Elon Musk wants his robots moving so fast "we should be caring about air friction."
Amid a flurry of attention focused on Tesla's Model 3 production schedule, the company has shed more light on the innovative processes that have caused early hiccups but promise to revolutionize automotive manufacturing.
Robots are already ubiquitous in automotive manufacturing, helping reduce the need for human manual labor. Many robots have been integrated into assembly processes gradually, achieving benefits with a marginal increase in process speed with higher accuracy and consistency.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants his factory to look like a beverage bottling plant, with robots moving so fast "you should need a strobe light to see it" and requiring engineers to deal with the influence of air friction.
Speaking to analysts, the executive suggested Tesla has been forced to engineer its own solutions to improve robot speed beyond the capabilities of current off-the-shelf systems.
"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," he said. "Obviously we're going to be designing a lot of the robotic elements and what makes the robots internally ... because current suppliers are just too slow to respond in some cases."
The company has admitted that its Model 3 assembly line is designed for such a high level of automation that early glitches can be particularly troublesome in ramping up production volume.
"It is harder to supplement with manual [bypass operations] than S or X because the system is designed as a very tightly integrated automated system," Musk explained. "So it's very unwieldy to try to supplement or make up for a machine not working with manual activity."
The company has also accepted responsibility for its late identification of a significant problem in battery module production. The line includes four zones where individual small cylindrical cells are packaged into a larger module that can be installed beneath the Model 3 floor.
"We had a systems integration subcontractor that unfortunately really dropped the ball, and we did not realize the degree to which the ball was dropped until quite recently," Musk said. "This is a very complex manufacturing area. We had to rewrite all of the software from scratch, and redo many of the mechanical and electrical elements of zone two of module production."
Dealing with the issue is said to have required 20 to 30 man-years of software development, but there's still a "long way to go." Adding to the challenge, the revised processes required new electromechanical elements to be fabricated and installed.
"On the plus side, we now have a very detailed understanding of what is necessary to fix zone one and zone two," Musk added.
The company now expects to reach 5,000 units per week by the end of the first quarter next year.