Ducati’s Bologna factory exudes the heritage of the brand, but houses the production facilities for state of the art motorcycles. The plant operates both mixed and dedicated lines for engine and finished vehicle assembly.

For someone who’s used to seeing high volume car production, the first thing that you notice is the absence of automation. Only a very small percentage of the production process requires, or even allows for automation, to be used. The exception to this is the machining operations for the crank and camshafts. Brought in from an outside supplier as forged steel blanks, the crankshafts go through a fivestage process that includes grinding, drilling, heat treatment and balancing in automated cells (one for each operation), explained machining unit manager, Pietro Palma. Kuka robots perform the component handling at each stage. The cranks for the seven ‘families’ of engines are produced in batches of 100. Quality control checks take in one in 10 components, which are performed using a Zeiss 3D measuring system.

Panigale production

For the Panigale engine the machining operations have to be recalibrated for the high-performance engine’s larger main bearing journals; this change over takes about three hours. The camshafts follow a similar process but without the use of robots for component handling.

The Panigale production line is one of the most recent additions at Bologna. This is the company’s flagship sports bike model and features a highly innovative cast aluminium monocoque derived from Ducati’s MotoGP racing programme, and bristles with sophisticated electronics. Due to the Panigale engine’s particular design it has a dedicated assembly line and kitting area. The prepared crankshafts are paired with matched connecting rods, which are then attached using a set procedure and an Atlas Copco, computer regulated torque driver. The pistons (delivered in the liners) are then attached using special positioning jig. In the kitting area certain parts are held in special electronically ‘locked’ units. These only allow the operator to take the component required for that specification motorcycle once they have registered its unique identity code. Crankcases are also fitted with bearings in this area before the complete engine kit (fully assembled desmodromic cylinder heads are prepared by an outside company ready for kitting) is sent to the production line. Kitting is something that’s quite common in car manufacturing but, seen in operation at Ducati, is an ideal ‘lean’ solution for assembly of compact motorcycle systems.

Ducati operates a ‘start-stop’ engine line (for the Panigale). This means with the completed kit passed to the line, the assembly operators follow the engine they are building through the various different stations. A small but necessary piece of automation involves the delicate application of sealant to the mating surfaces on one half of the crankcase (by a Janome system), while the worker begins assembly of the various kitted components in the other half of the casing. Electric drivers are used to bolt the two halves together along with the fitting on the various ancillary parts; again precision is critical. Uniquely for a Ducati engine, the barrels are incorporated into the crankcase casting on the Panigale, so the ‘wet’ liners are pressed manually into the casting with a special (albeit simple) tool. It’s this contrast between high-tech engineering and hand-built assembly that makes Bologna an interesting study. With such a high level of manual assembly operations it’s unsurprising that there is a lot of focus on optimizing the ergonomics of the process, and the Panigale engine pallet is a clear example off this. The pallet is fully adjustable, so the engine is repositioned as needed allowing the operator to perform almost all the assembly tasks from one position. The kitting of parts also helps with this.

Monitoring operations

At each stage the manual operation is monitored and recorded via the tooling, and this characterizes Ducati’s manufacturing process with sophisticated, centralized computer control and monitoring. Through each stage of production the motorcycle is identified and tracked using a code specific to that machine. This relates to the specification required and allows centralized calibration of electric screwdrivers, ratchets and torque tools as the operator inputs the ID number at each station. It also allows very accurate error tracking, alerting not only the operator performing the task but also the line manager and his team, should the system detect any operation that is outside of the set parameters.

At present the Panigale engine line produces around 20 units per shift, but capacity can be increased to 80 units per shift, with a full complement of 20 assembly workers, as demand requires. And here is another distinctive feature of motorcycle manufacturing; production capacity is heavily influenced by the time of year. The motorcycle market experiences seasonal peaks and troughs in sales and, as much of Ducati’s output is built-to-order, the capacity varies accordingly.

Process development

The mixed engine line produces both air and water-cooled versions of the company’s V-twin engine for the rest of the model range, but has a much higher volume with around 230 engines produced per shift. Another feature of production at Bologna is the focus on quality control. As well as computer controlled tool settings, 100% of engine production is cold tested. This involves a two-speed cold run test for a duration of five minutes. Attaching the various sensors for engine testing is a common bottleneck, especially when it’s a 100% test requirement. But it’s also an area where you can see the process developed and improved through solutions from the operators (something encouraged across the entire plant) and Ducati is no exception to this.

For Ducati, ‘hand-made in Italy’ is a key element of the brand. This type of product positioning is not uncommon among premium segment vehicle manufacturers, but where motorcycles are concerned there is also a degree of pragmatism being applied. Modern motorcycles feature a high level of electronics that have to be packaged into a very limited space, and the Panigale is a good example of this. The finished (and cold tested) engine is moved to another assembly section to have the ancillaries (exhaust, inlet system, etc.) and the frame attached. Most of the range uses the company’s famous tubular steel trellis frame, but the Panigale uses a high-tech, race developed cast aluminium monocoque. This is a key part of the motorcycle’s architecture and breaks the conventional mold in being a small cast alloy ‘box’ that houses the air box, filter, and steering-head bearings mounted on top of the engine. The simplicity of the design is impressive and though developed for its lightweight and handling characteristics, it must also benefit the assembly process.

Interview: Silvano Fini, plant director – Ducati Bologna factory

AMS: Looking at the recent acquisition by Audi, what can the German OEM learn from Ducati?

Silvano Fini: A strong characteristic of [Ducati] production is the passion for the product held by the workforce. It’s something that makes Ducati distinctive.

Also Ducati is a ‘niche’ company but we successfully compete with much larger companies. We make use of level technology derived from our racing programme in the design and production of our mainstream motorcycles.

AMS: Motorcycle technology is very tightly packaged on the machine. Can carmakers learn from this?

SF: I’d like to note that prior to the Audi take over Ducati had two years of record sales. It’s diffi cult to directly compare the manufacture of two very different vehicles, but both Ducati and Audi are premium brands so there will possibly be synergies in testing and quality control processes.

AMS: Are there any plans for expansion (new lines/processes) at Bologna?

SF: We don’t have any current plans to expand the plant but we are continuing to develop the production processes within the existing facilities. As Bologna is a ‘historical’ plant and an important part of the Ducati brand, we wouldn’t consider moving to another site.

AMS: What production processes are carried out in-house at present, and are there plans to add to these?

SF: Around 10% of components are produced in-house; the remaining 90% are source from external suppliers. We focus on in-house production of very high quality components where we have core competences. The external suppliers are chosen for their specifi c production expertise that we don’t have here. It’s very important to maintain a high quality standard across the production process. We produce the crank and camshafts here at Bologna using automated machining cells.

AMS: How much of the total production process is automated?

SF: Almost all of the production process is carried out manually (about 95%) with the exception of the crankshaft operations. However, all our production and assembly operations use high-tech tooling; the emphasis is on maintaining a high-quality, hand-built process.

AMS: Will Ducati look to automate more of the production process in the future?

SF: Because the components are so tightly packaged on a motorcycle it would be very diffi cult to automate the assembly process. What we continue to do is develop the manual processes, providing the workers with the best tooling. We have also developed a very lean manufacturing process using component kitting and just-in-time delivery. As such we hold very few parts onsite.

AMS: How much parts inventory do you hold in relation to days or hours worth of production?

SF: We only hold parts for four hours worth of production, so our operation is very lean and highly dependent on a strong supply chain.

AMS: What percentage of production at Bologna is for export and where is the biggest export market?

SF: 85% of production is for markets outside Italy with the USA now our biggest export market.

AMS: Has Ducati any plans to expand current levels of overseas production; are you looking at any joint ventures?

SF: We have CKD production in Thailand (Rayong province) and Brazil (Manaus) but no plans to expand upon these. ‘Made in Italy’ is a strong part of the brand value.

AMS: How are you working to improve production effi ciencies and in what areas?

SF: We have invested in making the new Panigale line as effi cient as possible with a lot of attention on the ergonomics of the worker’s operations. We have introduced electronic tooling and provide ongoing training for the continuous development of the work force. Also a barcode tracking system has helped to monitor the progress of each motorcycle through the production process.

AMS: Are motorcycles becoming harder to manufacture?

SF: It is more complex now due the increase in electronic systems on the new motorcycles and the advance in materials used. But we are always developing our production processes and conducting double checks and higher levels of quality control. So even though the bikes become more complex our quality levels continue to improve every year.

Final assembly

Facts and figures

Established: 1935
Plant Manager: Silvano Fini
Site area: 114,873m2
Building area: 71,657m2
Employees (end 2012): 979

Model Families:

  • Diavel
  • Hypermotard
  • Monster
  • Multistrada
  • Streetfi ghter
  • Superbike

Here a two-man team dresses the engine ready for the next in a total of four phases of final assembly for the motorcycle. This section has a takt time of 48 minutes (24 minutes for each operative). It then progresses to next phase of forks, steering-head and swing arm being fitted. The front fork assembly is offered up to the headstock on a special jig that presents the parts at the correct angle and lifts them into place. This again shows the focus on ergonomic assembly, with the operator making a minimal number of position changes. As with the engine line, assembly here uses the same electronically calibrated tools at critical points. From this point the bike is transferred to a conveyor line where it has the remaining components fitted. As mentioned earlier the Panigale features a lot of electronics and as the bike passes down the line you see the engine gradually disappear under a variety of braking, traction and emission control systems. Space is very tight and the systems are carefully packaged.

Once complete the motorcycles undergo final quality control checks, which include two hot, rolling road tests, braking and emission checks and a final visual assessment before the bike is ready for shipping. Although Ducati’s production volumes are modest compared to their bigger rivals, the company has developed simple and effective production processes for technically sophisticated machines. Components flow through the factory in a single direction and the kitting of parts makes the process much quicker and simpler for the assembly workers. Walking though the production lines at Bologna it’s easy to see where Ducati has focused on ergonomics for the operatives and high-tech tooling and tracking to reduce errors and ensure quality.