For the last 20 years, product designers and manufacturing engineers faced a huge problem; How to meet new consumer requirements? It wasn’t about color, style or sizes any longer. People wanted products with greater value. They craved affordable, sustainable, and cutting-edge products that were eco-friendly in fabrication but which also offered high-tech innovation.
It was a puzzling problem for most product manufacturers.
The question we all asked ourselves was, “Just how do you get high-tech and eco-friendly sustainability, all in a single product?”
Years of research, testing and trial and error have helped make this ultimate goal reachable. However, it has required the marriage of two important industries, that of technology and plastics. It is this that will earmark the future of improved, innovative and fuel saving products.
To show how this merged industry is becoming a considerable focal point in the modern manufacturing environment, let’s look at a recent important decision where a company has already made a significant move towards the manufacture of affordable and sustainable products.
The Opening of The Gigafactory
In 2015, Tesla’s newest factory, the Gigafactory opened its doors. This new factory has been of significant importance as its purpose is to mass produce affordable eco-friendly vehicles.
The factory, located just outside of Reno Nevada, is a $5 billion facility investment. Its purpose is to manufacture improved lithium batteries (needed for the electric cars). The newly designed and fabricated batteries offer improved support to electric vehicles making the Tesla cars more affordable, durable and sustainable for consumers. The project is impressive, however, the company also relies heavily on plastics in order to complete battery manufacturing processes.
Why Such A Large Investment?
At the heart of the Tesla electric vehicle is the lithium battery. In the past, these batteries do not have a long enough charge time or life-span, so prolonging these features will make it more affordable for consumers.
In mid-2018 the battery production at Gigafactory reach an approximate 20GWh, making it the highest-volume battery plant in the world. Currently, Tesla makes more batteries than all other carmakers combined.
Where Do Plastics Fit Into the Picture?
Gigafactory produces a finished production cell requiring separators made of a special thermoplastic.These thin strips of plastic separate the anodes and cathodes. This is the process allowing for the electric battery to function efficiently. The increased growth of the company and of production will significantly lower the cost of innovative manufacturing and of waste, thereby lowering the cost and giving Tesla the ability to make products available to more and more people.
Then There Are The AIVs
Another area where this factory excels over others is in automation, an area that many manufacturers are still reticent to implement: automation. The company plans on using autonomous indoor vehicles. These self driving vehicles (AIVs) move raw materials and finished goods throughout the factory using plastic bins and containers attached to flat surfaces. These indoor vehicles differ in design and purpose, but the underlying focus is to use more robots. And of course, the production of the inner workings of the AIV is also dependent on plastics.
Autonomous Indoor Vehicles
These AIVs are complex as they combine metal and plastic components and lithium batteries. In this type of construction plastics play an important role and influence the battery’s longevity and assembly. The complexity of these new machines is exceptional and showcases the combined growth of both the tech and plastics industry.
Plastics are used throughout the AIV design, whether it is in plastic tubing for the various operating fluids or casings for computer components in the battery assembly. The complexity of the automated machines at the Gigafactory is difficult to imagine, but what we do realize is that it is a showcase for technology and plastics innovation.
The Gigafactory follows Tesla’s protocol of using renewable energy generated from solar panels attached to the facility’s roof. In this process, plastic is also used to create polymer solar cells used in the solar panels. Plastics are also used to fabricate the turbines which generate the electricity from the solar energy.
This account demonstrates that plastic components are critical to new and developing technologies that meet this new consumer need of durable products that are sustainable as well.