measure ICE components, convert to EV parts or handle measurement needs for both.”

AIMS’ Revolution Series CMMs the LM, HB and Summit 10.10.10 off er versatile three-dimensional inspection of small to large in-process and post-process parts on the shop floor, in the lab or in an automated cell.

The lab-grade LM offers multi-sensor capabilities with Renishaw’s REVO-2, which delivers measuring speeds up to 500 mm/second and data collection rates of up to 4,000 points per second for increased part throughput. The mobile HB, fitted with Renishaw’s 5-axis PH20, can be placed on or near a production line to provide dimensional verification and process flow monitoring in real time.

The Summit 10.10.10 was introduced to the industry when Honda Transmission Manufacturing of America Inc. needed a CMM that could accommodate larger parts as well as a robot head and gripper for automated inspection. At the time, the machine that could accommodate these requirements didn’t exist.

“Our development of the Summit for Honda demonstrated our commitment to the automotive industry,” Gearding says.

The Summit’s large inspection capacity (40 in. from left to right, top to bottom and front to back) can support part sizes from transmission cases to block head engine parts. The Summit can accommodate REVO-2’s newest sensors such as RVP vision and SFP2 surface measurement. Rapid calibration for all positions expands uptime. Infinite positioning and 5-axis motion offer easy access to difficult features while flexible tip sensing aids accuracy and flexibility. Dual linear motors replace conventional belt and pulley mechanisms. AIMS’ design minimizes wear and tear for zero maintenance, plus precision positioning and reliability. The CMMs use 110/220-volt outlets, eliminating the need for shop air.

The turnkey solution carries other advantages for companies like Honda. “The transmission plant has four Summits anchoring automated production lines,” says Cichanowicz. “The serial numbers for those parts are loaded into the CMMs so we know what program to run and which parts are processing. Checking parts provides real-time data on whether the component is good or bad and if tooling adjustments are needed. It also reduces scrap.”


“We’re a single source provider that builds and assembles our CMMs in the U.S.,” says Gearding. “We have an in-house service group and application team that allows us to customize the CMM to a job shop or fabricator’s needs. That includes programming, custom holding fixtures, tooling, automation, service and support.” For Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, supply chain disruptions make the adaptability of 5-axis CMM inspection to one’s production schedule especially attractive. “Ford F-150 trucks, for example, aren’t moving off lots due to lack of parts,” Gearding explains. “Some weeks a supplier may work 70 hours and other weeks just 32 hours. It’s like a tidal wave of parts. When they arrive, operators assemble them, ship them out and wait for the next batch.” AIMS tailors its CMMs to customers’ software requirements with packages like Renishaw’s Modus. The CMM manufacturer is writing inspection programs with Modus for one automotive customer to help reduce the number of operations it uses to produce parts and bridge the gap created by labor shortfalls. “We evaluated all of their manual checks to see which steps could be automated,” says Cichanowicz, operations manager for AIMS. “We were able to move that work to a CMM and reduce the number of operators from 10 employees to just one.”


AIMS performed the same service for an engine plant, making it possible for one operator to run three LM CMMs equipped with REVO 2 probe heads. Since each machine holds two parts, the operator is able to inspect up to six parts at the same time.


    Source : AutoForcast Solutions


According to Skulan, 5-axis CMMs will continue to play a central role in both ICE and EV parts production.

For example, electric and hybrid gas/electric cars emit low sounds at low speeds because they don’t have internal combustion engines producing noise and vibrations. “There is a movement underway to build EV components like gear teeth, axles and bearings to a higher precision,” says Skulan. “Tighter tolerances promote smoother meshing of gear teeth, which limits noise and vibration. You can’t achieve that without metrology.”

“There are gear machines dedicated to these types of parts but they aren’t flexible,” says Gearding. “You can measure anything on a 5-axis CMM whether it’s a gear or brake as long as your part size fits the machine’s measuring volume. We recommend companies consider buying a machine that is larger than their current requirements to give them added capacity. Software also has to advance. Renishaw’s development efforts in this area mean the Modus programming is evolving daily. It’s not stagnant.”

Increased scrutiny of parts performance and friction efficiency in EV applications will usher in new tasks for 5-axis inspection such as measuring size, form and texture.

“With an electric drive you can’t just monitor voltage,” says Skulan. “When a driver hits the accelerator, 100 amps of power is instantaneously transferred. The ability to measure that flow of current in real time could open up a new area of metrology.”

There are considerable costs associated with retooling sheet metal equipment for a new parts portfolio. With 5-axis CMM technology, an operator simply has to create a different part program.

“There’s a big move toward electric motors but there is also a move toward hydrogen as an alternative clean fuel source,” Skulan notes. “As a manufacturer, you want to stay on top of trends but not get stuck supporting one if things don’t pan out. We want suppliers to be empowered to stay in business and thrive now. A turnkey soft ware-supported 5-axis CMM is one way to do that.”

“This is a long game for job shops and fabricators,” McCabe says. “Right now it’s about opening people’s eyes to different ways of thinking and then see what options really stick. Manufacturers will need to stay nimble to be prepared for whatever comes through the door. The automotive industry is a glacier speed market. The transition to electrification won’t be a light switch moment for consumers and carmakers.” -FFJ




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