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Report details how Tesla’s reliance on robots led to Model 3 production delays

Model 3 Production

Despite Tesla’s best efforts, Model 3 production — last we heard — remains about six months behind schedule. Early on, Tesla claimed that Model 3 production would reach 5,000 units per week by December of 2017. Following a series of setbacks, that 5,000 unit/week goal has since been pushed back to June of 2018.

The delay notwithstanding, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been rather forthcoming about the reasons behind the Model 3’s production troubles. During a recent interview with CBS, Musk explained that the company relied too heavily upon automation.

“We had this crazy, complex network of conveyor belts,” Musk explained, “… it was not working, so we got rid of that whole thing.”

What’s more, Musk took personal responsibility for the company’s Model 3 production woes, stating the following via Twitter just a few weeks ago: “Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.”

As to the precise reasons why excessive automation wreaked havoc on Model 3 production, a new research note from Bernstein analysts (via Quartz) sheds some light on the topic, specifically noting that the problems are likely arising in final assembly.

In final assembly, robots can apply torque consistently—but they don’t detect and account for threads that aren’t straight, bolts that don’t quite fit, fasteners that don’t align or seals that have a defect. Humans are really good at this. Have you wondered why Teslas have wind-noise problems, squeaks and rattles, and bits of trim that fall off? Now you have your answer.

Interestingly enough, Tesla’s missteps with the Model 3 aren’t exactly unique within the auto industry. Back during the 1980s, GM implemented a similar ill-fated plan to streamline automotive production via the incorporation of advanced robots.

For what it’s worth, Tesla recently told Motor Trend that it has made huge strides in improving overall production quality:

Since we began shipping Model 3 last year, we have been very focused on refining and tuning both part and body manufacturing processes. The result being that the standard deviation of all gaps and offsets across the entire car has improved, on average, by nearly 40%, with particular gap improvements visible in the area of the trunk, rear lamps and rear quarter panel. Today, Model 3 panel gaps are competitive with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes models, but in the spirit of relentless improvement, we are working to make them even tighter.

As it stands now, Tesla has said Model 3 production will reach 6,000 units per week by July of this year.

A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.