Behind the scenes
From making zero cars a few years ago, Tesla made 22,000 last year, is now on pace to make 35,000 this year, and expects to make about 50,000 next year (a growth of about 50% in one year). That would be very impressive for any regular car factory, but it’s even more impressive considering how many extra technical hurdles Tesla must face with cutting edge electric cars. Because things are changing so fast, with the Dual Motor Model S and Model X coming soon, the company decided to shut down its Fremont, California, factory for about a month in July and do a major upgrade.
This allowed them to upgrade their assembly line, increase the capacity of the body shop, improve the powertrain assembly section, and just overall improve the factory, not only for the machines but for the employees (more on that below).
Robots named after X-Men characters…
The biggest changes happened in the area that they call ‘general assembly’. They used to have a lot of overhead structures that helped them move around heavy things. They’ve removed a lot of that in favor of gigantic robots that can grab and lift entire cars with the utmost precision, all that while taking less room.
Rather than refer to its robots by their technical names, Tesla has decided to give them names based on X-Men characters. Xavier stands at the entrance to the trim line, lifting cars down to the floor from an electrified rail, while Iceman, Wolverine, and Beast do more heavy lifting nearby. Storm and Colossus can be found at the end of the chassis line, and Vulcan and Havok work as a team to lift cars back onto the rail. “To us, these robots are like superheroes, so we figured they deserved superhero names.” Awesome!
The line is now running at about 1,000 cars a week, and it has the potential to do “significantly more” with some further improvements, according to the company. The factory used to be able to process 800,000 battery cells per day (assembling them into battery pack). They now can do a million cells per day.
Tesla also decided to have some fun and create a better environment for its workers:
As well as making the place brighter by installing skylights, replacing fluorescent lights with energy-saving LED lamps, and painting previously grey walls and floors a bright white, we’ve added a few novel touches. For instance, we’ve wrapped several pillars with climbing plants to add some greenery to the surrounds. We had a comic artist depict the manufacturing process in a series of illustrations, which we’ve printed on the glass walls enclosing some of the robots. And we’ve added a wall of framed photos showing the factory building in different guises over its 54-year life.