Tesla is receiving 3 new Grohmann machines from Germany to raise production at Gigafactory 1 to 8,000 Model 3 battery packs per week.
Tesla recently invited a team of institutional investors from Worm Capital for a tour of Gigafactory 1 in Sparks, Nevada. They came away with some new nuggets of insight around battery production. Worm Capital published its learnings from the tour, including how improvements at Tesla’s first Gigafactory will continue to be an engine of growth and a strategic advantage for the company moving forward.
6,000 battery packs per week now, 8,000 per week with new “Grohmann Machine”
Right off the bat, the team at Worm Capital shared that from what it saw, the existing production assets at Gigafactory 1 (GF1) should allow it to achieve a sustainable rate of 6,000 Model 3 battery packs per week. Tesla is only producing the 75 kWh Long Range pack for the Model 3 today, which translates to 23.4 GWh of annual battery production.
The number feels a bit low, relative to the finished vehicles being produced and delivered to customers, but really just shows how early on in the electric vehicle race we really are. Tesla is leading the electric vehicle competition in production numbers by a large margin and is already starting to consume meaningful segments of the mainstream automotive market — it recently took its place as the 5th best selling car in the US last month in terms of cars sold and the #1 best selling car in terms of revenue.
Looking ahead, Worm Capital relayed that 8,000 Model 3 battery packs will be possible with a “new Grohmann machine” with minimal capital investment. Tesla acquired the German automotive manufacturing equipment maker Grohmann Engineering nearly two years ago in order to in-house the building of the machine that builds its products. It brought the mastery of Grohmann’s engineers to bear to build the manufacturing lines for the Model 3 and we now have evidence that it is doing the same for its battery production lines.
Tesla’s 2170 NCA (nickel-cobalt-aluminum) battery cells were designed as the optimal cell form factor for energy density and surface area for cooling but it’s clear that there is room for improvement on the design of the battery modules (the building blocks of a battery pack are cell→module→pack), as the current design is apparently difficult to manufacture. Elon tweeted out last week that he doesn’t recommend that others copy the module design of Tesla’s batteries because it is “far too difficult to manufacture.” (Update: This paragraph has been updated to correct and clarify difference between cells and modules in regard to this news.)
Worm Capital noted that after the tour, they “feel highly confident in Tesla’s production process.” This is crucial, as the improvements Tesla has made in the early stages of battery production will be rolled into the remaining battery production capacity that is built as it scales up to full capacity in 2020.
High-Volume Battery Production
As it stands today, GF1 has a footprint of 1.9 million square feet, with 4.9 million square feet of usable production space, thanks to some of the areas that were built with multiple levels. That makes GF1 the second-largest building in the US today. By 2020, it should be the largest building in the world.
Tesla reiterated its claim to Worm Capital that its GF1 is now the “highest-volume battery plant in the world,” as of the middle of 2018, noting that it produces nearly 200 million battery cells per quarter as it works towards an annual production rate of one billion cells. That’s more than all other auto manufacturers combined, including in China, with an annual production rate of “approximately 20 gigawatt-hours.” (Note, however, that doesn’t mean its more than other battery companies, like LG Chem and CATL, combined.)
That claim is right in line with its plans to stabilize at 6,000 Model 3 packs per week before spending some capital on the new Grohmann mystery machine to get to a rate of 8,000 packs per week. Grohmann’s new battery production machine will arrive at GF1 around September or October of this year and will be the first of 3 of the machines that Tesla will use in zones 1, 2, and 3 of GF1.
Tesla expects that these machines will enable battery production at 3 times the current rate and for 1/3 of the cost of today’s modules. That’s an impressive competitive advantage that Tesla has carved out for itself that takes battery production beyond just high volume and into a whole new level of production optimization.
With so many companies moving into the battery production rat race, it will be interesting to see if Tesla decides to sell Grohmann’s machines to other automakers and energy product manufacturers as a means of “accelerating the transition to sustainable energy” or if it keeps everything internal.
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