These days when it seems everything has gone digital, it’s easy to forget about all the mechanical components that are critical to electronics and batteries, especially in cars and trucks. Industry leaders, governments, and citizens all want to reduce carbon emissions and rely less on fossil fuels. At the same time, semi-autonomous and “smart” vehicles are gaining popularity for safety reasons, driver convenience, and e-mobility.

Automaker offerings of alternative fuel and hybrid electric vehicles are growing. In 2021, “30 EVs from 21 brands will become available for sale this year, compared to 17 vehicles from 12 brands in 2020,” including more SUVs and trucks, according to market research. And Research and Markets finds the “global alternative fuel vehicle market accounted for $392.92 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $1,244.4 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of 15.5% during the forecast period.” This clearly reflects growing consumer confidence in hybrid and electric vehicles.

Another big trend is autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. While there are no fully autonomous vehicles as of this writing, it may help to think of it as a spectrum of features rather than all-or-nothing autonomy.

For example, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) keep human drivers in control but automatically activate under certain conditions. This small-scale autonomy is driven by safety concerns. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that “94% of serious crashes are due to human error.” And in 2018 36,560 people died in motor vehicle-related crashes in the United States. Growing demands for safety features like lane assist, backup cameras, forward collision avoidance, and automatic emergency braking are driving growth in the advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) market.

While the “global ADAS market size is projected to grow from USD 27.0 billion in 2020 to USD 83.0 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 11.9%,” according to Markets and Markets, the market for more fully autonomous vehicles is growing too. “The global autonomous vehicle market demand is estimated to be at approximately 6.7 thousand units in 2020 and is anticipated to expand at a CAGR of 63.1% from 2021 to 2030,” says Grand View Research.

All of this means drastic changes to equipment and components in new cars. Long-time suppliers, like CEP Technologies, are at the forefront of manufacturing for these trends. Here’s our take on the situation.

Common Precision Stamped Parts in “Smart” and EV Applications

As cars and trucks evolve, they include more electronics and batteries to control and power everything from door locks to backup cameras to transmissions and wheel axles. What’s under the hood is radically different from just a few years ago, but many of the smaller components that make up batteries and circuit boards are still required, such as:

  • Clips, plates, tabs, etc. Components like these have been used in vehicles for many years, though now they’re being used in new applications too. Demand for fuel pump clips and tabs could decline as it grows for similar parts to hold battery charging ports or PCBs. Another example is heatsink plates, used to regulate and diffuse heat generated by electronic devices. With more devices in shrinking physical spaces comes more concentrated heat, and the need for carefully shaped and stamped plates to moderate it.
  • Connectors like battery terminals, contacts, etc. Connectors are used where batteries power electronics and to connect devices to each other and to their power sources. Examples include terminals on battery cell stacks, onboard and external ports for charging, and connecting auxiliary batteries to starters. In these applications conductivity, shape and size, flatness, smooth finishes, and technical cleanliness are critical to ensuring a reliable and complete connection. This is especially the case with ADAS applications, which must have proper connections to function correctly.
  • EMI/RFI shielding components. Onboard computers have been standard in cars and trucks for years, though not involved in as many aspects of operation, safety, and accessory control as they are now. In fact, “modern cars and trucks can have up to 100 networked microprocessors running 150 million lines of code with thousands of supporting active components,” according to Electronic Design. Electromagnetic and radio frequency interference are also not new issues, but as more vehicle components incorporate electronics in closer physical range, shielding them to avoid interference is more important than ever to ensure performance and safety.

Stampers Evolve to Meet Industry Needs

Auto designers continue to fit more and smaller electronics and battery connections into cars and trucks. Even though the parts are small, they’re still metal, so vehicle weight and fuel economy or battery life are impacted because every little bit adds up. The challenge for precision stampers like CEP Technologies is to produce parts that accomplish design goals while meeting space and performance requirements.

Top concerns for precision stampers include:

  • Dimensions, tolerances, and fit. To avoid adding size and weight while still incorporating battery packs, PCBs, wires, cables, and everything else that comes standard in most vehicles, parts and assemblies often come together like a puzzle. There isn’t much “wiggle room” if the fit is not accurate due to substandard manufacturing of the puzzle pieces.
  • As a result, tolerances are tight with little allowance to go over/under dimensions. These small pieces fit together correctly because the physical space is small, but it’s even more important because of the safety-critical nature of many parts (e.g. connectors for ADAS applications, ABS systems, etc.). It puts pressure on OEMS and their suppliers to produce a quality product with a low failure rate. Stampers need to understand design intent and the “big picture” of each part they produce, sometimes making refinements to the design or stamping process, in order to ensure a quality product.
  • Interference and heat. Electronics are trending toward smaller sizes and faster processors. They produce more heat and operate at higher frequencies, and are generally more sensitive to their surroundings. All electronics produce electromagnetic waves, which can interfere with signals sent and received by neighboring electronics and devices. Even the wires and cables connecting components and batteries can pick up and transmit electromagnetic wave “noise” and cause interference.
  • In a vehicle where proper functioning of electronic devices can be a matter of driver and passenger safety, too much heat and interference is a great risk. Parts like heatsinks (to absorb and regulate heat generated by devices) and EMI/RFI shields (to absorb waves emitted by a device and/or deflect waves produced by nearby devices and wires) are big business for precision stamping.
  • Dies, tooling, and equipment. Things like leg length and width, hole diameter, and complex angles change how features are formed and create wear on tools. Further, as a recent Stamping Journal article notes, “work materials are continuing to trend to higher and higher strengths, so dies will continue to need to withstand the rigors of these very hard metals.” Ultrathin materials, with and without plating and metal coatings, will also be in greater demand for electric vehicle motors, notes Nidec Press & Automation Vice President of Sales Rick Schwartz, in the article.
  • To stand up effectively to the demands of the materials, some precision stampers, including CEP Technologies, are using presses with larger beds to accommodate more complex stamping, cutting, and forming of parts. Dies made of high-strength, hardened materials, lubricated strategically to reduce friction, are also needed.

Auto industry suppliers are embracing innovation and finding ways to meet the challenges it presents. In the realm of precision stamping, it means committing to an in-house culture of quality and attention to detail while staying efficient and cost-effective for customers. Contact CEP Technologies to learn more today!

Editor’s note: This blog was updated in February 2021 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.