Tesla CEO Elon Musk made it clear last month that the company is betting big when it comes to bringing its Model 3 sedan to market as quickly as possible by skipping beta production and going straight to release candidate vehicles. The company is reportedly skipping “soft tooling” at its Fremont, California factory and in the process of ordering permanent and more expensive production tooling, as it pushes towards Model 3 volume production in September.
However, the strategy of skipping the ‘beta’ phase and going straight to production tooling comes with an increase in risk of assembly line errors. “He’s pushing the envelope to see how much time and cost he can take out of the process,” said Ron Harbour, a manufacturing consultant at Oliver Wyman, according to a new report by Reuters.
Auto manufacturers have traditionally built their beta vehicles with throw away manufacturing equipment that is designed to be flexible, easily adjustable and ultimately disposable once the beta run has been completed. Tesla is skipping this step altogether which saves the company on effort and expense of having to build temporary production lines. Cutting out what would ordinarily be a critical component to the overall manufacturing process could mean that Tesla will miss out on critical learnings that come out of this production phase.
By using “advanced analytical techniques” as a key enabler for the move to skip beta production, Tesla aims to reduce the number of early production issues that plagued Model X. Still, Consumer Reports’ Jake Fisher who has done extensive testing on the Model S and Model X says the company’s approach to Model 3 production is “an experiment”.
With Model X, the production timeline was so tight that Tesla reportedly did not have sufficient time to implement the learnings from soft tooling before having to order final production tooling. “Soft tooling did very little for the program and arguably hurt things,” said an insider via Reuters.
However, the acquisition of Tesla’s Michigan tooling plant has allowed the company to produce manufacturing equipment cheaper and 30 percent faster than before, thereby allowing Tesla to better modify final production tools, when needed.
With so much riding on the success of Model 3, every step made by the company is under increased scrutiny from investors, regulators, competitors and the public. Tesla is set to unveil the production version of the Model 3 at the launch event in July.