LOS ANGELES - Isuzu Motors Ltd., in conjunction with a Japanese ceramics specialist, has designed a new die-casting process that cuts half the cost of typical steel tooling dies on low-volume vehicles. The process can save tens of millions of dollars in production costs.
The revolutionary die-casting process, used in the production of the low-volume, Japan-market VehiCross sport-utility, uses ceramic material with a mixture of cement for durability.
The ceramic dies are good for fewer than about 10,000 vehicles; steel dies are good for more than 300,000 vehicles, said Steve Kerho, American Isuzu Motors Inc. national sport-utility brand manager.
'Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a vehicle that may or may not catch on, you can go for more interesting and aggressive avenues,' Kerho said. 'Then, if it does catch on in a big way, you can use the steel dies.'
Isuzu developed the process with ceramics expert Maeda-Seikan of Tohoku, Japan, in a venture called Ceraform. Isuzu bought Maeda-Seikan several years ago.
Steel dies cost more than $1 million apiece, and several dies are required for each piece of exterior sheet metal to be bent. The more curves and bends in a vehicle, the more dies are needed.
Dies can account for more than $100 million of the total production cost of a vehicle. To halve the price of die-making would make a major dent in production costs, said Shiro Nakamura, vice president of product planning and design for American Isuzu Motors.
'It's much cheaper, and there's no loss in quality or in fit tolerance. It can give you the flexibility of making a (low-volume) car with the attributes of just-in-time quality, affordability and reliability,' said Nakamura.
For a limited-volume model such as the VehiCross, there is little point in spending heavily for steel dies. Added Nakamura: 'If you're making at least 1,000 vehicles a month, it makes sense to use steel, but if you're making less than 500 a month, then the ceramic way is better.'