Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s vision for mass produced, affordable electric vehicles has driven Tesla Motors to build the Gigafactory outside of Reno, Nevada. This approximately $5 billion factory is designed to manufacture the batteries needed to support mass produced electric vehicles. In order to realize this vision, plastics will be used throughout the factory both in the batteries and the machines used to produce them.
Lithium batteries are at the heart of Tesla’s electric vehicles and at the crux of the Gigafactory’s purpose for being. The facility is designed to produce a complete production cell, which includes the use of separators. According to Plastic News, separators are pieces of thermoplastic film that are a part of all modern batteries. These thin strips of plastic separate anodes and cathodes, enabling electric batteries to function efficiently, even though they are small and out of sight.
Autonomous Indoor Vehicles
One of the most fascinating elements of the Gigafactory is its high level of automation and use of autonomous indoor vehicles. For example, self-navigating AIVs can move raw materials and finished goods inventory throughout the factory, using plastic bins and containers attached to their top surfaces. The indoor vehicles vary in shape, size and purpose, which underlines the importance of robots in modern manufacturing facilities. Many of the inner workings of AIVs are also made of plastics, further adding to the importance of the material in the production of electric batteries.
Battery Assembly Robots
The robots that assemble the lithium batteries are complex, utilizing a blend of computer technology, metal components and plastic parts to function. Whether its plastic tubing for various operating fluids or casings for computer hardware, plastics are a major influence on the battery assembly process. The scope and complexity of the machines at the Gigafactory is hard to verbalize and is a showcase in technological advancement. In many of the pictures from the facility, plastics can be seen serving a supporting role in the functionality of robots.
True to Tesla’s innovative style, the Gigafactory is going to be run in part utilizing renewable energy generated from solar panels on the factory’s roof. Plastic can be used to create polymer solar cells, and is a material used throughout the construction of solar panels. Plastic is also used in the turbines that generate the electricity from the solar energy. The net result being that plastic will play an integral role in the powering of the factory. The exact role it will play depends on the type of solar panels installed.
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