Reinventing Production: How Tesla plans to manufacture the Model 3 [Part 1]

With such lofty goals set for Tesla's steep Model 3 production ramp, questions remain. Today, in Part 1 of our two-part series, we'll address how Tesla plans to reinvent production. Manufacturing Leadership Journal (MLJ) via Electrek* notes, "With some 400,000 orders in hand for its new, lower-cost Model 3, Tesla has said it aims to reach a production level of 500,000 vehicles — including Model S, Model X and Model 3 — in 2018... [Elon Musk is] convinced Tesla can improve [production] efficiencies by 'factors of 10 or even 100 times.'"

Image: Manufacturing Leadership Journal (MLJ) via Electrek*

And this week Popular Mechanics gave us a rare look inside Tesla's Fremont factory —  we've included their key takeaways (and photos) below. In addition, to learn more about Tesla management's approach at the factory, MLJ interviewed Peter Hochholdinger, Tesla's new VP of Production (formerly at Audi), who offers fascinating insight into Tesla's plans for the Model 3. Synthesizing this recent press coverage, we get a unique glimpse into how Tesla's factory is prepping for the big challenges that lay ahead.

Above: German-made Kuka assembly robots piece together the aluminum-­and-steel bones of the Model S into skeletons, or what Tesla calls “uni-bodies.” Powerful and precise, the robots use high-definition 3D cameras to see as they drill, weld, and rivet together the body. All told, the factory is “staffed” by some 200 robots, many named for X-Men characters such as Wolverine, Xavier, and Storm (Source: Popular Mechanics / Spencer Lowell)

So what challenges does Tesla's Hochholdinger see ahead? "We have to work with our supply chain, getting parts on time into the factory, and in the numbers we need. For the Model 3 that will be even more challenging than it is today." Hochholdinger's answer is to implement a smart supply chain: "If I know exactly where the truck is at the moment, as it is coming to the factory, then I know exactly which dock it should be at in 30 minutes or 40 minutes. Is that dock clear? Are people there to take over that truck? It’s like when a plane is flying into San Francisco International Airport... A factory is like an airport: Materials are coming in and trucks are leaving, so we know exactly which gates we should be at.”

Above: A robot cart follows magnetic strips on the floor to move this Model S down the production line. Such electric, self-charging robots load and unload cars at each stop, making them key to the factory’s efficiency. Here, the Model S—with its body panels attached to an aluminum-­and-steel skeleton—nears the end of its general assembly. (Source: Popular Mechanics / Spencer Lowell)

Another key factor in Tesla's fast-paced production ramp for the Model 3 is the fact that it's been designed for easy manufacturing. Hochholdinger explains that, "You have to make the product as simple as possible and as buildable as possible... [the Model 3] has no exhaust system. It has no gear box. It has no engine. It's more or less a computer on wheels." He explained, during the time of his interview, that the Model 3 had, "manufacturing people [which] are involved in the whole design phase and are now involved in designing the car."

Above: 92 football fields can fit inside the Tesla factory. This past year, Tesla spent a reported $1.6 billion on factory expansion to prepare for production of the Model 3. Here in Tesla's stamping center, raw aluminum becomes hoods, bumpers, fenders, and panels (Source: Popular Mechanics / Spencer Lowell)

Why is design so important? "General assembly in a car manufacturer today is quite labor-driven, of course. That's more or less because of the product design. For example, there's no way to (install a) harness today because the harness is not designed for a robot; it's designed for a human being. So we have to think about what can a harness look like so that a robot can install it? What about the fascia? Can I do it different? So these are the things we have to think about... I think Tesla is the first automotive company that is thinking that way."

Above: A Model S fender begins its life as an aluminum sheet snipped from a 20,000-pound coil. A laser-cutting robot then slices it into the desired shape before a press—with 1,000 tons of force—stamps it into a three-dimensional fender. It takes 0.08 seconds to cut each fender sheet. It’s then mounted to a measuring board where engineers examine it for flaws. (Source: Popular Mechanics / Spencer Lowell)

Looking forward to the future, Hochholdinger is enthusiastic about the road ahead, "The cars we build are about seven years beyond everything I've seen before, and it's quite thrilling and exciting to be here and to be part of the manufacturing group. It's the only company in the world that builds 100 percent electric vehicles; everybody else is continuing with the normal business of building [internal combustion] cars, and I think that will not work." 

Tomorrow we'll bring you Part 2 in this two-part series to find out more about how Tesla is reinventing production. In the interim, we'll leave you with the official, albeit older, Science Channel "How it's Made" television special on the Tesla factory that's now (finally/officially) been published for viewers on the web — if you haven't seen it, check it out below...


Youtube: How Its Made Dream Cars OFFICIAL


*Source: Manufacturing Leadership Journal via Electrek