February 15, 2019
SF Motors Starts Test Production At Its New EV Factory In Chongqing, China
SF Motors* has taken the wraps off of its new greenfield electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Chongqing, China, as it works towards the production launch of its SF5 and SF7 electric vehicles.
The new factory was designed and constructed from the ground up to be the ultimate electric vehicle factory and is positioned to establish a foothold for SF Motors in the world's largest EV market. This stands in contrast with the factories that many new and existing automobile companies are forced to retrofit as they convert existing legacy production lines to produce electric vehicles.
SF Motors' new factory features the latest generation of robots, which will help the company to automate much of the production process and supplement the human expertise required to make quality vehicles. SF Motors Chief Production Officer Jim Finn, who is working to get both of SF Motors' new plants up and running, said that "today's workers will be tomorrow's technologists" at the new Chongqing factory.
The movement of parts from inbound trucks into staging areas throughout the plants have also been automated thanks to fleets of automated guided vehicles (AGVs). Automation is not only a way for companies to lower the cost to produce a vehicle -- robots and other automation solutions are key technologies for companies as they look to improve the quality of the vehicle. SF Motors is also taking the learnings from Tesla's Model 3 production ramp into account in an attempt to strike a better balance between automated assembly and production line workers in general assembly.
Further, the fleet of robots support the factory's focus on Industry 4.0 architecture, a term which was coined to denote the convergence of automation in factories and big data collection, as well as resulting solutions. A key component of Industry 4.0 is internet-connected (or intranet-connected) devices that talk amongst each other and to centralized servers to allow for digital solutions to automate logic flows used to streamline operations within the factory.
The paint shop at the new SF Motors China-based factory is a good case study for the type of automation in the factory. It has a fully automated system thanks to new state-of-the-art technology from Dürr. Dürr is the world leader in paint shop solutions for the automotive industry and supplies solutions for every area, including automated spray booths that make use of robots and advanced paint application technology. The first vehicles rolled off the lines at the factory in October 2017, according to Finn, who is laser focused on ramping up production of the new SF5 and SF7 at both of SF Motors' factories.
Dataflows within the new Chongqing plant are being built to manage the mass of data that is generated by the factory running. The various automated production equipment in the factory "report to our logistics enterprise solutions software which tracks our capacity, does the production scheduling, and tells us how many parts we have, where we have them without any operator intervention," Finn said.
The establishment of a factory in the US and one in China and starting the production of the first vehicles from Chongqing are all steps in the right direction -- towards securing footholds in two of the world's largest electric vehicle markets -- but they do not guarantee success. The road to bringing a single vehicle to production is fraught with challenges, and SF Motors is pushing to bring its SF5 and its SF7 to market in short order.
Similarly, starting production at a single automotive factory and establishing the supply chain required to keep components flowing is no easy task. Tesla was able to achieve this with Model S, but not at scale. It attempted to ramp up quickly with Model 3 and was almost immediately greeted with several layers of automotive production hell. SF Motors is attempting to bring production up in two factories on two different continents.
It is not impossible, but it will put the team of automotive industry veterans at SF Motors to the test.
*This post was supported by SF Motors. Images from SF Motors.