Tesla’s Gigafactory - all about scale

The Tesla Gigafactory is set to make new records in terms of size and manufacturing capability.
Published: Tue 16 Aug 2016

On July 30 the grand opening of Tesla’s Gigafactory near Sparks in the Nevada desert was held. [Engerati-Tesla’s Gigafactory to Lower Battery Energy Storage Costs]

In itself such an event wouldn’t normally attract more than passing interest. But in this case the sheer scale of it, and the ambition behind it, make it rather more than that.

Battery manufacture at scale

“The Gigafactory is about scale,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the opening. “It’s about making enough electric vehicles and stationary battery packs that will move the needle from a global carbon production perspective.”

That scale is a projected output capacity of 50GWh/yr within 2 years and 150GWh/yr at full production around 2020. In other words, as much or more than all other production facilities combined. For comparison total global output of Li-ion batteries in 2014 was about 30GWh. [Engerati-Tesla gets SolarCity]

Those capacities are envisaged to meet an output of 500,000 electric vehicles by 2018 and 1.5 million per year at full capacity, alongside the projected demand for storage with solar.

To achieve that, the Gigafactory – currently about 14% complete – will occupy an area of more than 0.5 million m2. In that space for perspective, 93 747 jets could be parked side by side. In terms of footprint it will be the biggest single building in the world and in terms of volume second only to Boeing’s factory in Washington state, Musk claimed.

Optimising battery production

Given this scale, it isn’t surprising to hear of the design considerations that have gone into the US$5 billion facility, which Musk said deserves even more innovation than the product itself. It has been designed as “a giant machine” using physics first principles “to optimize the speed and density,” he explained.

“You don’t make a car from bits and pieces of other cars but design from the ground up and this is the approach we have taken.” The result – an estimated at least 5-fold improvement in production capability over traditional factory design methods.

Unlike traditional battery manufacturing also, the complete manufacturing process occurs under the one roof – “the raw materials come in, a bunch of stuff happens and out comes a car,” he said.

Almost anyway. Currently Tesla’s vehicle manufacturing is at Fremont in California while the Gigafactory is in Nevada. But Musk alluded to potentially integrating the vehicle and battery manufacturing into “one big facility in the Gigafactory 2 and beyond.”

Much of the initial output from the Gigafactory is to power the Model 3 vehicle which is scheduled for delivery towards the end of next year. [Engerati-Tesla Model 3 – The ‘Apple’ of EVs] With Musk’s ambition to cover all the transport bases with electric vehicles, a Gigafactory 2 may not be a distant proposition. [Engerati-Elon Musk’s master plan] But first he will have to turn the vision into reality and demonstrate that all the projected outputs can be met and the products meet their promise.