YOKOSUKA, Japan — Nissan Motor Co. has developed a low-cost, flexible method for producing steel body panels that uses robots instead of expensive dies and stamping equipment.
If you want to replace the dented hood of your vintage GT-R sports car, you may be in luck. But an assembly line breakthrough for mass-market cars? Not so much.
The new technique, five years in the making, is particularly suited for low-volume parts. Very low volume. Japan's No. 2 carmaker says it works best at rates of 100 jobs or fewer a month.
Indeed, forming a vehicle body panel this way can take up to 19 hours.
On the flip side, the preparation costs less than $10,000 per part, roughly a tenth the astronomical sums required to produce a die for use in traditional stamping. And whereas a die can take up to a year of lead time to create, the new technique can switch to a new part in as little as three days.
Nissan calls the process dual-sided dieless forming. It uses robot arms, each equipped with a fingerlike tool, to knead a steel plate into the right shape from opposite sides of the sheeting.
Nissan envisions using the technique to make low-volume parts for racing cars, customized vehicles or even heritage nameplates whose replacement parts are long out of production.
Nissan's Infiniti premium brand used it to make the hood of the Prototype 9 open-wheel racer.
The company aims to decide by around the end of November how it might be commercialized, Takashi Tomiyama, alliance global director for product engineering r&d, said at an Oct. 2 demonstration.