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The Drive for Uptime in Silicon Valley

Grant Gerke | August 2, 2018

1924 is a long time ago. During the roaring twenties, Chrysler Corp., (www.fcagroup.com), now known as Fiat Chrysler Automotive began producing automobiles and is the last American carmaker to survive the rigors of large-scale car and truck production. Tesla, Fremont, Calif. (www.tesla.com) is now in the running to take that mantle away from FCA as the U.S. car manufacturer tries to execute on the daunting prospect of large-scale automotive production for its 2018 Model 3 sedan.

The company is known for its vertical integration approach and relies less on outside suppliers compared to traditional auto manufacturers for some applications. Case in point, the company created their “own” Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software in 2014 after using Dassault Systemes’, Vélizy-Villacoublay, France, (www.3ds.com) platform and is in the process of building their own processing chip for their autonomous driving program.

However, automotive production isn’t software development and the recent ramp of their production lines for the Model 3 stumbled out of the gate and the company experienced downtime to overly complex production lines.

Jeff Straubel, cto at Tesla (via 2nd Qtr . earnings call):

Some of the areas that we struggled the most through the Model 3 (production) ramp were those where we had perhaps less visibility and less control, and less direct kind of skin in the game on how those production lines were designed and built.

So that learning curve often involves Tesla coming directly in, understanding the process intimately, simplifying it, and then essentially doing our own design or changes to the lines that were built. I think that’s a key learning point that we’ve taken and I think the way that we can do this a lot more efficiently in the future is doing that approach from the start.

Elon Musk, CEO at Tesla also added in the earnings call on Aug. 1st that maintenance technicians were just “putting out fires” instead of their regular routines:

There’s a tremendous amount of 24/7 robotics maintenance technicians that are constantly trying to make the machines have uptime. That’s very expensive and that’s where we figured like not having to maintain all these robotic systems, that’s a big cost saving as well. And now we’re going to be gradually adding simple automation into GA4 to make it easier to build a car.

The company added the silver lining of this plant downtime brought together the automation, production and design teams, and they produced an immediate production line solution. This solution, a simple line layout prototype, may be a happy accident for future production lines.

As the Paypal, Space X and Tesla founder has said on many occasions, car manufacturing is hard and uptime is even harder.

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Grant Gerke

Grant Gerke

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