Located to the east of Reno, Nevada in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Centre, Tesla Motors’ [NASDAQ:TSLA] massive lithium-ion manufacturing and reprocessing facility — known as the Tesla Gigafactory — has been under construction for about a year now. Destined to be the largest lithium-ion manufacturing facility in the world and covering more than 1,000 acres, Tesla’s Gigafactory is an essential part in Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s plan to help the world dump fossil fuels for good, both for their transportation and their energy needs.
Under the agreements penned with its Gigafactory partner and current lithium-ion battery cell provider Panasonic, Tesla Motors has assumed all responsibility for the construction of the Gigafactory itself. To date, as the excellent 4k super-high resolution drone video above shows, work at the Gigafactory has currently focused on first preparing the ground for the massive facility and then on building the superstructure which will become the Gigafactory.
We’ll need hundreds of people at the start. We should actually se that starting around the autumn.Yoshio Ito, head of Panasonic's Automotive and Industrial Systems (AIS) division
Panasonic, meanwhile, has agreed to provide and fund the necessary equipment needed to produce in excess of 35 Gigawatt-hours of lithium-ion cells every year and upwards of 50 Gigawatt-hours of lithium-ion battery packs.
At a press conference in Osaka, Japan this morning, Panasonic detailed exactly what that would entail, confirming that it plans to send hundreds of its specialist employees to Tesla’s first gigafactory site to help it prepare for full lithium-ion cell production from late 2016 onwards.
“We’ll need hundreds of people at the start,” said Yoshio Ito, head of Panasonic’s Automotive and Industrial Systems (AIS) division. “We should actually se that starting around the autumn.”
In addition to sending hundreds of workers from Japan to Reno, Nevada to help prepare the Gigafactory for life as a battery production facility, Ito said Panasonic intents to invest around ¥ 60 billion ($478 million) during the current financial year through March 2016 in the automotive side of its business. That investment includes development costs for the Gigafactory. While actual investment figures from Panasonic haven’t been disclosed, it is widely expected that Panasonic will shoulder 30 to 40 percent of the $5 billion build cost for the Gigafactory, with Tesla shouldering the majority of the remaining costs.
Of Panasonic’s massive ¥ 60 billion investment in the automotive sphere however, not all will go directly to Tesla Motors. As Reuters reminds us, Panasonic said last September that it would buy an almost 50 percent shareholding in Spanish firm Ficosa, a company focusing on advanced driver assistance technology including autonomous driving, assisted parking and blind spot detection systems.
Alongside its partnership with Tesla, this would put Panasonic squarely into the tier-one automotive supply business alongside far larger companies like Bosch, Continental and Denso.
It might seem strange for Panasonic to send hundreds of highly-skilled workers from Japan to the U.S. to ready the Gigafactory, especially given the numbers of potential employees in the Reno Sparks area of Nevada who would be only too happy to take a job at the Gigafactory. But what’s important to understand is the level of skill required to ready a battery processing plant for production. Panasonic isn’t sending its employees over permanently: it’s sending them over to help train up local staff and ensure that the gigafactory’s clean rooms are constructed correctly.
As we discovered last year from our tour at Nissan’s lithium-ion manufacturing facility in Sunderland, UK, the construction of any new production facility which will eventually make lithium-ion cells is a laborious process requiring an extremely skilled workforce. As the facility nears completion, construction teams must adhere to increasingly-strict procedures to ensure the inside of the facility is kept contaminant free.
Similarly, and equipment installed within clean-room conditions must be free from any external debris, dirt, or contaminants. Then there’s the installation of high-tech clean-room filters and air showers for the workforce. All of which have to be installed to an extremely high standard to ensure correct operation.
Panasonic’s engineers will be fully trained in such practices, and will be used to train U.S. workers on the same super-stringent procedures. Sending those highly-skilled engineers to Tesla’s new Gigafactory not only helps save time, but ensures local staff are trained on the Gigafactory’s cutting-edge production equipment.
And that’s exactly what Nissan did when it begun construction of its Smyrna, Tennessee and Sunderland, UK production facilities, sending its experienced battery engineers from Japan over to both sites to train staff and ensure strict production procedures were followed.
The only difference? The amount of staff being sent over. For Tesla and Panasonic, the facility in Reno, NV is larger than any other battery production facility in the world. Consequentially, it requires more staff to head over to Nevada to help finish construction, install the sensitive production equipment, and train local staff on the correct operation of equipment.
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