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Elon Musk explains how a ‘Fluffer Bot’ slowed down Model 3 production

Published May 3rd, 2018 9:01PM EDT
Model 3 Elon Musk

Tesla’s earnings conference call yesterday was interesting, to say the very least. At one point, an analyst asked Elon Musk about Tesla’s financial situation and the likelihood that the company would need to raise additional capital in the future. Musk, however, refused to answer the question and responded blithely: “Excuse me. Next. Boring boneheaded questions are not cool.”

In fact, portions of the call were so bizarre that long-time analyst Adam Jonas said it was the “most unusual” earnings conference call he’d ever seen in his 20-year career. Of course, Wall Street didn’t respond favorably to Musk’s dodging of important financial questions, with shares of the company currently down nearly 20 points.

Musk’s theatrics aside, there were a few interesting tidbits the Tesla CEO did divulge during the call. Most notably, Musk provided us with some new details regarding the company’s ongoing efforts to ramp up Model 3 production. As Musk alluded to during a CBS interview a few weeks ago, Model 3 production over the past few months has been hampered by Tesla’s over-reliance on advanced robots.

“Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake,” Musk said via Twitter a few weeks ago. “To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.”

Citing one example, Musk said the company wasted a lot of time trying to calibrate a robot to place a mat over the car’s battery pack when humans could have handled the job much more efficiently.

One more thing that we’ve also found is that there are some things that are very well suited to manual operation and some things that are very well suited to automated operation, and the two should not be confused. So, I should be clear that the vast majority of the Tesla production system is automated. However, as I’ve mentioned in a tweet a few months ago, we did go too far on the automation front and automated some pretty silly things.

One example would be, we have this – this is sort of ironically foolish – we had these fiberglass mats on the top of the battery pack. They’re basically fluff. So, we tried to automate the placement and bonding of fluff to the top of the battery pack, which is ridiculous. So, we had fluffer bot, which was really an incredibly difficult machine to make work. Machines are not good at picking up pieces of fluff. Human hands are way better at doing that. And so, we had a super complicated machine using a vision system to try to put a piece of fluff on the battery pack.

Funny enough, Musk said that subsequent testing revealed that battery packs with the mat were not any better at keeping noise inside of the car to a minimum.

“So, we actually had a part that was unnecessary,” Musk added.  “The line kept breaking down because fluffer bot would frequently fail at picking up the fluff while putting it in… So that was one of the silliest things I found.”

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.