Will Elon Musk Take Us for a Ride to Mars?

Forget about the reality show Keeping up with the Kardashians. If there ever was a personality who needed their own reality show, it’s the entrepreneur Elon Musk. It’s really hard to keep up with all the different initiatives Musk has pursued since he co-founded the payment service PayPal and sold it to eBay for 1.5 billion dollars back in 2002.


The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping bird's-eye view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic next-door neighbor.
The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping bird’s-eye view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic next-door neighbor.

Tesla Motors is Giving the Big Three a Run for the Money

As we saw at the Detroit Auto Show last week, Elon Musk’s electric car company Tesla Motors continues its unconventional streak — it didn’t make an appearance on the convention floor. But despite being a car show no show, Elon Musk’s comments about upcoming, moderately priced electric cars from Tesla captured the attention of the world’s press, a point that GM had to address as it introduced its upcoming small Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle. It’s hard not to root for the little start up that is building cars in the former NUMMI joint venture factory originally set up by Toyota and GM in Fremont, California.

And it’s not just the auto manufacturers who have taken notice of upstart Tesla Motors. NADA, the National Automotive Dealers Association — which represents automotive dealers across the USA — has vigorously fought Tesla Motors’ online, direct sales model. To date it’s still not possible to purchase a Tesla car in Texas legally — due to state laws which prevent consumers from buying automobiles directly from the manufacturer.


$1 Billion Investment From Google

Late yesterday brought breaking news that might explain why Elon Musk didn’t preside over a glittering stand of new Tesla electric cars at the last week’s Detroit Auto Show. He was probably busy conducting the final negotiations for a $1 billion investment from Google for his second enterprise, the space exploration company Space X. The new $1 billion infusion of capital by Google and Fidelity Investments was confirmed yesterday — it probably represents 10% of the closely-held Space X company, now valued by some analysts at $10 billion.

What’s the endgame for Elon Musk? Well, according to the Space X website, the company wants to revolutionize space technology and enable people to live on other planets. Next stop Mars, anyone?


Telecommunication Competition at Last? A Massive Fleet of Communication Satellites Encircling the Earth

Well, while it’s clear that that Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin share Elon Musk’s enthusiasm for space exploration, Google’s ambitious plans for space are well within their established mission of cataloging the world’s information. How so? To expand revenue growth, Google needs to expand the market for its online services. As we’ve talked about in previous articles, Google wants to extend Internet connectivity to under-served regions of the globe. Google has even gone as far as launching a network of high-altitude balloons (Project Loon) to bring the Internet to remote areas of Africa. The $1 billion Google investment in Space X announced yesterday will help fund a dense network of satellites circling the globe — according to some reports as many as 4,000 satellites could be positioned over the Earth. In a Bloomberg interview, Elon Musk estimated this network would take about five years to develop and cost around $10 billion.


New Texas Spaceport Under Construction

For those that will forever associate Houston with space exploration, it’s a bit disappointing that Space X is building its brand new control center in Seattle. It may take a while to get used to the catchphrase, “Seattle we have a problem!


Elon Musk (center) breaks ground on new spaceport in Brownsville with Texas Governer Rick Perry (right).
Elon Musk (center) breaks ground on new spaceport in Brownsville with Texas Governer Rick Perry (right).


But the Lone Star State has not been left out of the equation entirely. Last September, Elon Musk, and then Texas Governor Rick Perry broke ground on Space X’s new commercial rocket launch site, located in the very southern tip of Texas — in Brownsville. Like Cape Canaveral in Florida, the new site is located close to the ocean — on a site known as Boca Chica Beach. The state of Texas reportedly offered $15 million in incentives to bring Space X to Texas. The site’s southern location was also a consideration as well, for the closer you get to the equator, the less energy is needed to launch a rocket into space.


Is the Hyperloop Coming to Texas?

Maybe Elon Musk will take a liking to Texas, despite the fact that Texas won’t let Tesla motors sell its cars here– at least not yet. There have been reports that the prototype for yet another ambitious Elon Musk transportation project, the so-called Hyperloop, could first come to life as a five-mile long working prototype here in Texas.


Elon Musk's drawings for a Hyperloop transportation system.
Elon Musk’s drawings for a Hyperloop transportation system.


The Hyperloop project, if you recall, is basically an underground pneumatic tube with custom fitted rail cars designed to travel at unbelievable speeds. The concept promises to deliver passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 30 minutes. If the Hyperloop prototype comes to fruition, it will bolster the nascent high-speed rail industry in Texas.

As you may know, plans for a high-speed rail service between Dallas and Houston are fairly far along, having progressed to the point of final right-of-way selection. But Elon Musk has hinted that the Hyperloop project may be a bridge too far for him to manage, given his responsibilities for leading Space X and Tesla Motors. Consequently, he’s offered to make the project plans open-source. You can download the Hyperloop plans here. All you need to complete the project is an estimated $6 billion, so you and your friends better get that Kickstarter campaign underway!


What Keeps Elon Musk Up at Night?

It’s easy to paint Elon Musk as a entrepreneurial Superman, the Henry Ford or Thomas Edison of our time. This is a good thing, we think we need more entrepreneurial role models in this world. But we have to ask, what is his weakness? If Superman has to worry about Kryptonite, what keeps Elon Musk up at night? Well, it turns out that we know the answer! Elon Musk is afraid of artificial intelligence robots. He’s reportedly called them a greater danger to humanity than nuclear weapons. What kind of robots? Well how about the new DARPA human robot that can walk on their own two feet?

It was reported last week that Elon Musk donated $10 million to the nonprofit Future of Life Institute, whose mission is to “mitigate existential risks facing humanity” in the face of artificial intelligence robots. Musk finds himself in good company. You may recall our earlier article, which featured a video of Stephen Hawking being interviewed on the Colbert Report where Hawking flat-out states that in a fight between a human and a robot, “You would lose!” Maybe so, but for now our money is on Elon Musk.


Give us a Call. No Robot Will Respond.

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If you are considering expanding your facility or building a new one, we’d like you to give us a call today at 800.251.1505. We promise a real-life human will answer and not a robot! (Of course, if you call us after hours we do have a robot-powered voice mail system.) Our human experts would like to talk to you about Formaspace’s standard and custom solutions for computer workstations, industrial workbenches and lab benches.

Join the roster of satisfied Formaspace technical, manufacturing and laboratory furniture clients — including Apple Computer, Boeing, Dell, Eli Lilly, Exxon Mobile, General Electric, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Medtronic, NASA, Novartis, Stanford University, Toyota and more.    

How the Pursuit of Quality Roared Back in American Manufacturing

Part Two in our series Make Formaspace part of your lean manufacturing team. In this installment, we’ll look at how the pursuit of quality has roared back in American Manufacturing — thanks in part due to the adoption of lean manufacturing techniques. Where we left off in our first article in this series, way back in 1984, American automotive manufacturers found themselves far behind the Japanese in manufacturing quality.


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What a Difference 2 Decades Makes

Since that time, the manufacturing quality principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS) have been widely adopted under the moniker lean manufacturing and whole armies of quality and efficiency experts have taken root in American manufacturing. Today these manufacturing efficiency and quality improvement programs have multiplied: Six Sigma, SCOR from Supply Chain Council, World-Class Manufacturing (WCM) at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Continuous Improvement (CI) and Total Quality Management (TQM) are just a few.


The Focus on Quality has Produced Measurable Results

Consumer Report’s Car Brand Perception Survey puts Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Chevrolet as the top brands sold in the US. (Telsa is on the rise. Ironically it’s manufactured in the old NUMMI factory in Fremont, Califorinia.)

  • Today Honda is producing so many vehicles in the US that it is now a net U.S. exporter.
  • JD Powers awarded the Toyota factory in Indiana its Platinum Plant Assembly Line Quality Award for producing models that yield the fewest defects or malfunctions.
  • JD Powers also awarded General Motors eight model segment awards, including five for Chevrolet: 2013 Chevy Impala, Silverado HD, Tahoe, Camaro (tie) and Avalanche (tie).

It’s safe to say American-made automotive manufacturing quality has roared back.


The Power of Increased Productivity

But there’s more to the story than just quality improvements. Lean manufacturing techniques also spur productivity improvements which can take the form of increased profits as well as improvements to the product itself (to increase product sales and/or market share.) In 2014 Chevrolet introduced its ninth generation Impala. Let’s take a look and see how it compares to the model from 1974.


1974 Chevrolet Impala, image by CarGurus
1974 Chevrolet Impala, image by CarGurus
2014 Chevrolet Impala, image by Monroe Nissan
2014 Chevrolet Impala, image by Monroe Nissan


Feature Comparison of 1974 Chevrolet Impala with 2014 Model

Chevrolet Impala 1974 Model 2014 Model
Price $4,215 ($20,000 in today’s dollars) $27,670
Mileage 10.6 mpg 23.7 mpg
Weight 4,343 pounds 3,680 pounds
Engine 5.7 Litre V8 2.5 Litre 4
Transmission 3 speed automatic 6 speed automatic
Drag Coefficient 0.55 Cd 0.3 Cd
Air Conditioning Optional Extra Included
Air Bags Not Available Included
Entertainment System Optional Extra Included (CD, Satellite, HD Radio, iPod)

Sources:  NADA, Wikipedia, Edmund’s, Oregon State Inflation Rates The 2014 Impala’s manufacturer’s suggested list price is $27,670. Careful reading of the table shows that it costs $7000 more (about $1500 in 1974 dollars) than the 1974 model. But we have to remember that in those days, nearly every extra feature was an option. By the time you added air-conditioning, power seats and windows and an entertainment system, you could easily make up the difference.

So for this comparison, we will say the price is basically equivalent. What the consumer gets in 2014 however is a radically improved automobile. The new Impala delivers more than double the fuel economy, and it includes a slew of safety features, such as  anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, front and side airbags. It also includes what would have been considered space-age technology back in 1974 (the era of CB radio) -— satellite and HD radio as well as GM’s OnStar service which provides automatic crash notification with emergency assistance, remote door unlocking and the ability to track your vehicle if it is stolen.


Increased Productivity in Consumer Electronics

While the improvement between a 1974 and 2014 model Chevrolet is impressive, the world of the consumer electronics has progressed even faster in a shorter time frame. Steve Cichon in TrendingBuffalo made a startling comparison recently. He was looking at a February 1991 edition of the Buffalo News when he spied a full-page advertisement from RadioShack. What caught Steve’s eye was how many products for sale in the ad have been integrated into other devices, like the iPhone in his pocket. For example, the iPhone incorporates these devices:

  • $1599 Tandy 1000 TL/3 computer
  • $799 VHS Camcorder
  • $199 Mobile Cellular Telephone
  • $159.95 Deluxe Portable CD Player
  • $99.55 10-Channel Desktop Scanner
  • $49.95 Phone Answering Machine
  • $29.95 20-Memory Speed-Dial phone
  • $29.95 Handheld Cassette Tape Recorder
  • $13.88 AM/FM clock radio
  • $11.88 All weather personal stereo
  • $7.88 In-Ear Stereo Phones
  • $4.88 calculator

Together these devices, which retailed for over $3,000 in 1991 (about $5,250 in today’s dollars) can all fit in your pocket for under $600.


But Wait a Minute! Isn’t the iPhone Manufactured in China?

You might say that the productivity gains illustrated by the iPhone don’t have a place in an article about quality American manufacturing. After all, it’s true the Apple iPhones final assembly is performed by Foxconn in China. But as this amazing graphic from Financesonline shows, the iPhone is made up of components manufactured all across the globe, including many here in the US. For example, the A-series SoC processor chip for the iPhone is manufactured by Samsung right here in Austin, Texas. And the impact-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass faceplate for the iPhone is manufactured in Kentucky.

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, addressed this issue in a 2012 interview with Brian Williams, and he had an interesting point of view:

“The consumer electronics world was really never here,” Cook stated. “It’s not a matter of bringing it back, it’s a matter of starting it here.” He went on to promise: “we’ve been working for years on doing more and more in the U.S. Next year, we’re going to do one of our existing Mac lines in the United States.”


Mac Pro Manufactured Here in Austin, Texas

That promise has come true. This past December, Cook announced: “We have begun manufacturing the Mac Pro in Austin…It’s the most powerful Mac ever.” “We don’t want to just assemble the Mac Pro here, we want to make the whole thing here. This is a big deal.” Indeed it is!


In Our Next Installment, We’ll Look at How You Can Kick Off a 5S Quality Program at Your Facility

Formaspace is a part of the quality revolution in American manufacturing. We can help you make your workspace, laboratory, manufacturing facility, school or government/military facility more productive. We create custom furniture solutions (workbenches, laboratories, casework, sorting tables) that boost your productivity and quality — and save you money in the process. Plus it’s protected by our famous 3 work shift, 12 year guarantee, the best in the furniture industry. Call us now at 1-800-251-1505 or contact a representative online.


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