Tesla Gigafactory Nevada: Panasonic shares details on expansion with new production line

Tesla’s battery partner, Panasonic, appears to be planning for a huge ramp in Gigafactory Nevada, with an executive announcing that the Japanese company will be carrying out a significant expansion of its operations on site. These involve installing new equipment and recruiting more staff, enabling Giga Nevada to manufacture battery cells at higher rates than before.

Carl Walton, Vice President of Production Engineering and Facilities for Panasonic Energy of North America, who shared the updates in a conversation with the Reno Gazette-Journal, recently reported Panasonic’s growth plans. Part of the expansion is projected to take place within the next few months, according to Walton, and it is likely to continue through next year.

“There’s some construction work that needs to take place over the next couple of months. Then early next year, we’ll be installing new equipment with production starting shortly after that,” he said.

The additional capacity will be coming from a 14th battery production line that Panasonic will be adding to Giga Nevada. Walton declined to provide the exact amount of GWh that the proposed expansion would add to the capacity of the facility, although he noted that with the improvements in place, Panasonic expects to increase the capacity of the facility by around 10 percent. It should be noted that Gigafactory Nevada currently has a capacity of about 35 GWh per annum.

Walton further noted that Panasonic would recruit more workers for Giga Nevada with the expansion in place. That said, the executive noted that only around 100 new positions would be included in the proposed hiring ramp, hinting that the 14th line may be heavily automated. “The expansion will increase our staffing by about 100 positions. We’re excited to continue our investment in the Northern Nevada community and our people here,” Walton said.

While talking to the Gazette-Journal, Walton added that the Tesla site’s expansion plans would not be limited to the new production line for battery cells, because existing lines would also undergo major upgrades. These improvements are required to fit a new generation of battery cells, the exec has explained. “That work is starting now and we’ve already started to convert current equipment to be able to make those batteries for us,” Walton said.

Interestingly enough, the Panasonic executive provided some information about the next generation battery cells which will be manufactured at Gigafactory Nevada. Panasonic’s new battery, according to Walton, increases energy efficiency by 5 percent compared to its previous cells. The company also said its latest cells are 1.4x thicker than existing iron phosphate batteries, making them the highest energy density batteries in the world. However, these changes are just a step, as Panasonic aims to increase the energy density of its battery cells by 20%.

The announcement of Panasonic’s planned expansion at Gigafactory Nevada shows the close working relationship the Japanese firm has with Tesla. A Nikkei Asian Review article last year, which cited very few sources, claimed that Panasonic was freezing its expansion plans in Giga Nevada. Panasonic Chief Executive Officer Kazuhiro Tsuga has also posted on the “unpredictable” actions of Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Twitter. For his part Musk noted that Panasonic was the reason behind the battery supply constraints of Giga Nevada.

However, with Walton’s latest comments it seems that both businesses are now standing on a much firmer base. The expansion of Panasonic’s Gigafactory Nevada operations seems to be a strong strategy this year, after all, particularly since its battery business at the Tesla facility proved profitable even from January to March 2020, a period marred by the pandemic’s onset. And with electric cars becoming more popular, the Japanese firm will likely have its hands full trying to meet the battery demand for Tesla’s electric vehicles.

Reported by Teslarati.

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