back to article Tesla buys robot maker. Hang on, isn't that your sci-fi bogeyman, Elon?

Troubled Tesla Inc. has quietly acquired Perbix, which designs robot production lines. Perbix was already a Tesla contractor. "With the acquisition of Perbix, Tesla further advances its efforts to turn the factory itself into a product – to build the machine that makes the machine," the electric carmaker burbled on its website …

  1. Aladdin Sane
    Terminator

    Also in the news

    Tesla rebrand to Cyberdyne Systems.

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Also in the news

      Tesla is buying a robotics manufacturing company.

      Musk was warning about AI

      Much as smoke-and-mirrors purveyors like to portray current robotics and expert systems, ANNs etc as "AI", in reality there is a world of difference.

      The Register sensationalising the routine? Well, I never!

    2. captain semtex
      Facepalm

      Re: Also in the news

      That would have made more sense if you said Boston Dynamics renamed Cyberdyne Systems.

  2. steelpillow Silver badge
    Devil

    Selling factories?

    Since when was it Tesla's core business "to turn the factory itself into a product"? Who are they going to sell fully kitted-out Gigafactories to? The Martians at the receiving end of Musk's BFR?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Selling factories?

      A relative who was spirited from the UK out to the West Coast as a senior production automation guru has told me that he's found Tesla really difficult to work for, and told his own employers that he doesn't want to work on the Tesla contract. And that from a complete workaholic, and one of the most well regarded people in his field.

      I therefore suspect the reason Tesla are buying contractors is to stop them walking away at the earliest possible opportunity, and to ensure that if chasing other business, that's always lower priority than trying to please the shambolic and overly ambitious management of Tesla.

      Message to Perbix technical and operations staff: Now is a VERY good time to look for another job.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Selling factories?

        I'm not surprised. The modus operandi of any Musk corporation seems to be: Burn em up, spit em out, chew on the next guy. SpaceX and Tesla both have a massive churn rate, with MANY reporting the expected workload and hours to be absolutely insane.

        Right from the start Tesla have always shouted they'd built their own damn factory. With blackjack! And hookers! Their timelines and production line set-up were,from what I've been told by someone who works for a party that bid on a contract to do some of the work, "completely and utterly insane". Going completely against everything the rest of the car industry has been optimising for the last few decades. Ignoring many of the lessons learned that experienced contracters were giving them.

        1. BrownishMonstr

          Re: Selling factories?

          @imanidiot

          Great Futurama reference!

        2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Selling factories?

          "Right from the start Tesla have always shouted they'd built their own damn factory.

          Except.. They didn't? So once upon a Freemont suburb, there was a NUMMI. Or a JV between GM & Toyota to build cars and trade production technology. The Freemont factory produced up to 6,000 vehicles a week. Then GM went kinda bust, Tesla stepped in with Toyota. And now the NUMMI MK2 is producing far fewer vehicles than those old dinosaurs GM & Toyota ever managed. How could this be?

          OK, so Tesla didn't buy a lot of the factory equiment in the NUMMI sale, but 7 years on, all the signs are that Tesla's made some big mistakes wrt production.. And is now facing increased competition from those dinosaurs who do know a think about manufacturing cars.

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            Re: Selling factories?

            What they bought with the nummi plant was a building on a large plot of industrial real estate and a bunch of people with knowledge. The production line for one kind of car is pretty much useless for any other type of car not on the same platform. They had to pretty much strip the entire factory an build it up again from scratch. The people they bought with the factory could have helped them with that, but from what I've been told they were pretty much summarily ignored.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: Selling factories?

              Yup.. I kinda get the feeling there's been too much micromanagement, wishful thinking and ignoring advice from veterans. And maybe some of this ""the economics of having a plant in California so far away from the supplier lines" in the Midwest "just doesn't make business sense" for Toyota to continue running the NUMMI plant.,

              From the wiki article on NUMMI. I don't know if that kind of logistics tail holds true for Tesla's production, but they are lagging against their peers/equally efficient operators. In theory, the Teslas are meant to be simpler than ICE, ie fewer parts but that doesn't seem to be translating into production numbers. Seems simple on a whiteboard, not so simple on the lines. I'm rather curious about reliability/service costs, especially when I see things like this-

              http://teslabears.club/t/new-thread-keefs-complaints-with-photographs/107

              Quite a few Model S vehicles with similar looking suspension failures.

  3. Steve Todd
    Stop

    There's a slight difference

    between a robot production line, and AIs bent on taking over the world. It's the latter that Elon is worried about. Automated production lines are something the company has been working on for a long time.

    1. pdh

      Re: There's a slight difference

      His fault; Musk himself blurs the distinction between robots and AI. From a speech of his this past summer:

      “I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react, because it seems so ethereal.”

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There's a slight difference

      I suggest having a look at this first:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIIJME8-au8

      You may wish to reconsider this idea...

      1. Oneman2Many

        Re: There's a slight difference

        Its a commercial made with VFX, there is a behind the scenes video to show how it was done.

  4. foxyshadis

    If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      "If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em."

      Worked for Microsoft.

  5. DropBear

    They plainly said as much earlier that their problems are related to certain sections of their assembly lines and that the failings of the contractor handling that were missed. In light of that I can see nothing surprising in wanting to take matters into their own hands, sorry. And factory "robot" intelligence has pretty much bugger-all to do with AI; if anything, most "smarts" involved concerns itself with optimizing the efficiency of the processes involved, not with performing them physically.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In light of that I can see nothing surprising in wanting to take matters into their own hands,

      Well, true to form. They're learning the hard way all those "oh-so-easy" lessons of car making, and now they're thinking "what could be so hard about automating production?".

      "Can we do it? Yes we can!" might work for Bob the Builder (even the crap, inferior version flogged to the Merkins), but back in the real world, every major car maker trusts and uses external specialists in industrial automation. This is a daft move.

      1. Oneman2Many

        Things for him were all fine when he was small manufacture. I think he has now realised that the problems of scaling up a complex manufacturing process. Buying suppliers isn't the way to fix the issues.

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      WTF?

      "their problems are related to certain sections of their assembly lines and that the failings of the contractor handling that were missed."

      So you then go and buy that contractor?? hmmm.....

  6. dmck

    perhaps he can by the US Robotics name, that would go well with his latest purchase.

    1. J. Cook Silver badge

      Too late- Unicom bought USR in 2013.

  7. unwarranted triumphalism

    Something else for him to fail at.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      If you have a vision, nothing wrong with having the control over it as those without the vision probably be unable to deliver what you want. However, there will always be something beyond your control. The catch is: where do you draw the line?

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    These guyes aren't the unnamed contractor that f**king up the mfg line, are they?

    'Cause Tesla never did name them.

  10. GBE

    Robot != AI

    The author seems to be mistakenly conflating "AI" and "robot". While there are some applications where the two overlap, the industrial robots used on production lines often involve little or no AI -- and many big AI projects don't involve robotics at all.

    One hopes this was an honest mistake and not one made intentionally to produce some synthetic drama for the story...

  11. Blake St. Claire

    Tony Stark?

    All his fanbois who love to refer to him as a real life Tony Stark seem to be missing in action.

  12. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Musk knows that all it takes to stop a bad guy with an army of killer robots, is a good guy with an army of killer robots. Problem is, to finance the former, he'll probably supply the latter.

  13. DCFusor

    What a hit piece

    Cognitive dissonance much?

    First we diss Elon for warning about AI (and yes, I'd like some of what he's smoking) and then buying robotics capability, then diss him for needing robots, assuming that the lack of them is the problem and robots are the solution:

    " A more sceptical [sic] view is that Tesla is finding it so difficult to manufacture its long-awaited Model 3 sedan that it's hand-finishing them as they drop off the production line."

    So you're going to diss the guy for realizing he needs to use the solution you approve of, really?

    I'm sure he's (and other mgt) aren't perfect in all eyes - I've done the CEO/Owner/Vision-guy gig, and while things were successful, i'm pretty sure that those I made do what they promised weren't all happy with being held to it. So?

    The thing about unreasoning hate, or even sour grapes, is it not only makes you wrong, after awhile you just look dumb. Yeah, no one in a huge startup gets it all done exactly as they said and on time, but this group of outfits does tend to get it done, unlike a ton of others the Reg hasn't bothered to heap abuse on.

  14. Robert Heffernan

    That'll fix it

    Having worked in Automotive Manufacturing, it sounds to me like Perbix were contracted to design and implement sections of the production line and it's equipment, and as is typical, it didn't come up to snuff and was experiencing many unanticipated issues.

    Then coupled with the fact that suppliers can get pretty finicky when their stuff doesn't work as expected (who wants to troubleshoot when you can sell and install new stuff), and Elon feeling the pressure to get production humming along while the supplier is dragging ass in regards to fixing it, it makes perfect sense to me that Elon would just buy them out to force them to focus on fixing the problems in a timely fashion.

    It also has the side-benefit of growing the vertical integration, in that they now have the knowledge and expertise in-house to be able to design and build these types of production equipment.

  15. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Somewhat off topic, but technically my glass is neither half-full or half-empty; I simply store 50% of my water in a redundant glass.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Or your glass is twice as big as it needs to be?

      1. Aladdin Sane

        Obligatory XKCD.

  16. Steve K Silver badge

    Best Tesla Headline Ever?

    May I just say "Fnar! Fnar!" and "Ooh, Matron!" at this headline. Even El Reg could not do better:

    https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/12/tesla-will-reveal-its-semi-this-thursday-and-musk-promises-to-blow-your-mind-with-it.html

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