Musk’s next space shot: Factories without humans
Robotics

Musk’s next space shot: Factories without humans

Elon Musk is obsessed with speed. From rockets to hyperloops to electric cars, fast is kind of his thing.

Now he wants to apply the same aesthetic to manufacturing.

Critics argue it’s another pipe dream, born out of necessity. Tesla (TLSA), his controversial car business, is supposed to deliver 400,000 vehicles by 2018. Yet, his workers have never pushed annual production beyond 100,000.

Musk, however, is thinking beyond workers.

The future is total automation.

During the first Gilded Age, the assembly line transformed industrial production. This New Gilded Age is about information technology. Think intelligent software, sensors and incredibly precise, fast-moving robotics. These technologies promise exponential improvement in production.

Humans, at least those who fasten bolts or shift metal, become superfluous.

It’s not science fiction. Musk already has big plans for factories that are unencumbered by the physical limitations of humans.

In Tesla’s July 2016 mission statement he wrote about his epiphany: Turning the factory into a machine. He even gave it a cool name, the “alien dreadnoughtthe machine that makes the machines.

By his math, dreadnought version 3.0 could improve production by five- to ten-times. That’s still a few years away. Version 0.5 will debut in 2017, when the Tesla Model 3 begins production. Expect version 1.0 during 2018 when new equipment hits the factory floors.

In 2016, Musk secured a secret weapon to help him bring these futuristic factories closer to the present. Tesla bought Grohmann Engineering, a German automation specialist.

With 580 giant, robotic arms, current Tesla factories are already state-of-the-art. They push human limits. The Fremont, Calif., plant has seen a 400% increase in production since 2012. And workers — the human kind — have complained often about the frantic pace.

Dreadnought will supersede their frailties. In fact, robots will move so quickly and so efficiently that humans won’t be safe on the factory floors. So, just a skeleton staff of engineers will be on hand — and they will merely monitor production.

This would represent the first major advance in automobile manufacturing since Toyota introduced Just-in-Time in 1992. The premise is to produce cars on an as-needed basis, with minimum waste and maximum automation.

It’s the promise of the New Gilded Age. Most outcomes can be predetermined with access to computing power, data analytics and modeling software. Robotics-makers can build exactly what they need — and control it with incredibly sophisticated software.

A new industrial revolution is coming. And it will lead to unimagined profitability, and huge new opportunities for investors.

Dreadnought is the first step. Eliminating most humans, at least in theory, would improve production by orders of magnitude.

Engineering would be the sole arbiter of production. Raw materials would enter factories at one end. Finished cars would emerge from the other end.

It’s easy to want to bet against Musk. Automobile factory floors are already full of complex machines. The Robotics Industries Association estimates that 265,000 robots already work in U.S. factories. The consensus holds that all the potential efficiencies have been exploited.

However, Musk is ambitious, and talented. He is also in a hurry to get places.

He came up with a feasible plan for Hyperloop — a way to whisk passengers though a vacuum tube at 760 mph. His rocket company can deliver satellites to orbit, then return to Earth with pinpoint accuracy. His electric cars are safe, green and can blow away a Lamborghini.

He is used to doing what most people consider impossible. If he can pull off the alien dreadnought, the face of manufacturing will change forever. It’s a big deal.

I’m focused every day on finding the winners of the next industrial revolution. They’re lurking in all sorts of places you would not expect. Outside of Tesla, one of the best ways to bet on the growth of robots in factories is John Bean Technologies (JBT).

Here’s some more reading and listening on the subject:

Best wishes,

Jon Markman

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Comments 12

Scott Hartzler January 22, 2018

Anyone who thinks this is progress will be sorely disappointed at the consequences

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Bill White May 31, 2017

fantastic

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Bill White reply_all Bill White May 31, 2017

But I agree with Richard

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Rich May 30, 2017

Humans need jobs so that they can buy things, pay rent and have some fulfillment in life. Truly, Mr. Musk are you a human being or some alien ? Do you give a damn about anything except the bottom line ? The question is clearly no. I have been a blue collar worker most of my life. It seems your intent to eliminate all blue collar jobs thus effectively eliminating the blue collar worker and his family that depends on him. What if we do not like your version of the future ? You are one man? So why do you have any more right to determine the future as any one else. Maybe many millions of us detest your version of the future with robocops, terminators and drones. Then of course the white collar jobs will next be eliminated. I go over this again and again in my head, robots are and will never be consumers. There goes your robot factory that has to be shut down because the consumer has no money to buy anything. If no one has a job then government collapses because there of course is no taxes and no revenue. Chaos will enfold. This is a most dark no promise George Orwellian future indeed.

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hawk5000 May 25, 2017

not a chance of that happening remember if we dont need humans whos going to buy their cars in the first place complete and utter science fiction

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Ted F May 25, 2017

Uh Fremont Ca only has one “e”. It was legend has it named in honor of John C Fremont who was incidentally the first GOP presidential candidate in 1856.

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Dawn Pennington reply_all Ted F May 25, 2017

Good eyes, Ted. Thanks!

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Tom M May 25, 2017

I guess that robots with jobs will be buying a Musk-mobile in the future.

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David May 25, 2017

What are you thoughts on FANUY in this space.

David C.

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Doug May 25, 2017

If Elon Musk and Donald Trump had there way they would fill in the Grand Canyon for the next Tessa plant and Trump tower. Keep in mind “Solent Green” are people!

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Bruce Bussell May 24, 2017

Jon,
I worked 33+ years for Ford and currently work for a heavy equipment manufacturer. I have seen robotics at work on assembly lines and engine plants doing various processes. Your statement about “incredibly precise, fast-moving robotics” has some limitations imposed by the physics of moving large sub-assemblies into place. The size required by the physics of moving the heavier parts or sub-assemblies around at great speed would be prohibitive. My current employer is pretty wealthy but if they tried for the level of automation used in automotive with the size of the stuff we make it would bankrupt us.

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Dee May 24, 2017

As an engineer, I love the idea! However there are some problems. When you have automation going at a furious pace there is the potential for spectacular crashes. One piece of metal, that is out of spec, can blow up the whole process.

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