from ars technica
Production had been halted for much of last week in Tesla’s car factory in Fremont, California, and its battery factory near Clark, Nevada. In a Tuesday note to employees, CEO Elon Musk said that the pause was necessary to lay the groundwork for higher production levels in the coming weeks. Musk said he wants all parts of the company ready to prepare 6,000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of June, triple the rate Tesla has achieved in the recent weeks.
The announcement caps a nine-month period of turmoil that Musk has described as “production hell” as Tesla has struggled to ramp up production of the Model 3.
Tesla had high hopes for its Model 3 production efforts. In 2016, Musk hired Audi executive Peter Hochholdinger to plan the manufacturing process, and Business Insider described his plans in late 2016: “Hochholdinger’s view is that robots could be a much bigger factor in auto production than they are currently, largely because many components are designed to be assembled by humans, not machines.”
A year later, Musk himself was touting Tesla’s advanced robotics expertise. “We are pushing robots to the limit in terms of the speed that they can operate at, and asking our suppliers to make robots go way faster, and they are shocked because nobody has ever asked them that question,” Musk said on a conference call last November. “It’s like if you can see the robot move, it’s too slow.”
Musk now admits he was wrong about this. “Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake,” Musk tweeted recently. “To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.”
“We had this crazy, complex network of conveyor belts,” Musk told CBS News. “And it was not working, so we got rid of that whole thing.”
Musk is discovering that large-scale car manufacturing is really hard, and it’s not easy to improve on the methods of conventional automakers. And while automation obviously plays an important role in car manufacturing, it’s not the magic bullet Musk imagined a couple of years ago. Far from leapfrogging the techniques of conventional automakers, Tesla is now struggling just to match the efficiency of its more established rivals.