The EV Industry & GigaFactories: What You Need to Know
April 21, 2023
“Giga” is a unit of measurement, representing billions.
If you’re not entirely sure what a “Gigafactory” is, you’re in good company. It’s not uncommon to hear different definitions of the word. So, let’s set the record straight.
Back in 2013, Tesla’s Elon Musk coined the term “Gigafactory” when he spoke to investors about the type of massive battery factory needed to meet production demands for electric vehicles (EVs). He explained that a Gigafactory would make battery packs with the collective energy storage capacity equal to billions (hence “giga”) of watt-hours (GWh) annually. Interestingly, the sheer size of a Gigafactory could also account for the Gigafactory name. It’s derived from the Greek word “gigas,” which means giant.
While Gigafactories initially manufactured Lithium-ion batteries to power EVs, as the EV market accelerated, the term Gigafactory expanded beyond battery production. Now, it’s possible that every stage of manufacturing an EV can be done under one (massive) roof. Gigafactories can manufacture batteries, electronic components and the EV itself. Today there are 5 Tesla Gigafactories on 3 continents. The original factory is in Fremont, California, constructed before Musk coined the term Gigafactory. There are Tesla Gigafactories in Nevada, New York, Shanghai, Texas, and Berlin, plus one under construction in Mexico. Tesla’s global workforce today is approximately 127,855 (a 28.77% increase from 2021). 1
Tesla’s GigaFactory 1, also known as Giga Nevada, is 5.4 million square feet. It’s one of the world's highest-volume plants for electric motors, energy storage products, vehicle powertrains, and batteries—producing billions of battery cells per year. (A battery cell includes hundreds of individual Lithium-ion batteries). Giga Nevada employs about 11,000 people.2 Tesla has recently announced further expansion projects in Nevada that will add as many as 4 million square feet of new manufacturing facilities, plus create as many as 3,000 additional jobs.2
Giga Texas is approximately 15 city blocks long and has more than 10 million square feet of floor space (roughly 100 football fields), making it the second-largest building by volume in the world. Millions of electric energy components are made there, including Lithium-ion batteries, battery cells, power walls (rechargeable stationary home energy storage products), and power packs. Giga Shanghai measures 9.3 million square feet.
While Gigafactories were originally Tesla-specific locations, other major car manufacturers now freely use the term Gigafactory for their EV battery and manufacturing factories. “Volkswagen announced that its first gigafactory in North America will be located in the city of St. Thomas in the Canadian province of Ontario.”3 Gigafactories are also experiencing high growth in the overall auto industry. In 2021, automakers announced $36 billion of investments to build facilities dedicated to manufacturing EVs and batteries. 4
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO WORK IN A GIGAFACTORY?
Alongside hundreds of robots, Gigafactories employ thousands of people and are considered very high-risk environments, The thermal, chemical, and electrical hazards can be life-threatening. Having the right personal protective equipment (PPE) is required in electrical safety environments, and there are OSHA standards to meet for other portions of the EV manufacturing process.
Battery manufacturing facilities are complex. Large sections of the production areas (about 2,000 feet long) have specific requirements, including clean rooms (rooms with filtration to achieve very low levels of dust/particles), plus certain manufacturing areas requiring very low humidity levels.
In battery rooms, electrical safety PPE is required, including respirators, above-the-neck PPE, and dielectric footwear. Premium safety solutions include Honeywell North 5400 Series Full Facepiece PAPR, Honeywell Salisbury Rubber Gloves & Leather Gloves (Class 0, 1500V DC) for use during handling of batteries, and Honeywell Dielectric boots.
In cell and battery installation, hazards from handling battery packs (which include hundreds of individual Lithium-ion batteries, called cells), exposure to chemicals (liquids and vapors) and short circuit electric arc risks call for the highest safety class of PPE. Respiratory, hand, face and head protection are particularly important. Salisbury PrismPlus face shield, Uvex Avatar safety glasses, Howard Leight ear plugs, PA900 PAPR, and ILP Series Leather Protectors & Class 0 Gloves provide excellent protection in these environments.
While there’s much excitement surrounding the contribution EVs make toward a sustainable future, we can’t lose sight of the dangerous nature of working in the EV industry. Honeywell is committed to helping keep workers safer across a number of vital industries. We are recognized as an industry leader with pioneering, patented PPE to help protect workers at every stage of EV manufacturing.