Although aluminium usage remains piecemeal when it comes to production of standard vehicles, Ferrari has a proven track record of using the material. While the recent 612 Scaglietti and F430 were respectively the company’s first all aluminium-bodied V12 and V8 models, Ferrari has been producing all-aluminium engines since 1951 and continues to do so today at its onsite foundry, located at the company’s famous factory in Maranello, Italy.
The figurative heart of each car, engines start out as ALSI9 aluminium billet. It is, in fact, not pure aluminium but a eutectic (from the Greek ‘eutektos’, meaning easily melted) alloy of 91% aluminium and 9% silicon, the latter primarily serving to allow the material mix to melt at a uniform temperature.
There are further benefits to this alloy over simple weight reduction, including virtual elimination of aluminium porosity and reduced material deformation. Further, the alloy creates a stronger and more resilient material for later machining of the block and head.
The aluminium melt is poured into sand and resin moulds at 720oC. In order to induce the molten metal to enter into the smaller, more intricate mould shapes, the foundry technicians pass acetylene blow torches over the mould interior, the carbon deposits assisting material flow. Machines that measure the amount of alloy entering the mould have fundamentally changed the job. What used to require a twoyear apprenticeship is now done by technicians after a week of training.
Once the blocks and other casts are completed (10% of parts are tested for imperfections), they are moved to what is know as the Nueva Mechanica, or New Mechanical Area, a hall that is home to milling, grinding and finishing machines primarily supplied by MCM, Tec and Mandelli. All Ferrari engine parts are aluminium, apart from moving elements such as the crankshaft, which are made from steel in the same Modena plant that produces all the car bodies.
The ‘new’ in New Mechanical Area references the building being one of the first areas in the Ferrari plant to benefit from Ferrari CEO Luca di Montezemolo’s ‘Formula Uomo’ programme, where uomo is translated as ‘man’. Launched in 1997 and only completed this year, the programme aimed to improve working conditions for Ferrari employees in all areas of production. For the 70 technicians working on each of the three shifts in the New Mechanical Area to produce the daily output of 30 Ferrari and 40 Maserati engines, this comprises a clean and relatively quiet working area which - during the day at least - benefits from the addition of massive skylights. As these workers rarely see a finished car (particularly those working nights), an area at the back of the building houses a small collection of some notable cars, the goal being to ‘motivate in the best way possible’. These include a one-off white 360 Modena Barchetta ordered by the former head of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli, to celebrate Montezemolo’s wedding in 2000.
Of particular note in the New Mechanical Area, which was originally constructed in 1947, is the array of photovoltaic panels installed on the roof. Measuring 15,000m2, this assembly was put in place when the building was extended in 2002 and supplies 35% of the energy required for engine component finishing. As for actual engine construction, one of the most impressive processes is where the cylinder heads are fitted with guide valves. Using SIR Robotica machines, the guides are dipped in liquid nitrogen, reducing part temperature to –196oC. The flash cooling serves to reduce the part’s size, allowing it to be easily inserted into the cylinder head, which itself is preheated to 200oC. Upon part placement, the head is dipped in cold water, temperature shock serving to fuse the two parts together.
A small, yet vital part of the New Mechanical Room is the Metrology Room, which serves two key functions. First, using tools such as the Zeiss UMC 1000 and ZMC 550, the unit checks each of the machines used in the engine production hall, amounting to approximately 8,000 instrument checks each year. Secondly, the Metrology Room houses a range of benchmarked parts. Stored at a constant 20oC, the aluminium is not subject to thermal expansion, meaning the parts remain in optimum dimensional condition, ready for comparison testing against standard part production.
The original assembly and trim lines at Ferrari’s Maranello facility date back to when the plant was first constructed in 1947. Featuring separate lines for the V8 and V12 models, with a third added for the production of the all-aluminium F149 California, production was a predominantly manual operation, with automation largely limited to the Pianelli & Traversa conveyor system and Dalmec lifters.
A further part of the Formula Uomo plan was the construction of a new assembly hall, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, which is now home to two new assembly and trim lines. Unusually, the lines are not arranged next to each other, but instead, the V12 line (building the 599 GTB and 612 Scaglietti) is on the building’s first floor, while the V8 line (incorporating assembly of the California) is on the ground floor.
Where the original assembly line was largely illuminated using fluorescent light, the new building is bathed in natural light, the improved conditions another element dictated by the Formula Uomo programme. The new V8 line, which together with the V12 line features equipment largely sourced from Comau, is made up of 50 stations in total, each with a takt time of 28 minutes. Teams of two technicians man each station and it takes three working days to fully assemble each car.
The first fifteen stations on the V8 line comprise a skillet conveyor, nicknamed the ‘red road’ for the colour of the wooden floor sections. In this area, the cars undergo first assembly operations, including the fitting of the instrument panel. In station 16, individual sections of the red road move into a glass-encased elevator booth where one of the blue rotating C-carriers that dominate the hall lifts successive carbodies onto the powerand- free line that comprises the second stage of the assembly process – the wooden conveyor section is lowered and moved beneath the assembly hall floor to the start of the third and final build stage.
Comau has been involved with the development of both new lines since the start of the project, with final execution starting in March 2007. The two separate lines had separate completion dates, June 2008 for the V8 line and September 2009 for the V12 installation. The California, incidentally the most popular current model produced by Ferrari, was the first to enter series production on the new V8 line (2008), while the other V8 models – including the new 458 Italia - went into production on the new line in September this year.
Further to the primary line features, which include the skillet conveyors and power-and-free line (with rollover clamps) and elevators, the installation also incorporates an AGV system that carries finished powertrain ‘modules’ (including brakes, suspension, gearbox, steering box and engine) to station 18, the marriage station. Designed by Comau and fitted with sensors by Sick, the AGVs pass under the raised production line, the units finally guided into place by another fixed set of Sick sensors. Comau’s Maria Antonietta Agazzi explains: “All transport operations (between lines) happen through AGVs and LGVs (lineguided vehicles).”
Additionally, the Comau clamps feature telescoping hangers, which in combination with the rotating carriers allow the car bodies to be positioned at the ergonomically correct height for the technicians to carry out installation procedures.
Agazzi further explains why Ferrari selected Comau for supply of the major components making up the new production lines. “Comau is a best-in-class global company, not only for final assembly, but also for bodyshop. Many concepts have been specifically deployed for Ferrari, both co-design and simultaneous engineering. Comau also has full General Contractor Capability, due to the company’s wide range of competency and experience, as well as it’s professional project management - Comau is a PMI-certified company.”
Ferrari uses materials and components from a wide range of suppliers, many of which have delivered products to Maranello for a number of years. One of these companies is Delphi, which has supplied HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems to Ferrari since production of the 456 model started in 1992.
Felipe Astorri, Ferrari Customer Manager with Delphi Thermal Systems, worked closely with Ferrari, both developing the HVAC systems for the California and the new 458 Italia, and also in scheduling lineside delivery and presentation of the parts to the production line. “For the California, I was responsible for system integration, so I took all the separate, defined components and put them together in the vehicle, making sure they worked correctly.
The parts that make up the HVAC units on the California are sourced from a variety of locations: the condenser comes from Delphi Poland, the brackets from Delphi Italy. The lines come from an Italian supplier, while other parts are sourced from Mexico. Says Astorri: “The only thing that helps us is that there are no options, the units are the same for each model.”
For its part, Ferrari only stocks sufficient HVAC units for one week of production. Astorri continues: “Each week, we have a truck delivering HVAC parts, but sequencing is not difficult due to the low volumes.”
Astorri continues: “We have several interactions with the cars on the line, so from the concept of the car, we talk about the packaging (of the system), the front-end airflow, the cabin airflow for the ducts, the installation of the control devices. From there, we speak with Comau in order to define at which stations we should apply the components, always keeping in mind that the unit might have to be serviced after the assembly process.”
Installation of the HVAC system requires installation of several individual components, timed to allow access to vehicle internals that will become inaccessible at later build stages. Heat shielding and electrical wiring is applied in chassis assembly, while the compressor is installed at the same time as the radiators in powertrain assembly. Final HVAC components and system connections are completed on the final assembly line, starting with the dashboard. The line has two separate stations (side-by-side) to accommodate front- and mid-engined models. The compressor is linked to the interior controls after the marriage station.
The HVAC units are designed to make best use of the internal space available in each model. “Compared to the 458 (Italia), the California has different mounts and a longer overall HVAC unit,” explains Astorri. “In this type of car it is really important to consider the interior packaging, the suspension, the gearbox, the aerodynamics; the focus is different from other cars with Delphi HVAC units.”
Astorri goes on to explain that from the start of vehicle design, Delphi plays a key role in such areas as mount and line placement, DC lines, surface ignition and also aerodynamics, which play a critical role in the efficient performance of the completed HVAC unit. Engine placement must also be taken into consideration, as this affects the location of the HVAC system and ultimately the weight dynamics of the car. “The HVAC unit weighs 18kg,” says Astorri. “The new system has seen a 35% decrease in weight (in comparison with the HVAC unit in the F430), and a 15% increase in efficiency. On other cars we do a modular, front-end design installation, including all the DC lines, but this has additional weight that cannot be afforded here.”
To achieve these gains, Astorri says that Delphi changed the compressor operator to make it a thinner, better-performing part, while the heat exchanger was changed and the blower cage was altered to have fewer restrictions. “It was the technology surrounding the material, the component design and working with Ferrari to find an optimized location for the HVAC unit. We (also) managed to achieve 15% more cooling power than before, by changing the blower, operator, heating core, actuators, and the design of the HVAC unit.”
How air moves through the HVAC system is also an influencing factor on design. Astorri says that while still in the development phase, systems are used to predict the noise created by the airflow.
“We made several modifications that gained about 15m3 per hour (in increased airflow). But every time we change the HVAC system, we risk increasing the noise.” But as Astorri explains, noise is not limited to the passage of air through the internal channelling. Low-frequency noise can be created in the pressure drop before the blower. We directed Ferrari to redesign this area, so where the car feeds air to the HVAC it changes direction. We check for noise across the whole range, low and high frequency, together with air noise.”
Asked if the Ferrari assembly technicians undergo any specific training for installation of the HVAC systems, Astorri says that as Delphi has had a long supply relationship with the carmaker, most technicians are familiar with the systems and already know how to install the components.
What is important, he goes on to say, is that design changes do not render HVAC parts unserviceable. Should this occur, the part (or part location) must be changed, sometimes reworking the part so that it will not require servicing.
Enzo Ferrari, the company’s founder, is claimed to have said: “The Ferrari is a dream - people dream of owning this special vehicle and for most people it will remain a dream, apart from for those lucky few.”
While this might have been accurate at the time, the number of people with the finances to realize Ferrari ownership is now larger than ever. As such, ‘maximum’ annual production numbers issued by the company have been brushed aside in order to service an expanding customer base - to the point that almost 6,000 Ferrari GT cars were produced last year.
Without planning a move from its original production lines, Ferrari could never have hoped to keep pace with current demand, which remains strong despite economic conditions. Now, with both the company’s V8 and V12 models being produced in a new assembly hall featuring the latest in modern equipment and superior working conditions, production of cars bearing the ‘prancing horse’ will likely be higher than ever. Would Enzo have approved? Probably not.