The opening of its new plant at Goiana in Pernambuco sees Fiat Chrysler Automobiles overcome numerous obstacles to put Brazil at the cutting edge of manufacturing, says Comau

FCA Pernambuco

The new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Brazilian factory in Goiana, in the state of Pernambuco, was inaugurated just a few weeks ago. Not only is it the flagship of the Italian-American company, it is also an example of innovation in the automotive sector. The centre in Pernambuco was the first car factory owned by the new group to be inaugurated following the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. It is also the most technologically advanced FCA factory in the entire world.

In fact, the Pernambuco project is seen as a very important step in the reinforcement process of Fiat’s international strategy. Firstly, Brazil is a strategic region for its expansion in Latin America. Secondly, FCA aims to contribute to the economic, technological and industrial development of Brazil, in whose automotive industry Comau has been operating for almost 40 years.

The first car to be manufactured in the new plant will be the Jeep Renegade. However, the plant will also manufacture other FCA vehicles. The plant and the list of suppliers will be ready by Q1 of 2015. Production of the first model, the Jeep Renegade, will start in the early months of 2015. This will be followed in the second half of the year, and in 2016, by two more models. 

Comau in Brazil
Comau’s project for the Pernambuco plant is definitely one of the biggest challenges ever faced by the Turin-based company. To allow all phases of the project to be carried out in the best possible way, an ‘inter-company’ model was set up. This involved four different Comau plants: from Grugliasco in Europe came the robots and the most advanced machinery; from China came Opengate; from Mexico the geometry tools; and from Brazil came the structure and robot handlers. 

This means that the production line to assemble the shell – and more specifically the Butterfly system – consists of multiple lines where the subgroups are assembled before the full shell is formed. 

The added value that made the difference when choosing Comau as a technology partner for the Brazilian FCA factory was a combination of several factors. The flexibility of the Butterfly system certainly played a major role, because, at full capacity, three different car models will have to be manufactured in the plant. Another advantage was the range of products offered by Comau.

In fact, this wide variety of products – ranging from robots to clamps and welding systems – allowed Comau to deliver a comprehensive product offering. Ultimately, the aftersales service proved to be crucial. In order to fully support the client, Comau transferred roughly 40 of its employees directly to the plant in Pernambuco, where they followed the whole design, production and implementation process. Once the facility was up and running, these employees were ultimately included in the FCA staff.

High-speed installation
The development of this large system was, despite the difficulty, fairly swift – especially in view of the fact that the project was started in June 2013. The biggest obstacles were, first, bureaucracy and, second, the location of the plant. There were no major roadways in the region that could allow the passage of the large trucks needed to carry the heavier loads. Even with lighter means of transport, such as cars, travelling in the area was far from easy.

Customs tariffs and timings were other major problems. However, despite everything, the project was a success. After less than a year, the testing phase began. During this phase, a plant begins producing cars that are not for sale but which are used to verify the accuracy of the production process. The production of the pre-series vehicles will begin in October, and this will lead to standard production in January 2015. 

Similarly, from February 2015, the verification process will begin for the production of a new pick-up. The pre-series will start the following May, while September will mark the beginning of the ‘job one’ phase.