Automated Coventry EV plant will be basis for global network
An international developer of electric vehicle drive technologies is commissioning a cloud-based robotic assembly plant in Coventry, UK, which it plans to replicate in a network of digitalised manufacturing plants around the world. Israeli-headquartered REE Automotive, expects to produce 40,000 of its REEcorner modules – which combine a powertrain with steering, braking and suspension – at its Coventry Integration Centre this year. One module is needed for each wheel, so this capacity will be enough to power 10,000 commercial vehicles such as delivery vans, buses and recreational vehicles.
The 130,000ft2 (12,000m2) Coventry site will serve the European market and act as a blueprint for future REE integration centres around the globe. A North American centre in Austin, Texas, will replicate the architecture of the UK site, and is expected to double the company’s global capacity to 20,000 vehicle sets when it comes on line next year.
The Coventry facility will consist of 13 production cells, linked by AGVs (automatic guided vehicles) which will move items between the cells for both automated and manual assembly operations.
“The modular production line will allow us to validate all 13 cells quickly by testing and optimising one cell and then implementing best practice across all 13 cells,” explains REE Automotive assembly process technology engineer, Jon Bellman. “This dramatically reduces the time to design and develop the whole production line. It allows us to learn lessons much faster than in traditional automotive manufacturing practices and we can bake these lessons into our full-scale assembly line right from the beginning.”
The modular production line will be highly automated and flexible. “We can scale up or down, depending on future variants and demand,” Bellman says. “In addition, assembly cells and production lines can be lifted and installed at future integration centres.”
He describes the AGVs as the “backbone” of the plant. “They allow our assembly process to be modular and flexible. Not only do the AGVs move work-in-progress products from cell to cell. They will also be automated to deliver components to assembly cells when needed.”
REE is working with the Coventry-based robotic automation specialist Expert Technologies and is using control hardware supplied by Rockwell Automation, robots from ABB and software from Rockwell-owned Plex, whose cloud-based MES (manufacturing execution system) system will provide visibility into the production operations and enable scalable manufacturing across REE’s network of integration centres.
One of the robotic production cells at REE Automotive’s Coventry integration centre which is due to come on line later this year
“This is an important milestone on our path to commercial production next year,” says REE’s chief operating officer, Josh Tech. “The automated and connected capabilities at our Coventry site are a great foundation for our global operations, as they will enable us to continuously fine-tune our assembly procedures and rapidly deploy them to other sites.
“Our cloud-based robotic manufacturing system will be the digital backbone for our assembly lines and give us the local capability to manage our customer-specific manufacturing operations, while also allowing us to quickly share and scale best practices internationally across all plants.”
As well as its operations in the UK and US, REE Automotive has subsidiaries in Japan and Germany. Its “corner technology” packs critical components into compact modules between a vehicle’s chassis and wheels, resulting a flat, modular chassis that maximises space for passengers, cargo, and batteries in commercial EVs. The vehicles will have drive-by-wire, brake-by-wire and steer-by-wire capabilities.
REE aims to provide the underpinnings on top of which EVs and autonomous vehicles will be built, and envisions a future where such vehicles will be “powered by REE”. Customers will be able to build any size or shape of vehicle for any target market. A configurator will allow them to tailor the payload capabilities, battery capacities, drivetrains, steering, operating speeds and dimensions to their requirements.