Say the words “car factory” and what springs to the lay person's mind is always the assembly line. Nude metal bodywork goes in at one end, and slowly it gets dressed. In go the engine and gearbox, electrics, chassis, upholstery and glass – though not necessarily in that order. Out rolls the completed car, ready for its client.
It's a process of grand scale and Byzantine logistical complexity. So, designing and installing a new car assembly hall at Maranello was always going to be one of the most ambitious phases of Ferrari's factory regeneration.
As with other parts of the project, Ferrari opted for a superstar architect, in this case Jean Nouvel. His dozens of notable projects include the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Musée du quai Branly in Paris, Copenhagen's concert halls, and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
None of those are car factories. But Nouvel's design is ideal for Ferrari. The huge space makes significant use of windows and mirrors to control light and add airiness. Despite the eminent modernity of the theme of the building, its glassiness and its shiny stratified steel facade, Nouvel found a dialogue with Ferrari's tradition.
The new hall is placed in a historically significant position right behind the original factory gate and office and workshop buildings. The solution was to demarcate yet respectfully bind the new building with the historic ones by a perforated red screen, a walkway and a long thin garden.
As is industry best practice, overhead tracks to bring the cars to the craftspeople who assemble them in a series of stations. Within the stations, though, the level of automation is unusually low.
Each car is mounted in a cradle that rotates about a longitudinal axis as well as lifting up or down. That way the car is presented in the most comfortable and ergonomic position for the line workers to reach inside, work underneath or perform whatever is the task in hand. Everything is arranged in search of top-level car quality, productivity and wellbeing of the workers.
Assembly takes place over two floors. There two separate production lines. One for 12-cylinder and one for eight-cylinder ranges.
A high proportion of the thousands of pieces attached to each car have come very short distances to the lineside. Ferrari is very “vertically integrated”, meaning it makes a large proportion of the car right here – even the engine castings are done on-site.
The aluminium bodies arrive from the Scaglietti plant in nearby Modena, also owned by Ferrari, and they're actually painted in another facility right here in the Maranello factory.
The assembly hall is the heart and soul of a car factory. Arriving at the exit of the building, each car has wheels and tyres, all its fluids and a battery. On the press of a button, it starts. Its soul, too, has now been animated.