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Panasonic's battery cell operations on Teslas Gigafactory are chaotic




Insiders describe a chaotic environment inside Panasonic's battery operation in the Nevada desert, one where standard operating procedures are ignored, expensive faults are born from carelessness, and half a million pieces of scrap are generated every day.

"I don't think Tesla knows everything [that goes on on Panasonic’s side]," said a former employee who left the company last year. "It's impossible to know everything. If Elon Musk were to know what's really going on, he would turn the lid on."

Tesla and Panasonic share Gigafactory – a massive manufacturing factory outside Reno built back in 201[ads1]6. Panasonic makes cells for Tesla's cars, and at Gigafactory Tesla the cells become batteries for their new model 3 sedan. Tesla also makes the drive units for model 3 there.

Last week, Nikkei reported that Tesla and Panasonic would freeze plans to expand Gigafactory. Tesla's stock fell while Panasonic stepped up the news. Tesla responded to the story by saying that both companies still put "substantial funds" into Gigafactory, but that there is more "production to be achieved by improving existing production equipment." Tesla CEO Elon Musk called Panasonic's production rate a "model 3 output limitation" that the company has known since July.

By the way, three current and former employees (who spoke on condition of anonymity) told Business Insider that the operation scrapes about half a million cells a day. Business Insider has also reviewed internal corporate documents, including some related to an oil spill that sent management scrambling to find potentially contaminated cells in weeks. Together they tell a story about an operation that is still trying to get its stock as batteries roll off the production line and into the model 3s. And just like on the Tesla side of Gigafactory, there is a strong pressure to meet the production goals and work with breakneck speed.

A Panasonic spokesperson answered a list of Business Insider's detailed questions about these issues with the following statement:

"Panasonic produces the most advanced electric vehicle batteries because we pay extraordinary attention to quality," the. "Our quality management protocols are industry standards and include cleanroom environments and laboratory-like working conditions. The battery sources go through several test ports before being released to Tesla, and Tesla tests separately for the cells after delivery. We are proud to have helped drive one of the most exciting the revolutions in the automotive industry. "

If you have experience working with Tesla or Panasonic, give me a call at llopez@businessinsider.com.

Quick, a few (very broad) words about how lithium ion batteries are made.

The inside of the battery is made of a sheet with a positively charged electron (anode) and a sheet of negatively charged electron (cathode) and it is a thin material that separates the two. All that is rolled up makes the inside of a battery cell.

Panasonic sends Tesla about 3 million battery cells a day, making it a massive operation that comes with everything it entails – gigantic 16-foot mixers running lithium and other chemicals, standard operating procedures intended to keep volatile ingredients clean and a tracking system to follow materials as they go through the manufacturing process. It is also an expensive operation. Panasonic constitutes the lion's share of Tesla's USD 18 billion in purchase obligations, of which NOK 4.8 billion is due in 2019 according to Tesla company registrations.

Current and former employees told Business Insider that standard operating procedures are often ignored without any consequence of the facility.

On several occasions, something has fallen into one of the 16-foot mixers – containing a mixture of chemicals, including volatile lithium – inside the plant, said three people with knowledge of the business insider situation. That "something" – whether it's scissors, a ribbon or a tool – is usually found when the mixer is cleaned.

"People just don't have the integrity to say" Hey, I did something wrong, "said a former employee.

Greg Less, Technical Director of the University of Michigan Energy Institute's battery manufacturing and characterization user facility, told Business Insider that piece of shrapnel entered the lithium mixture, it could permeate the separator between the anode and the cathode and cause a hard card.

Shrapnel also does not need to be very large at all – a millimeter or half a millimeter – and it can be thin, The width of a human hair or less, says less. Imagine, if the piece was long enough to pierce the separator and carry a current between the anode and the cathode, it can lead to fire, he said. have pieces of metal in your mixture, can cause real performance problems, not mention damage your equipment, "said Less.

Read more : Wall Street is concerned Tesla breaks down

In September, an oil spill that sent Panasonic's operation in crisis mode for about two weeks, Business Insider also learned.

The release was discovered on September 17, according to internal documents seen by Business Insider, but it is unclear exactly when it started. Mechanical oil came on one of Panasonic's massive machines used to push cathode material into a sheet.

The machine then contaminated some of the product concerned. Employees had to stop what they did and sift through millions of nearly finished battery cells to find potentially affected product, sources say.

According to documents reviewed by Business Insider, as well as employee accounts, Panasonic searched for a product that had gone through the contaminated machine as far back as September 11. The search extended to the latest stages of the production process, and all the product suspected of being contaminated by Panasonic was scrapped, according to internal documents and employees.

A current employee who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, Business Insider told them they were worried that Panasonic had not properly determined when the game started.

"If my car is leaking oil, how do I know which day it started?" the employee said.

Mark Ellis, a senior production consulting association Munro and Associates, said that an oil spill like this would disturb him "enormously" because all the product would be an "automatic scrap".

"You don't want the electrodes contaminated," he told Business Insider over the phone.

A current employee said they were worried about contaminated cells due to Panasonic's factory floor tracking system. Should the batteries be traced throughout the factory using a large number of systems. As they move from stage to production stage, the figure grows longer, and at each new stage of production, a new piece of paper with that number and other details is printed and glued onto the product, according to the employees.

The three current and former employees who spoke to Business Insider said that this paper is often lost. The tape falls off or the paper rips. When that happens, workers will sometimes take a similar product's paper and use it to scan it down the line, so everything continues to move without interruption. The people are concerned that this practice, which is against the official procedure, hurts the traceability of the batteries.

: Internal documents reveal Tesla blows through an insane amount of raw material and cash to make model 3s, and production is still a nightmare

Panasonic sends approx. 3 million batteries pass over to Tesla a day, and the pressure is always on to beat previous targets. Therefore, the employees told Business Insider that some workers inside the factory sometimes put tape over sensors on machines that would get defects. They do not want the production to stop.

"If I went through a factory and then tape the sensor, I would kick my ass," Ellis Business Insider told.

Defects that are missed earlier in the process are often discovered later down the line when the product enters the production development phase, where the sheets are wound together as a cylinder. Panasonic winding machines have dozens of sensors – too many for workers to tamper with. So the machines can find errors, including bad / expired material, dust, misalignment and more.

A Tesla spokesman said it does several tests on battery cells when they are received from Panasonic and that cells that do not cut are returned to Panasonic.

The winding phase is where much of the factory's scrap comes from – which corresponds to a fairly consistent half a million battery cells a day, a current and a former employee said. Employees start each shift with a departmental meeting where they are told about the previous shift's production and the number of cells that were scraped.

"Why do we throw away half a million batteries a day? Because people are beating and things are not clean," the former employee said. All three current and former employees also said that cleanroom dressing rules are often ignored inside the factory.

According to Ellis, winders should run at 70% to 85% efficiency, and shouldn't catch much scrap at all.

"If the scrap was from the winners, I would go ballistic," he said. "They've been making cylindrical cells for decades, and if people can't make their machines, do something they've been doing for decades, shame on them. They should run much higher efficiency than that."

A Panasonic spokesperson responded to Ellis & # 39; s statement saying that the company "respects" with their estimates and that they do not reflect the company's figures.

But both Less and Ellis explained that the longer a damaged product goes into the production process, the more money is wasted on labor, material and depreciation of equipment.

"That [scrap level] is really excessive. I would be kicked a little ass if it was my factory," Ellis said. "They obviously don't have all their collection processes under control. That's what will cause it."

If you have experience working with Tesla or Panasonic, give me a call at llopez@businessinsider.com.

Also read:

Elon Musk just had a terrible week, and it could easily get worse, [19659043] Wall Street is worried that Tesla is breaking again

We just got a little taste of how complicated things can get for Tesla in China



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