Seven things you probably didn’t know about Tesla’s gigantic Gigafactory

Out in the Nevada desert, business magnate Elon Musk has officially opened the doors to Tesla's $5bn (£3.8bn) Gigafactory, which will act as the foundation for a substantial growth in production for the firm's electric vehicles and energy storage systems.

While edie’s invite was surely delivered to the wrong address, the Tesla chief showed a lucky few delegates around the shell of the factory, which is currently only 14% complete, explaining what this factory could achieve and how this would resonate across the transport and energy sectors.

The company, and others, have invested substantial amounts of money to turn this concept into a fully functioning factory – running purely on renewable energy – that will slash battery prices and slash emissions from Tesla’s manufacturing processes.

In light of this landmark opening, edie brings you seven things you probably didn’t know about the Tesla Gigafactory – the crown jewel in Musk’s clean energy dynasty aspirations.

1) The Gigafactory is HUGE, but nowhere near complete

As previously mentioned, the site is only 14% complete. With Musk aiming to start the full production process early next year, more than 1,000 employees are working seven days a week to ensure that the deadline is met.

Once completed, the Gigafactory will cover 5.8 million sq.ft, but for now Musk and co will have to settle for the “modest” 1.9 million sq.ft of operational space it has to work with.

The factory is being fitted with HVAC systems, which have been fitted between floors rather than on the walls. While this has been introduced for optimal design specifics, it was also a necessity for Tesla because three of the four structural walls currently built on the site are temporary.

2) The Gigafactory’s battery production could eciplise global levels for 2014

The factory may act as a sign of intent for a company that has evolved from a disruptive innovator to one verging on breaking into the mainstream market, but it will also prove vital to Tesla’s production hopes.

When construction began in 2014, Musk claimed that he expected the factory to produce 500,000 cars annually by the time it is operational. With Musk claiming that the factory could be in full-swing by 2020, these targets have become more detailed as a result.

The factory will aim to provide 35GWh of battery power by 2018, which would be more than the entire global production of batteries in 2014. Musk is also confident that production could increase to 150GWh in the future as battery prices hit the $100/kWh mark before 2020.

3) The Gigafactory will act as a semi-autonomous product

By the time the factory is fully operational, the number of workers on site will jump from 1,000 to around 6,500 – although Musk told delegates that this number would climb to 10,000 eventually.

This may sound like a lot, but it actually means that each worker (of the 6,500) gets just under 900 square feet of factory to themselves. This is hardly surprisingly given Musk’s interest in automated machinery – which could soon transfer to Tesla vehicles – and much of the machinery on site will be autonomous.

In his “part deux” master plan, Musk revealed that the factory would actually act as a product. He claimed it would be a “machine that creates the machine” and early signs suggest this to be true.

4) The Gigafactory is built like a honeycomb to combat earthquakes

The factory itself is located in the Nevada desert, on the dusty outskirts of the thriving Silicon Valley. Both Amazon and Apple are operating data centres nearby, but the area is also suspect to earthquakes and tremors.

In response to this, Tesla is building its factory in a way that negates the majority of quake impacts. Instead of building just one structure, the factory is being produced in a honeycomb like approach which consists of many sections.

Huge red X-shaped structures also hug the walls acting as a security brace, and each smaller section of the Gigafactory is built with its own structure and foundation. Currently, just three of the 16 blocks have been built.

5) The Gigafactory will house Panasonic staff and equipment

When Tesla aimed its focus on the utility-scale energy market, the likes of Panasonic and Sony were originally viewed as rivals. But as electric vehicle batteries began to ramp up the millage capabilities, Tesla and Panasonic soon became partners in the development process.

Having shipped 180 billion lithium-ion batteries since 1931, Panasonic is regarded as an expert in this area, and will actually install its own equipment and send employees over to the Gigafactory to work alongside Tesla workers.

Just under $2bn has invested by the Japanese firm into the factory, where Panasonic will work to make the battery cells from raw materials. Musk believes that this in-house process will drive down the costs of battery production by 30%.

6) The Gigafactory streamlines supply chain costs and emissions

On the topic of Panasonic, the fact that the company will be producing the cells from scratch, in-house, means that Tesla will save on both shipping costs and emissions. Tesla currently buys cells from Panasonic which are then shipped from Japan to the automakers Fremont factory in California.

However, the new process will see Panasonic pass the cells over to Tesla through a “hole in the wall” between two of the 16 structures in the factory, instead of across the Pacific Ocean like it does today.

The assembly lines in the factory will do everything from sourcing the raw materials, which will arrive by rail and the nearby Route 50 transport corridor, to packing the cells into a new Model 3 or a Powerwall – all under one roof.

7) There’s still enough room for a second net-zero Gigafactory

A quick glance over recent Tesla announcements, show that this is a company that isn’t resting on its laurels. It has already acquired the Solar City company – which will be useful in deploying the solar panels for the factory’s net-zero aims.

The launch of the Model 3 also proved hugely successful, surging passed 250,000 reservations within the first 24 hours of its announcement. While Musk revealed that factory upgrades and new model roll-outs will be funded by the capital raised from car sales, he also revealed another step in his forward-thinking plan.

Tesla has already purchased another 1,864 acres next door to the Gigafactory, which could provide the space to double the size of operations for the company. With the first factory already two years ahead of schedule, we could soon be seeing Tesla’s Gigafactory part deux.

Matt Mace

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