Inside The Rivian Plant: ‘It is Like Google And Toyota Had A Child’

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Rivian manufacturing chief Erik Fields began this week’s tour of his huge plant with a reality verify.

“Rivian isn’t a startup. We’re a real manufacturing OEM,” Fields mentioned.

OEM is “authentic gear producer”—shorthand for an organization that makes stuff. Throughout an hourlong tour of the Regular plant, Fields made the case that how Rivian is constructing its electrical automobiles is simply as compelling because the automobiles themselves.

“These are all buyer automobiles, which is absolutely thrilling—to see the road fully full realizing that these will really be going to prospects,” Fields informed WGLT as he narrated a golf cart parade of tourists previous a line of accomplished chassis of the R1T pickup truck.

Sunday’s tour comes simply two weeks after the formal begin of manufacturing at Rivian—nearly 5 years because the mysterious firm landed in Bloomington-Regular in search of tax breaks to assist purchase and resurrect the previous Mitsubishi plant. The R1T vans at the moment are in manufacturing, with a sport utility automobile sibling (R1S) anticipated to maneuver into manufacturing earlier than December.

Fields mentioned the plant runs on an unprecedented mixture of vertical integration and connectivity. He mentioned that provides Rivian sure aggressive benefits that it might want to do one thing extremely tough—launch a brand new automobile firm, from scratch, throughout a pandemic.

“It’s like Google and Toyota had a child,” Fields mentioned.

Vertically built-in

Rivian’s secret sauce in manufacturing is its vertical integration, in keeping with Fields, who’s labored in auto manufacturing for greater than 20 years, the final 13 with Nissan in Mississippi.

Rivian stamping

Ryan Denham

Rivian acquired six presses from the previous Mitsubishi plant (a part of the $16 million sale in 2017). Rivian retooled them to allow them to stamp each metal and aluminum. Rivian can now stamp nearly 300 distinct physique elements for its three present automobiles.

Vertical integration means, as an alternative of counting on outdoors suppliers, Rivian makes a lot of its parts in-house.

One instance: Stamping. Rivian acquired six presses from the previous Mitsubishi plant (a part of the $16 million sale in 2017). Rivian retooled them to allow them to stamp each metal and aluminum. Rivian can now stamp nearly 300 distinct physique elements for its three present automobiles. Most OEMs solely stamp a couple of items, akin to these A-class surfaces {that a} buyer sees on the surface. Others don’t stamp their very own elements in any respect, counting on a provider.

The plant additionally can be ancillary stuff, like Rivian’s DC quick chargers and the modular kitchen that can be utilized on a tenting journey.

“It’s a aggressive benefit for us,” Fields mentioned. “We will management our personal high quality. We will management all our personal uncooked materials. We will make design modifications on the fly. And any of the financial savings we make, we get to maintain all of it, fairly than sharing it with a provider.”

Different examples of vertical integration are seen everywhere in the plant. Till now, Rivian has used Bosch motors. However it’s now planning to construct its personal motors in-house.

Rivian is scaling up its battery pack manufacturing, too. Rivian buys its battery cells from Samsung, with greater than 7,000 wanted for a single pack. The objective is to have the ability to construct 30 packs an hour.

“We’ll be processing tens of millions and tens of millions of cells by right here,” Fields mentioned Sunday, a non-production day put aside for development and upkeep contained in the plant.

Vertical integration requires house. Rivian already has added about 800,000 sq. toes to the plant (physique store and drive unit battery space), bringing it to three.3 million. There are plans to develop to over 6 million sq. toes within the subsequent few years, Fields mentioned. Rivian plans to develop the south finish of the constructing westward, all the best way to Rivian Motorway, to make room for battery and motor work.

Rivian additionally has two storage websites—one close by on Faculty Avenue (300,000 sq. toes), and one other on Kerrick Street in north Regular that may develop to over one million sq. toes.

There stay challenges. Many automakers, together with Rivian, have struggled to get semiconductors, or chips, as a result of pandemic-related provide shortages. Rivian cited that chip scarcity in pushing again the beginning of economic manufacturing, from June to September.

“We’re positively coping with the chip scarcity, as different OEMs have,” Fields mentioned. “One benefit now we have is we’re controlling our personal module growth. Many of the modules at Nissan, for instance, which is what I do know, come from Hitachi or Bosch or different makers. We’re controlling our personal design. Working with a producer that’s constructing our design for us. We additionally management the chip. As we see completely different type of chip shortages which can be going to be extended, we’ve been in a position to modify our personal design, versus having to make use of a regular module from a provider.

“That’s given us a bonus, of with the ability to acknowledge a roadblock and adapt to it. It’s one thing we monitor every day, but it surely’s not one thing the place we’re on the mercy of a provider,” he mentioned.

Three automobiles, a number of fashions

One other problem is launching three automobiles in fast succession.

The R1T was first. The R1S sport utility automobile is in a preliminary manufacturing stage referred to as “tooling trial” proper now; Fields expects buyer automobiles to be in manufacturing earlier than December.

“That’s the dance, of conserving the standard excessive on the R1T, getting the standard prepared on the R1S, and conserving these going on the similar time,” Fields mentioned.

Rivian can be constructing electrical supply vans for Amazon, one among its buyers. There will likely be three sizes: the five hundred, 700, and 900. The five hundred is smallest, ideally suited for extra city environments like European cities or New York Metropolis or Chicago. The 900 is the most important, extra akin to a typical UPS truck.

Rivian Customer Delivery Center

Ryan Denham

A patio outdoors the client supply middle, on the east aspect of the plant, the place Rivian prospects will decide up their electrical automobiles. It is adjoining to the Rivian check monitor.

To construct these, Fields mentioned Rivian put in a few of the largest robots ever utilized in auto manufacturing—wanted due to the bigger physique sides of the van.

Pre-production on the Amazon vans (referred to as RPVs) begins subsequent month, Fields mentioned. Rivian goals to ship 100 of them to Amazon by the tip of 2021, with some check fashions already within the area.

“Amazon could be very cautious about how they make modifications throughout their scorching interval between October and December. As you possibly can think about, they’ve fairly a little bit of quantity occurring throughout that interval,” Fields mentioned of the vacation procuring interval.

Initially, Amazon deliberate to have 10,000 of the brand new electrical automobiles on the highway as early as 2022 and all 100,000 of its electrical automobiles on the highway by 2030. Fields mentioned that is the primary time an OEM has mass produced supply vans at this scale. It’s often a really handbook, low-rate course of, he mentioned.

That complexity is orchestrated by Rivian’s “related manufacturing facility” strategy to manufacturing.

One instance is on the chassis line. There are “no dumb shooter weapons,” as Fields places it. As a substitute, instrument controllers monitor the torque and angle for each single bolt that goes into an R1 automobile.

Different captured knowledge consists of the worker who’s “badged” right into a workstation, and the down time, or gear failures at that workstation, to call a couple of.

“All this info goes right into a cloud that we will then monitor all manufacturing facility analytics, from zone to zone, plant to plant, and the entire plant operation,” Fields mentioned.

Quickly rising workforce

Every thing Fields is hoping to do—even the large robots—requires people. And Rivian has a number of these, too. The plant has greater than 2,800 staff, making it McLean County’s third-largest employer nearly in a single day, trailing solely State Farm and Illinois State College. Rivian has mentioned it may finally rent between 4,000 and 5,000 folks in Regular.

“We’re nonetheless needing all the things,” Fields mentioned. “We’re nonetheless in want of group members, group leaders, group leaders. We nonetheless want instrument and die, we nonetheless want engineers, we nonetheless want analysts. There’s not anybody place the place we’re fully glad and executed with our hiring.”

WGLT’s final go to contained in the plant was in January 2019, when there have been solely about 60 Rivian staff, operating a skeleton crew. It seemed like an empty, dimly lit warehouse.

The plant at this time is brightly lit, seemingly clear and well-organized.

“We need to guarantee there’s nearly no shadows—a shiny, white clear surroundings that conjures up the standard, and in addition offers a pleasant ambiance for everyone working right here,” Fields mentioned. “Recruiting engineers into manufacturing is turning into increasingly robust, as a result of it’s not as glamorous as working for Google or Apple, or a few of the different high-tech areas. However we’re making use of a high-tech strategy to manufacturing and making it rather more enticing to engineers.”

Finally, Rivian plans to run two shifts six days per week, with rotations in order that persons are working 40 hours per week. At present, the physique store and battery and drive unit areas are operating two shifts, though paint and common meeting can meet present demand with one shift.

“Proper now, it’s robust as a result of we’re in ramp, and there’s quite a lot of demand. We’re operating quite a lot of additional time beyond regulation hours. That’s not the long-term objective. The long-term objective is to offer a really good work-life steadiness. It’s very tough to really feel that proper now because the plant scales, however that’s not going to be round endlessly,” Fields mentioned.