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Tesla is holding a hackathon to fix two problematic robot bottlenecks in Model 3 production

Over the last few weeks, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been showing a lot of confidence about fixing the problems that have created delays in the automaker’s Model 3 production ramp up.

The latest solution is apparently a hackathon to fix two problematic robot bottlenecks in the Model 3 production process.

Tesla originally planned for the Model 3 production to be the most automated production car program in the industry, but now Musk has admitted that they made some mistakes with the automation effort.

Musk wrote in the company’s letter to shareholders earlier this month:

“[…]a step change in manufacturing doesn’t come without its challenges, particularly early in the process, and we made a mistake by adding too much automation too quickly. In those select areas where we have had challenges ramping fully automated processes, such as portions of the battery module line, part of the material flow system, and two steps of general assembly, we have temporarily dialed back automation and introduced certain semi-automated or manual processes while we work to eventually have full automation take back over.”

In an attempt to bring back some of that automation, Musk said today that a hackathon is currently underway with the goal to “fix the 2 worst robot production chokepoints.”

A hackathon is a sprint event where programmers are invited to compete in fixing a problem or creating a product in a short period of time with prize money for the highest performing participants.

The news of Tesla’s holding a hackathon is especially interesting in the context that Musk has been claiming for a while that manufacturing is mostly a software problem right now.

Musk’s comment was in response to an article about analysts criticising Tesla for making the same manufacturing mistakes as other automakers decades ago:

“A lot of the mistakes we’re hearing about are mistakes that were made in the rest of the industry in the 1980s and the 1990s,” says Sam Abuelsamid, an industry analyst at Navigant Research. He points to the experience of General Motors, which wasted billions of dollars in a largely fruitless effort to automate car production in the 1980s.

But Tesla has far from given up on automating car production.

In a recent Model 3 production update, the company wrote:

“We are already seeing many benefits from heavily increasing automation as part of the Model 3 production process. Through the vast majority of Model 3 production, including in body welding, general assembly, inverter and drive unit production, our automation effort has been very successful. Based on every measurable metric, Model 3 is already the highest quality vehicle we have ever produced, and this is unquestionably due in large part to automation. Additionally, we’ve been able to create significant safety benefits in the factory. For example, many steps in the assembly process, including “marriage” of the battery pack and drive unit with the body, and installation of the instrument panel, seats, and wheels, are ergonomically challenging for our employees, but by automating these processes, we have been able to solve this and significantly improve safety for our team.”

The company has described the Model 3 has a “step-change” in production automation, but they plan for the real “revolution” to be the Model Y, which Musk says is currently being designed to be easier to produce with automated manufacturing processes by learning from their mistakes from the Model 3 program.

An announcement about the Model Y is expected in the coming months with news of a new production facility for the vehicle, which Tesla plans to have on the market as soon as in 2020.

In the meantime, the company is focusing on ramping up Model 3 production. After achieving a steady production rate of over 2,000 units per week, Musk is confident that Tesla can ramp it up to 5,000 units within the next two months – about 6 months after the original goal.

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