Elon Musk On Quest To Revolutionize Manufacturing

This year’s Tesla Motors annual meeting took place on May 31 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Including the Q&A session, it lasted more than three hours. CEO Elon Musk addressed the audience for nearly two hours himself. During his far-ranging talk, he recounted the company’s history and pointed out the number of times along the way when it almost failed.

Elon Musk annual meeting 2016

For those who question whether Tesla can actually ramp up from building 50,000 cars a year today to building more than 10 times that number by 2018, Musk said the ramp from building a small number of Roadsters to today’s production numbers was actually a greater challenge.

Musk announced the software issues that have plagued the Model X have now basically been resolved. He also said that Model 3 owners would not have free access for life to the company’s Supercharger network. He indicated that free charging for life would be an available option/package.

Then he dropped this bombshell: He said he and his Tesla team are in the process of completely rethinking the factory process. Their goal is to make factories more efficient by “factors of 10 or even 100 times.” The idea is to totally rethink how “you build the machines that build the machine.”

Musk says he no longer uses an office but spends almost all his time on the production line watching how the cars get built and thinking about how applying “physics-first principles” could increase manufacturing capacity exponentially. “The most important point I want to make is … that we’ve realized that the true difficulty and where the greatest potential lies is in building the factory,” Musk said.

Today’s factories are outmoded and inefficient, he said.  “We can make dramatic improvements to the machine that makes the machine. A lot of people will not believe us about this, but I am absolutely convinced this can be accomplished.”

During the meeting, Musk accepted full responsibility for the litany of issues that have dogged the Model X since production began last September. He acknowledged that “hubris” had played a large role in rushing too much new technology to market too soon. Many observers feel the same way about Musk’s promise to build 500,000 cars a year by 2018 and a million or more by 2020.

Are those promises more examples of Musk’s hubris? Has he learned nothing from the errors that have beset the Model X? Saying he can boost the efficiency of a factory by up to 100 times is certainly a bold claim. Then again, this is the man who thought up the idea of reusing rockets to lower the cost of space travel. This is the man who launched the idea of the Hyperloop while stuck in Los Angeles traffic one day.

Musk has a habit of setting the bar high and then raising it higher. He demands much of those who work for him but he also demands much of himself. Are super-efficient factories just hype or is Musk about to kick off yet another in a long series of revolutions? One thing is certain — no one can accuse Elon Musk of thinking too small.

Source: LA Times | Photo Credit: Tesla  Motors

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.