Tesla opens doors to electric auto factory (photos)
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Senator Dianne Feinstein hold a press conference for the opening of Tesla's new manufacturing plant, the former New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), on October 27, 2010. Up until April, the plant had been producing Toyota Corollas and Tacomas, and had been opened as a joint venture between GM and Toyota in 1984.
During the conference, Senator Feinstein talked of the jobs lost by the plant's closing, and how Tesla would begin to restore those jobs. She also spoke of the viability of high-tech manufacturing in California.
As part of the press conference, Tesla unveiled its new sign over the plant. This new Tesla manufacturing facility will be devoted to Model S production, Tesla's premium electric sedan. Production is slated to begin in early 2012.
Tesla has already put some development into the facility, such as designating an area for electric car parking, a privileged area in the lot.
Currently, Tesla has about 70 people employed at the former NUMMI plant. They are involved in building up the initial production capabilities. Tesla says that for its initial production target of 10,000 Model S sedans per year it will need 500 people, and hopes to quickly double that number as demand for the car grows.
Gilbert Passin, vice president of manufacturing for Tesla, leads us on our factory tour, explaining how the Model S production line will be laid out. He is responsible for designing the production process, and focused on efficiency as the primary virtue for the new line.
Tesla marked out the south end of the plant for Model S production. It is the newest area of NUMMI, and close to both the stamping mills, where body parts will be made, and the plastics factory. The area shown here is where fully assembled Model S sedans will roll off the production line, undergo final quality testing, and be sent through these doors out into the world.
The NUMMI plant covers 5.5 million square feet, but as the initial Model S production line will cover little of that space, 80 percent of the plant will be mothballed. Tesla hopes to eventually use that extra space for new types of vehicles.
Tesla put some equipment on display, demonstrating what will go into its new production line. These robotic arms show they can handle very delicate tasks by disassembling ball point pens.
As a further equipment demonstration, this robotic tractor was programmed to follow a line on the floor, stop underneath a cart full of car parts, attach pins underneath, and move the cart to a new location.
Tesla VP Gilbert Passin pointed out that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and equip a new automotive manufacturing plant. Tesla paid $42 million for NUMMI.
Tesla also purchased some of the existing equipment in the plant. As we proceeded through the buildings, we saw many massive pieces of equipment sporting a Tesla Purchased Asset sign.
Stamping mills to the left will create body panels, which will then be collected in this corridor and moved to the assembly line.
The pit in the floor here will host a hydraulic stamping mill for manufacturing aluminum body panels. As NUMMI did not have any hydraulic stamping mills, Tesla purchased one, and is readying the pit for this massive piece of machinery.
The pistons for the hydraulic stamping mill wait on pallets. It took 60 train cars to ship the entire mill.
These silos are designed to hold plastic pellets, which get melted down and injected into molds. This building for making plastic pieces sits next to the stamping mills.