An interesting fact about lego bricks: the first hands to touch a Lego brick are the hands of a customer since the entire manufacturing process is automated.
Granted, plastic blocks are significantly less complicated than li-ion battery cells, but since Tesla hired a long-time Lego manufacturing executive to lead the Gigafactory effort, it is an interesting analogy for the potential level of automation at Tesla’s battery factory.
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Last year, Tesla hired Jens Peter Clausen as “Vice President of Gigafactory”. Clausen spent the last 15 years of his career in management and executive roles in manufacturing at Lego. First as a production manager for “manufacturing, ramp up and process development moulding” according to his LinkedIn profile.
Later on, he was promoted to Director of Process Innovation and more recently, before joining Tesla, Clausen was General Manager and Senior Vice President for Lego’s operations in Mexico.
Lego absolutely needs automation since it makes about 40 billion bricks per year, which would be extremely difficult or even impossible to do with only manpower.
According to the Lego Group, about eighteen bricks out of every million fail to meet the standard required. That’s probably the kind of result Tesla and its battery cell manufacturing partner Panasonic would hope to achieve at the Gigafactory.
Tesla will not be making 40 billion battery cells per year at the factory, but still, based on its stated goal of 35 GWh of battery cells per year and depending on the energy capacity of the cells they plan to make, the number of individual cells could easily be in the low billions of units.
The main goal of the Gigafactory is to reduce the cost of li-ion batteries which it plans to achieve mainly through economies of scale, but also “innovative manufacturing” according to Clausen’s role description at Tesla:
“In cooperation with Panasonic and other strategic partners, the Gigafactory will produce batteries for significantly less cost using economies of scale, innovative manufacturing, reduction of waste, and the simple optimization of locating most manufacturing process under one roof. We expect to drive down the per kilowatt hour (kWh) cost of our battery pack by more than 30 percent. The Gigafactory will also be powered by renewable energy sources, with the goal of achieving net zero energy.”
We are not clear on what this innovative manufacturing will look like or what level of automation it entails, but Tesla will still have significant manpower at the plant. The company said that once it plans to hit full production capacity in 2020, it expects to employ 6,500 workers at the factory.
In October 2015, the company moved the Tesla Energy production line from its Fremont factory to the ‘Gigafactory 1‘ project in Nevada. Tesla has since been ramping up for volume production to start in early 2016. Consequently, we recently started seeing more energy storage projects being installed with Tesla Energy products. Tesla and Panasonic plan to start battery cell production at the Gigafactory later this year.