BACK TO THE BODYSHOP
When we enter the great hall of the bodyshop, designed by the Pritzker prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the sensation is that of being in a cathedral. Our perfect red body-shell has already arrived. It is set in place for the assembly of doors, engine cover, boot lid and rear sub-frame. The door accessories and the engine, gearbox and differential unit are fitted separately. The line actually divides into several sections: the main one, where we start out by fitting the wiring (there’s approximately 30km of wires put into the car), alongside the one that will prepare all the mechanical components to be mounted on the rear sub-frame. When the engine, gearbox and suspension are all assembled, a perfectly programmed robot vehicle will carry the mechanical assemblies to meet the body of the car. We should make it clear at this point that there is another independent line, of seven stations, where the dashboards are fully assembled. For the production to operate seamlessly it must be perfectly synchronised in order to that there are no delay to the car’s assembly. While we are involved in the wiring, the dashboard is already almost finished and we arrive exactly on time for its fitting to the 458. The operation takes place with the aid of equipment that supports and balances the item, yet it turns out to be more laborious than expected.
The first stages, so the technologists tell me, are really to check for any obstructions or improvements to be made to the process. Eventually the car moves to new stations – spending approximately 20 minutes on each – and begins to takes shape. Having made all the electrical connections and fitted the thermal and acoustic protections, we finally arrive at station 20. Here the fitting of the engine, gearbox and entire rear drive-train unit represents a moment of great delicacy and excitement. The operation takes place perfectly. In the stations immediately afterwards, the suspension and front brakes are fitted, the hydraulic pipes are connected and the lights and front and rear shields are fitted; eventually we get to the wheels and steering wheel. As already mentioned, every operation has the technical support of special equipment and suitable templates. The headlights, for example, require great precision and those involved use suitable alignment equipment. For the wheels, however, everything is automatic: a piece of equipment brings the wheel to the right height, avoiding any strain, and another with five heads intended to dispense that number of nuts completes the tightening operation in an instant, just like a pit stop in F1. By now the Shell oils and the cooling liquids have been added. Finally the car, now mechanically complete, is placed on the ground to carry out the final operations. At station 40 the doors are fitted, the opening and closing of which is checked repeatedly – and, finally, we arrive at station 46 where the seats are fitted.
The final steps are familiar: fill up with V power, check the operation of all the electrical and electronic equipment by connecting up the test equipment and… start up. The engine starts without hesitation. Its sound is the same as we heard two-anda- half days ago, on the test bench. But now the next test will be on the road, over a course of more than eight kilometres which we will describe in future editions of this magazine. This will also be an amazing experience. One last bit of information: all the operations that are mentioned in this article take place with the vehicle always positioned in the most ergonomic way for those working on it. If the car is held from above, it can be rotated or raised and lowered according to the operation that is to be carried out and according to the height of the operator. On the moving platform that brings the vehicle forward there are two pedals that can raise or lower it according to the working requirements. Fantastic. At the final station, in fact the finishing line, we find the director of production, the solid and reassuring Nillo Zagni, and Ernesto Alagia, Head of the Industrial Centre.
We exchange compliments. The ones we give to them are sincere: admiration for the marvellous and precise way that they are able to assemble magic objects like Ferraris on time. Those that we receive, even if in jest, are also accepted: for the extraordinary union of craftsmanship, manual skills and technologies would not be understood if we had not been directly involved.
When the first 458 Italia leaves the production line there is satisfaction in the members of the team, albeit slightly reserved; like a victory in F1, success means greater commitment to the subsequent undertakings. Number two car has already arrived off the line. From now on the frequency will start to increase and, with every new 458, what seemed new will become the norm. At this point the competition between workers and technicians will likely start up, as well as suggestions for improving the quality and efficiency of the process. But this is another story that we can look at on another occasion. What we can say at this point is just this: although I have seen the factory and our colleagues at work on many occasions, only now can I say that we understand what and how much is their value and, moreover, the result of the investment by the chairman in the most advanced and ergonomic production technologies. We know that today Formula Uomo does not restrict itself to great works of architecture but reaches out to the work of everyone, every day.
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 7, December 2009