When Tesla Motors first announced its plans to build its massive Gigafactory lithium-ion manufacturing and reprocessing facility just north of Reno, Nevada, the plans it unveiled were for a 1,000-acre facility so large that it could be seen from space.
But as demand for Tesla’s static energy products have risen and Tesla Model 3 pre-order numbers have soared far beyond what even Tesla expected them to be, the California company has gradually expanded its plans for the Gigafactory. First, it purchased more land adjacent to the Gigafactory construction site, then it pushed forward plans to move Tesla Energy storage construction from its Fremont production facility to the first finished quarter of the Gigafactory.
Now, via our friends at Electrek, we learn that Tesla has obtained two new permits to continue its massively accelerated Gigafactory construction, adding a fifth segment ot the Gigafactory in the next six months and completing the construction of the battery cell manufacturing facility — including its environmentally controlled clean room area by July 20th.
Citing information from Buildzoom, Electrek explains that one of the most recently-granted permits — one for $63 million — covers the construction of an entire new segment to the Gigafactory, expanding its current footprint by 25 percent. Its high valuation makes it the highest value single permit granted at the Gigafactory thus far, with the actual construction due to finish on the new section by the end of the year.
As we and other sites have noted before — and Tesla CEO Elon Musk told us himself last year — the current four-segment Gigafactory construction site only accounts for around 1.9 million square feet of factory floor space. Eventually, the Gigafactory will cover more than 13 million square feet of space, becoming the world’s biggest building by footprint area. The granting of the new construction permit hints that Tesla is accelerating its plans to complete the entire Gigafactory site far more quickly than it had originally planned.
Also worthy of note is the fact that another permit listed on the Buildzone site covers the installation of $51 million of battery cell manufacturing equipment inside the Gigafactory, which the permit says will be completed by July 20, 2016. Given that Tesla plans to hold its official Gigafactory opening ceremony on July 29, it’s possible that some of those in attendance to the special event could be given a sneak peek of the facility in operation — assuming Tesla has either built a viewing area into its battery facility or doesn’t mind shuttling the most honored of special guests through its clean room facilities in batches to ensure no contamination enters the facility.
Of course, in typical Tesla style, we’ve no idea quite what is in store for those lucky enough to get an invite on July 29, but we can tell you based on conversations with industry experts and of our own tour of Nissan’s lithium-ion production facility in Sunderland, UK that cell production at Tesla’s Gigafactory won’t be starting immediately following the completion of construction.
Once equipment has been installed and full clean-room protocols set up, Tesla — or rather its battery manufacturing partner Panasonic — will then have to properly calibrate each and every piece of clean-room equipment to ensure that they operate precisely to specification. Then, the facility will have to begin test production of cells, with each and every step of the process verified and triple-checked by hundreds of highly-trained experts flown over from Japan specifically to help set up the facility.
With those checks in process and test cell production under way, the team operating the Gigafactory will then have to complete training of local staff to ensure that they too can operate the machinery at the standard needed to ensure consistent cell quality and high cell output. Just like ramping up production ahead of a new vehicle model, this process is essential and time-consuming: cutting corners results in errors, poor quality, and bad news further down the line.
Of course, this process can take months, but it’s conceivable at least that Tesla will find a way to cut that time dramatically, either through massive investment or by figuring out a way to streamline the process. Either way however, news that the production facility will be finished by July 20 means that Tesla is on track to meet its own production timelines for Model 3.
And for those waiting for the Model 3 to launch, that’s a very good thing indeed.
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