Series production of vehicle body components: Process and development competence meets materials expertise
When automotive manufacturers have particularly high requirements for the body construction of their new models, they cannot overlook one supplier: thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions. Over the years, the company has not only been able to win leading premium automotive manufacturers as customers. Sophisticated sports car manufacturers also rely on the series production solutions from the car body experts. In this article, the members of the Automotive Body Solutions management team reveal how they did it.
Whenever automotive manufacturers do not carry out the series production of body components or complete bodies themselves, external partners get involved. It is then partners like thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions which take over series production and generally deliver just-in-sequence directly to their customers' assembly lines. "In us, customers have a partner which takes over the complete series production of body components for them," explains Falk Nüßle, CEO of thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions. "We provide them with a single interface. This means that our customers no longer have to control the various sections themselves via different suppliers. They can place the entire project in our hands. We are particularly valued for our product-specific, process- and cost-optimized production systems," reveals Nüßle.
Highest customer requirements
The company has placed a clear focus on the lightweight segment and on small to medium volumes. The vehicle body professionals have therefore been able to establish an excellent reputation, particularly in the premium segment. "Our customer base includes in particular companies that are at home in the out-and-out premium sector," Nüßle continues, referring to customers such as Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, Bentley, Lamborghini, McLaren and Aston Martin.
Customer requirements are therefore correspondingly high. "Our customers have particularly high demands on product and quality. Of course, this is also reflected in the specifications – especially in terms of dimensional accuracy and strength," explains Nüßle. Thanks to the unique business model, thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions' series production benefits from extensive synergy effects: As an integrated car body manufacturer, the company combines both series production and project business, including plant engineering and toolmaking, under one roof. "With this bundled expertise, we can ideally map essential perimeters of the complete value chain," says Felix Bader, Chief Human Resources Officer at Automotive Body Solutions, enthusiastically. Lisa Denoyelle, Chief Financial Officer at Automotive Body Solutions, adds: "This not only makes us fast and flexible, but also forms the basis of a unique range of competencies. Our extensive experience in the businesses complement one another, and process efficiencies are created. Our customers in particular benefit from this in the form of savings in time and effort."
Extensive synergy effects through an integrated body shop
Take the Porsche Taycan, for example. At the Mühlacker site, not far from the Taycan production site in Zuffenhausen, thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions is manufacturing the complete underbody of the electric sports car. The company has assumed complete responsibility here, from plant engineering and toolmaking through to supplier management and series production.
Mühlacker is one of three locations in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, for series production at Automotive Body Solutions. In Heilbronn and Weinsberg, the vehicle body professionals are producing at two other locations in the immediate vicinity of automobile manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. Together, the three plants cover all body process technologies and specialize in particular in different product groups for the benefit of customers. While Mühlacker is the location with the highest level of automation expertise and the focus is on the production of structural components, Weinsberg focuses on complete vehicle body construction and the production of outer skin panels.
Specialized plants in close proximity to automotive manufacturers
Employees at the Heilbronn plant also focus on the series production of structural components. The plant is one of the leading locations for what is called hydroforming, also referred to as internal high-pressure forming. In this innovative and high-performance process technology, metallic tubes are expanded by water pressure from the inside in a closed mold. Hydroforming and the special process of calibrating can also be used to produce structures with complex shapes from a single piece, which either cannot be produced at all using other processes or only in several parts. This allows thyssenkrupp's vehicle body experts to achieve very specific geometries and meet the exact requirements for extruded sections and component tolerances.
"As with the internal high-pressure forming process, we can also point to our collaboration with our customers' development departments in the area of body production, where we play a key role as a partner in ensuring that individual parts can be manufactured right through to assembly. We can provide essential support with our expertise: Under what conditions can the components be manufactured at all? And with which tooling and tolerances?" explains Nüßle, not without pride in the company's range of expertise.
Process and development competence meets materials expertise
"With our plant structures, our high-performance production systems, as well as our highly motivated and well-qualified employees, we have the corresponding expertise to cover the entire series development phase as well," says Felix Bader happily, also referring to the expertise of his colleagues: "Many of our colleagues have been with us for quite some time, and have helped develop the production processes. Their passion for bodywork drives them and our strong cohesion is the basis of our success."
"We can embark on feasibility studies with our customers early on and provide support in the area of supplier and quality development from the very beginning," says Lisa Denoyelle. The process and development expertise of the lightweight construction specialists is complemented by an exceptionally high level of materials expertise. Falk Nüßle: "We primarily use aluminum, but also high-strength steels. We also manufacture in mixed construction. With extensive joining technologies, we master this diverse range of materials perfectly, and can thus cover all customer requirements in terms of geometries and strength."
With this comprehensive expertise, thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions has also made a name for itself in the area of series production of vehicle body components. This is also evident in the economic sphere. The company has been very successful despite the COVID crisis and microchip shortages. The order books of the three plants are full.
With electric mobility, the demands on vehicle body components are increasing
Electric mobility in particular is a driver of the economic success: "Electric mobility already accounts for a large share of our sales. It ensures a continuing trend for sophisticated lightweight body construction and, in general, further increasing demands on the components to be produced.", explains Falk Nüßle
The times remain highly challenging for vehicle body manufacturers. Challenges that can be ideally met by the unique competence profile of thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions.