Q&A: Rivian's Manufacturing Chief On What's Happening Inside The Plant
While Uptown Normal was filled with Rivian buzz during Sunday’s community event, the real action is taking place 5 miles west at the automaker’s manufacturing plant.
Inside the 2.6 million-square-foot plant, construction is taking place seven days a week to get ready for production to begin in 2020. There are already 130 employees on site, with hundreds more on the way.
WGLT spoke Sunday with Matt Tall, the vice president of manufacturing for Rivian. He joined Rivian in late 2017 and moved to Normal 10 months ago with his wife. The Midwesterner and auto industry veteran is leading both plant operations and advanced manufacturing in Normal.
WGLT: What’s going on inside the plant?
Tall: It’s been an exciting time for the plant and the employees. Right now we're in a kind of a refurbish-it mode. We demolitioned all of the old, prior equipment that was built for cars. And so obviously when we're building trucks and larger Amazon vehicles, we need to re-engineer and retool the entire plant. So right now I'd say about 90% of it has been demolition. We're in the process of painting, installing all new lights, redoing floors, getting the facility ready for all the equipment that's going to build our vehicles for us.
The batteries that will power Rivian’s vehicles will also be made in Normal. How is that part of the plant looking?
Battery is progressing really well. It’s still a wide open space, but it's the first part of the facility that’s ready in addition to stamping. And so probably in December, January timeframe, we’ll be installing all of the battery equipment.
Last month, Amazon announced it was ordering 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian, with the first 10,000 on the road by 2022. Has that adjusted your plans at all?
Yeah, obviously it makes the scale a lot grander. So you have to plan ahead. Everything is careful planning in the auto industry. It’s making sure that you have all your I's dotted and your T's crossed. So obviously building 100,000 Amazon vehicles brings a different dynamic because of the size. So the sheer size of the vehicle is significantly larger than trucks. So you have to upsize everything, in paint as well as through your body shop. But it's been done in the past before, and so we'll have a careful plan and be ready.
How is hiring going so far?
Hiring is going reasonably well. Obviously, the biggest question I get is, when are you hiring? And really we ask for patience. We've got a lot of ex-Mitsubishi employees that have done outstanding. We couldn't be happier with the employees. They're able to adapt and do things a little bit different. Inherently when you're in a startup company, there's not a lot of bureaucracy behind you that tells you how to do things. And so it allows us to do things a lot faster than a normal automotive company.
And so we’ve gotta ramp up. Obviously, we're taking resumes (at Sunday's event), and so probably in the next six, eight months we'll ramp up the hiring to the point where we'll be producing things.
Which kinds of positions will you need the most of?
Obviously the most will be team members that actually assemble the car. It's the most important position that we can hire at the plant. That’s not to say that our engineers and our salary people are not anywhere as important, but the team members that put the car (together) are really the focus. They become the experts. They take the parts, they know how they interface with other parts. They're the ones that build the quality into the vehicle. So it's extremely important to have as many conscientious team members that we can, because they build the vehicle and they instill the quality. And so you only get one shot of building the brand, one shot at quality. And so that's probably the most important. We probably need 500 to 600 team members to put the cars together.
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