By Michael Ji WangMichael graduated from UC Berkeley with a Master’s degree in Material Science Engineering in 2014, and started working at Tesla the same year at Palo Alto, California. Earlier this year Tesla Motors Inc. filed with the US Securities & Exchange Commission to officially change its name to Tesla Inc. In part this change reflected the fact that Tesla has begun to refashion itself from selling electric cars to establishing itself as a sustainable energy empire. Tesla’s product offerings now include the Model S, X, 3, solar panels, solar roofing, powerwall (Tesla home battery), and commercial grade energy storage products.
As crazy as it might sound, all this had already been envisioned in Elon Musk’s “secret master plan” written 10 years ago. In that plan, he laid out a future where autonomous cars roam the streets and homes are powered by the sun. His dream is fast becoming a reality.As a real-life Tony Stark, Elon Musk is known for his affinity for challenging conventional wisdom. He has shaped his companies in his own image: innovative, agile and unafraid to take risks. In multiple interviews, he outlined his thinking methodology, “I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy.” Indeed, Tesla has recruited and trained with the “reasoning by first principles” approach, a mode of inquiry that relentlessly pursues the foundations of a problem. I’ve utilized this method in many challenging and unfamiliar situations in my 3 year tenure here, in the fast and furious world of Tesla. When I first joined Tesla in September 2014, we were just about to launch a dual motor all-wheel drive configurations to the Model S, P85D. This option would give the car supercar acceleration — achieving 0 to 60mph in 3.2 seconds — and would become the fastest four-door production car ever made. The pressure was intense on all teams to execute and deliver, but with last minute design tweaks, we were unsure if we could ramp up the manufacturing capacity at one of the major suppliers supporting the dual motors. As the global supply manager, it was my responsibility to figure out root-causes and develop solutions with regard to the supply chain. I started by putting a hold on incremental design improvements and traveling to suppliers’ factories to go through each step of the manufacturing processes and identify bottlenecks. I then closely monitored all logistics and production schedules to minimize impact to production. There were many close-calls and on-the-fly troubleshooting, but in the end, it was a huge success and proved to be the smoothest launch in company history. Later that year the Model S went on to become the highest ever rated car in Consumer Report. As the global supply manager for electronics on both the vehicle and energy storage platforms, I work on supporting engineering teams and contract manufacturers in sourcing of parts. My main responsibilities are to build strong relationships with engineering teams and key suppliers to ensure that cost, quality and delivery targets are met. I’m involved in the entire product’s life cycle: from the design concept to prototyping, to ramping and eventual mass production.
On a day to day basis, there are fresh challenges of supplier quality issues, logistical delays, payment conflicts, and even contractual disagreements just to name a few. Tesla does not provide guidelines or rulebooks on how to deal with these issues. There are no formal trainings, and everything you learn, you learn on the job.In my third year, Tesla acquired SolarCity and elbowed its way into the crowded solar energy space. This acquisition has presented many interesting challenges and opportunities in my department, as we work towards consolidation of energy generation, storage and usage. With the rapid expansion of the Tesla product portfolio, I’m now able to leverage growth and increased spending to develop more strategic relationships with my current and future suppliers, secure more favorable contracts, and provide improved support for launching of new products. My work keeps me engaged in many aspects of the renewable energy industry, which is a cause that I am deeply passionate about. I believe there are many ways that an individual can contribute to the movement for combatting climate change. Being at the frontier of the electric revolution, Tesla is a place with the mission, people, and technology that I believe could shift the tide and be a beacon for a better future for all.
Being on the Frontier of Tesla’s Electric Revolution was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.