Tesla and a Factory Full of Robots

JANUARY 9, 2014

teslaElon Musk recently made the cover ofFortune (Dec.9, 2013) as its 2013 Business Person of the Year for his famous creation of both Tesla and Space X.  The article recalls that just a few years back, the best most people could say about electric cars was that they would be great for sustainability, but for the foreseeable future they’d be horribly limited by range and wouldn’t be very appealing to drive. Battery technology was simply too expensive and too heavy for it to be otherwise. The key breakthrough was to switch to lithium-ion battery technology, an expensive technology used not in cars, but in computers and phones.  Musk believed that if you could combine large enough numbers of lithium-ion cells into a single battery, you could provide not only adequate range for a car but also power capable of turning the humble electric car into an object of desire.

Musk wasn’t the first person to have that insight. His genius was to take that core idea to its logical conclusion and integrate it into a broader picture of how a series of such cars could be manufactured and marketed for ever-shrinking costs, in a sequence that would eventually bring Tesla to the mass market. A full seven years ago, he posted an article titled “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan,” which outlined the basics: three generations of cars, first the super high-end sports car, then a sporty 4-door family car, then a mass market car. And underpinning it all, the conviction that the cars wouldn’t just work, but be lusted after.

He had no certainty that the company would succeed. But he was convinced that (a) the laws of physics meant that electric power could deliver a profoundly better automobile, (b) there was a path to possible success via three generations of cars, and (c) the goal was essential if humanity was to have a shot at a sustainable-energy future. This  5 minute video of the Tesla S production is one your students will enjoy as it shows the power of robotics in manufacturing

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

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