Doosan Ready to Shift Gears for New Electric Vehicles
Doosan has a long history with the automotive market. Our machine tools grew up under the Daewoo Motors umbrella and even carried the Daewoo name until they were spun off under the Doosan banner. Today major OEMs and subcontractors are using our machine tools to turn out parts for the industry on a massive scale. These include transmission components (torque convertor housings, differential cases, shafts, support structures and driveshaft yokes); engine components (cylinder blocks and heads); suspension components (shock towers, steering knuckles and electronic steering housings); and brake rotors and calipers.
Bill Carr, our Director of Key Accounts, has been involved with the machine tool industry since the morning after he graduated from college. He’s been with Doosan for 11 years. We asked him to give us his insights on the past, present and future of the automotive segment.
What is the Current State of the Automotive Industry?
“To be honest, it’s starting to get a little flat in terms of production and sales of cars on the road. The number of new programs coming out of the Big Three in the last six months that require new multiple machine tool purchases has slowed down significantly. Proof of this is the growing vehicle inventory. If you drive thru Detroit, you’ll see lots full of cars and pickups waiting to be sold to dealers.”
Why the Slowdown?
“The biggest impact on current production is the very real change in direction to Electric Vehicles (EV) and autonomous (self-driving) cars and trucks. The industry is currently fixated on this new technology. I recently attended a Global Suppliers Meeting and the CEO of a major German parts maker spoke 45 minutes about electric and autonomous vehicles. The technology is definitely coming, but no one is quite sure just how soon it will happen and how big it will become.”
What’s Different About Electric Vehicles?
“There are far fewer engine components that need to be manufactured in an all-electric vehicle. A recent article reports that a completed combustion engine for a state-of-the-art spots car is made of 1,200 pieces that weighs more than 400 pounds. An electric “engine” (motor) made in the same factory has just two dozen parts and can be lifted by one person. Yet the battery-driven motor can blow away the combustion model from a standing start.
“Even if the days of engine and transmission programs for regular combustion engine vehicles may be coming to an end, it’s important to keep in mind that newly designed gear boxes for these electric vehicles are still a requirement, not to mention suspension, chassis and braking components.”
How Will Doosan Adapt to the EV Revolution?
“Doosan’s experience, agility and responsiveness to customer needs are the keys to our future success in the automotive market. Yes, there are new types of components to understand and new application ideas to investigate. But we are right there with the industry. For example, we’re currently working with a tier one parts supplier machining newly designed aluminum gear boxes for electric vehicles. These new technologies are still being researched and developed, so tolerances are still being tested, but it seems they will be tighter, which means parts will need to be more precisely made, which then trickles down to machine tool accuracy. That plays right into our strengths as a company.”
Has Doosan Seen Changes Like This in the Past?
“Certainly. Change is nothing new. Our machine lineup is constantly evolving, from vertical and horizontal turning to vertical and horizontal milling. Modifications to those machines are key in order to meet production requirements, whether it’s adding a robot, gantry loader or thru pallet hydraulics. Designing fixtures that can tackle multiple operations is also a good example. Making machines automation friendly is another. Sometimes it just a matter of fine tuning a machine and its process to hit a critical cycle time.
“The fact is, one of our strong points is our ability to listen to customers and come up with robust and reliable machines that can handle their unique applications. We’ve always done that.”
Do Any Examples Come to Mind?
“One is our V400 vertical turning center with robot automation for manufacturing brake rotors. There is a twin turret version of this machine called the VD series that can greatly minimize the cycle time. We had a big customer in Mexico doing brake rotors on a single turret version of the V400 vertical turning center, and because the demand was there, we went ahead and designed the twin turret version.
“The DMP500/2SP twin spindle vertical machining center is a similar example of how Doosan was able to design a new machine based on a customers production need. That model machine is doing millions of brake calipers per year.”
Is Change Always Driven by a Particular Customer?
“No. We’re always looking for ways to make inroads into markets by improving our products. One of those is the NHP Series 40 taper horizontal machining centers. Where traditionally automotive production houses purchased Japanese brand machine tools for their HMC operations, they have now been choosing Doosan as their preferred brand.
We packed the NHP with technology, and the value-adds have been key to getting Doosan machine tools into mass production environments. And we’re not done. Our next step is to update the 50 taper NHP series machines (NHP5500, 6300, 8000).”
How Else is Doosan Prepared for the Future?
“We have forged key partnerships with local third-party integrators throughout the country who have core competencies in fixture design, robot integration and process control. They all contribute to the collective brain power that Doosan is able to tap into for our customers.
“Another big advantage we have is all of our machine tools are MT Connect compliant, which means that they can be integrated to Industry 4.0 practices. Anybody who’s been to a machine tool trade show can attest to the fact that smart factory automation and data gathering is critical to a smooth operation. Preventative maintenance based on that data from the machines, as well as spindle utilization rates and thermal stability checks, are just some of the features you can analyze with this technology.”
Would You Say Doosan is Well-Positioned for the Future?
“Absolutely. As I said before, change is nothing new. The evolution of the automotive industry is really just a continuation of our Standard Operational Procedure: listen to the customer; leverage our skills, knowledge and expertise to put together the right machine tool package; listen to feedback and fine-tune for optimal results.”