Trace Die Cast

Every shot counts 🎞️

Trace Die Cast have read the signs of the time well to become a key supplier of die-casting parts for the booming electric vehicle market. What started out in the late 1980s as a prime example of entrepreneurship and drive to innovate is now a thriving company with a strong sense of purpose that is facilitating fundamental change in American mobility. With Bühler’s Carat die-casting technology, Trace has backed the right horse and is leading the race in times of great disruption and new opportunities.


Whether it’s the famous Kentucky Derby horse races, a sip of sweet Bourbon, or the iconic Chevrolet Corvette – Kentucky is known for its deeply-rooted traditions. Driving through the Bluegrass State just south of America’s Rust Belt, an area that stretches through the Midwest and Northeastern States, visitors are also reminded of the vital role industry plays as the backbone of the American economy. At the same time, as a major force of innovation, the law of markets guides it to constantly evolve to remain competitive. In Bowling Green, Trace Die Cast perfectly embodies this role.

The family-owned, mid-sized American manufacturing company with a workforce of around 400 is a major driver behind the accelerating transition towards green mobility in the US. With an ever-increasing demand for high-end parts needed for electric vehicles (EVs), Trace Die Cast is ready to scale up production and build on their early mover advantage.
 

Customer Trace die cast Customer Trace die cast Kent (left) and Chris (right) Guthrie greet each other after a test drive of a Ford F-150 Lightning and a Rivian R1S electric SUV.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

“A couple of years ago, we sat down with our engineers to discuss the business opportunities that our expertise in precision aluminum casting offers. We realized that the shift from the internal combustion engine to battery-powered cars is going to be an era-defining megatrend,” says Chris Guthrie, President and CEO of Trace Die Cast. “We noticed an increasing demand for much more difficult parts with lighter weight and thinner walls. Our engineers were adamant that with the modern die-casting machines and the great people at our company, we have an edge over our competitors. That’s when we knew we needed to move aggressively into the EV market and seize the opportunity to become a key player in the mobility of the future.” Chris Guthrie and his brother Kent Guthrie, Vice President of Facilities, lead Trace Die Cast in the second generation. Their father, Lowell Guthrie, founded the company with two partners in 1988 and started with two die-casting machines. Their growth path in the last 25 years is closely linked to Bühler. In 1999, Trace bought the first die-casting cell from Bühler, and in 2012, they bought their first Carat two-platen die-casting machines. Thus far, they have installed 41 Bühler machines.

 

Our engineers were adamant that with the modern die-casting machines and the great people at our company, we have an edge over our competitors.

Chris Guthrie , President and CEO of Trace Die Cast

About Trace

  • Who: Trace Die Cast, Inc.
  • When: Founded in 1988 
  • What: Trace Die Cast is a Tier One and Tier Two supplier of high-quality aluminum die castings for the automotive industry.
  • Where: Bowling Green, Kentucky, United States
  • Customers: Trace Die Cast counts General Motors, Ford, and Rivian among its customers.
  • Bühler: Trace Die Cast relies on a total of 41 of Bühler’s Evolution and Carat die-casting machines to produce parts for cars with internal combustion engines as well as electric cars.

customer trace die cast customer trace die cast Chris Guthrie, Steve Jacobson, and Kent Guthrie inspect a freshly cast part.

Ready to serve

Five hundred miles from Bowling Green, Steve Jacobson and his team anticipated the call from the Guthrie brothers in 2015 to move forward on their ambitions. “When Trace approached us to start producing parts for electric vehicles, we had some exciting discussions. Breaking into this new market required new technology and skills for Trace. It also presented the unique chance to enter this endeavor together, to develop new applications, and overcome challenging situations to grow into those opportunities,” says Jacobson, the President and CEO of BühlerPrince in Michigan. 

This customer proximity paired with Bühler Switzerland’s expertise in die casting perfectly positioned Jacobson’s team to support Trace on their mission to take a leading role in supplying parts for EVs. “The biggest challenge was to find ways to produce parts for electric vehicles that have never been designed like this before,” he says.

Lightweight and powerful

One of the key parts that Trace manufactures around the clock are battery trays. Located at the bottom of electric cars, they need to be sturdy to protect battery packs and support the weight of a battery unit that ranges between 40 and 50 pounds (20-25 kilograms). Since the weight of an EV determines its range – one of the key selling points in a highly competitive market – every gram counts. Plenty of food for thought for the engineering teams.

Another challenge was ensuring the parts were properly sealed for difficult weather conditions as they are mounted underneath the vehicle and subject to rain, snow, mud, and winter road treatments.

Steve Jacobson , President and CEO of BühlerPrince

“We needed to develop a process solution that delivers on all those new requirements. These parts incorporate many features which may exist in different powertrain parts in traditional vehicles –we needed to incorporate them into one part,” says Jacobson. The parts needed to be dimensionally correct due to the rectangle shape so they can be mounted side by side in series. “Another challenge was ensuring the parts were properly sealed for difficult weather conditions as they are mounted underneath the vehicle and subject to rain, snow, mud, and winter road treatments,” he adds. Aluminum die casting was the perfect choice to guarantee Trace can meet the strictest quality requirements. 

No room for error

For Kent Guthrie, the trial phase to develop these parts was as stressful as it was exciting. “Manufacturing these parts required all of us to rethink the way we produce. We put our heads together and ran countless trials to develop production standards that can satisfy the highest demands with every shot,” he explains. The Bühler team counted on Kent Guthrie’s decades of experience for valuable input to establish the most reliable processes possible.  There literally is no room for error when it comes to parts for electric vehicles. 

 

customer trace die cast customer trace die cast No room for error: Kent Guthrie and his team ensure that every single part leaving the factory is of the highest quality.
customer trace die cast customer trace die cast Trace Die Cast operate a total of 41 die-casting machines around the clock in three shifts.

“The tolerances are extremely tight since there is no engine noise to cover some of the driveline noises that happen in a traditional car,” says Guthrie. In a silent EV – another key selling point of battery-powered cars – even almost unnoticeable sounds greatly affect the driving experience.

Learning from each other

“Our job is the constant search for perfection in every shot, just like an elite tennis player for example. The margin of error is getting thinner and thinner. We need to deliver day in, day out. That’s why we travel regularly to Bühler’s Die Casting Application Center in Uzwil, Switzerland to learn about the latest technology and to train our operators in handling the machines,” says Kent Guthrie. He and two of his colleagues just spent a few days in January 2023 in Uzwil to learn about Bühler’s ServoDrive solution. “The biggest costs in any foundry are your material costs and your energy costs. We’re investing in our new machines to have the ServoDrive pump groups so we can save up to 45% on energy consumption,” explains Guthrie. A massive reduction in times of rising energy costs that continue to drive inflation rates up across the globe.

Training together is a two-way street. “It’s a huge advantage for us to learn about challenges that we don’t necessarily know about yet in terms of the complexity or the difficulty of these parts no one has ever made before. Feedback from customers like Trace who run our equipment 24/7 is essential. That’s the perfect way for us to get reliable data and inputs from live operations under toughest conditions,” explains Steve Jacobson. 

 

customer trace die cast customer trace die cast Trace Die Cast’s experts visit Bühler’s Die Casting Application Center regularly for trainings to ensure they get the most out of their technology.

Performance under toughest conditions

Setting foot in Trace Die Cast’s production plant in Bowling Green, it’s evident what Jacobson means. Industrial furnaces melt recycled aluminum blocks at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers feed it into 41 die-casting machines with locking forces from 10,400 to 22,000 kilonewtons. Steam clouds from the spray cooling rise to the ceiling, dimming the lights for brief moments and creating an almost surreal atmosphere. The workflows are perfectly in tune, running all day in three shifts like an orchestra led by an invisible conductor. “Make or break” perfectly sums up the pressure the parts – and Trace Die Cast – are under.
 

Where the magic happens: the green mobility transformation starts in the foundry of Trace Die Cast in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Driving change at scale

Trace Die Cast’s bold strategy has paid off. The Guthrie brothers walk through the manufacturing facility and check a freshly cast part for their customer Rivian, based in Normal, Illinois. It’s one of the fastest-growing car companies, specializing in electric SUVs (sports utility vehicles) and electric pick-up trucks. The world’s largest retailer, Amazon, already counts on over 1,000 Rivian delivery vans and plans to have 100,000 vehicles on the road by 2030 to meet its climate targets.

Trace Die Cast’s long-standing customer, Ford, which makes up around 70 percent of their output, recently announced their target of producing 600,000 electric vehicles in 2023. Ford’s goal is clear: to overtake Tesla and become the number one seller of EVs in the US. This includes their flagship F-150 Lightning pick-up truck, an icon in America’s second-largest US-based carmaker’s portfolio. According to Business Insider magazine, Ford aims to build 150,000 F-150 Lightnings a year at the factory in Dearborn, Michigan. With such staggering numbers, both Ford and Rivian count on Trace Die Cast to continue delivering their high-end parts around the clock.
 

Watch the video to learn how Trace Die Cast successfully entered the fast-moving electric vehicle market.

A promising future

Chris and Kent Guthrie are ready for the challenge. “In 2018, our capacities were focused 100 percent on internal combustion engine vehicle parts. Today, 60 percent of our output is parts for traditional cars, and 40 percent is for electric cars. We expect that ratio to be 50/50 by 2024,” says Chris Guthrie. With the green transition gaining more traction by the day on America’s roads, the question is how Trace Die Cast will keep up with the ever-increasing demand?

“We just ordered six new Carat die-casting cells from Bühler. I believe that we’re very well prepared to continue growing together with this megatrend while still being able to serve all our customers during this time of transition. It’s just exciting to be part of this major shift in the car industry and help drive change from Kentucky into the world,” says Kent Guthrie as the brothers head out for a test drive of a Ford F-150 Lightning and a Rivian R1S electric SUV. Made with key parts from Trace Die Cast in Bowling Green, of course.

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