When Elon Musk isn’t busy running the world’s best-known electric car company, he can usually be found heading his private space transportation company, SpaceX. One wouldn’t think that a private spaceflight company and an electric automaker would have all that much in common, but the same welding techniques used to build SpaceX rocket ships have also been put to use building the Tesla Model S, reports Electrek.co.
Specifically, SpaceX shared its own method of friction stir welding with Tesla Motors. While friction welding predates both SpaceX and Tesla (and your writer, in fact), SpaceX has developed its own unique method apparently. Rather than use heat to melt two pieces of metal or alloy together, friction welding softens the metal on both sides of the weld in order to merge them together. This maintains the strength of the aluminum-alloys Musk is particularly fond of for building both his rocket ships and electric cars. The end result is stronger and lighter than a traditional aluminum weld, and with just 10% waste metal. The above video, while not specifically from either Tesla or SpaceX, demonstrates how friction stir welding actually works.
While this may save money for Tesla and result in a lighter, stronger chassis, many Model S owners are discovering just how costly repairing aluminum can be. With repairs sometimes totaling tens of thousands of dollars for somewhat minor damage, aluminum welders are finding plenty of work for unaware or unlucky Tesla drivers.
That doesn’t mean the benefits of friction welding should be overlooked. Aluminum is becoming a popular way of cutting the curb weight on conventional cars, and other automakers are already applying their own friction welding techniques to their vehicles. What other spaceship technology and tools can Musk apply to his electric cars to give them a competitive advantage?