Totally Italian the New Fiat Panda







Published by Gerald Ferreira Date: December 14, 2011
Categories: FIAT, Fiat Panda

The Pomigliano d'Arco plant

As we have seen, the new Fiat Panda is marked by advanced flexibility and ease of use criteria, solutions and details almost maniacally researched as far as quality and reliability are concerned, overall design that puts the most highly advanced engineering at the service of convenience and immediacy of use, in addition to general safety and maintaining its value over time.

Italian Fiat Panda

Such a design could only be manufactured in an equally advanced factory, one redesigned with the same criteria. In brief, a new Panda needed a new factory. This is why the new model is made in Pomigliano d’Arco, near Naples. The industrial area has been entirely refurbished for the event with new systems, particularly in the body-in-white and assembly sector, and an innovative “Quality Centre". More than being simply the most advanced Fiat has, these new systems are also among the most advanced in the world.

The Giambattista Vico plant was brought to technological and organisational excellence in a record time of 12 months and with a total investment of Euro 800 million in both machinery and people, for whom to the present day 200 thousand hours of training have been put in.

From the technical viewpoint, the factory is equipped with highly automated production plants that ensure the New Panda high (process) quality standards and repeatability of the results over time.

A well-structured assessment program has been developed for the employees in order to always put the right person in the right place. Personalised training and educational plans have also been drawn up to improve the trade and the know-how.

The result of this course has generated skilled, well-integrated and motivated teams of people.

All of this makes it possible to achieve high product quality levels. This would not have been possible without four fundamental decisions.

The first was that of making a long-term strategic investment in Pomigliano on plants that today make a spacious class A car.

The second decision that made the difference was that of bringing forward research and problem-solving by making full use of virtual simulation of the production processes and relying on the possibility of designing the various processing phases along with the product. In this way the tables and computers of the FGA Research & Development people were put right inside the factory, in close contact with the line technologists (co-location).

The third decision was to start a network program dedicated to the new Panda to ensure maximum competitiveness in terms of innovation, production organisation and flexibility that contemplates collaboration between Fiat Group Automobiles and Fabbrica Italia Pomigliano, the company set up in Pomigliano with the task of making the new Panda cars and delivering them to FGA, which will market them and provide after-sales service to the customers.

The fourth trump played at Pomigliano, and no less important than the others, was the courage to believe in the potentials of the people by involving them in the industrialisation phase to set up and define the production cycles, workstations and new organisation. This decision created enormous enthusiasm in the workers, whose response took shape in about 8,500 suggestions going toward improving the workstations (and the process), safety, ergonomics, and product quality through solutions aimed at preventing errors.

When in full operation, the production volumes of the new Panda should be roughly 260 thousand units a year.

The technology

Some of the most innovative stages of the production process of the new Panda take place in Sheet-metal Working, a 99% automated department where more than 600 robots are in operation.

One of the most advanced systems is, for example, the body welding system made up of 80 latest-generation Comau "hollow wrist" robots (that give a total of 520 weld spots in just 30 minutes).

There are two side panel production lines at the sides of the body production line that make the system take on the shape of a butterfly, which has led to calling the system just that, "butterfly".

This line is made up of modules that like Lego blocks, can be removed or added according to production requirements, to build up to four models at the same time, even of different segments.

If there are only three sophisticated "mechanical butterflies" in the Fiat-Chrysler group, for the time being there is only one automatic assembly system for the mobile parts on the body produced. At this station the robots fasten the doors, bonnet, tailgate and wings (the so-called mobile parts) to the body that has been assembled by the "butterfly" without human intervention. The merits are of the cameras secured to each robot that "read" the dimensions of the compartment they have in front of them, compare them against those of the mobile part to apply and after calculating a mathematical mean, centre the part in its seat with a precision impossible for man.

These two stations represent the technological cutting edge of a highly advanced and extremely flexible plating line.

Spacious, well-lit and clean: the Sheet-metal Working rooms at the Pomigliano plant are the farthest removed from what one can imagine of a traditional workshop where the sheets are pressed and welded. In this new workshop man no longer labours to load and support the welding machines, to handle the heavy components. The worker runs the systems, manages and controls the work of the machines.

The bodies are moved from one part of the shed to the other by overhead transport systems that reduce both human intervention - and therefore the chance of injury - and the noise in the workshop. Handling the pieces on the ground is given over to small safe and quiet electrical trains that have replaced the traditional fork lift trucks.

The pallets, which at one time were simple platforms on which the bodies were set to send them along the line, have become geopallets. They are indeed used to lock the body on specially provided geometric references so that during the movements it perfectly maintains the couplings of its parts. Optoelectronic control stations along the path read key characteristics of the body to check their quality compliance and geometric precision.

Quality

To build a quality car it is obviously necessary to have first class know-how and advanced technology. In addition to know-how, it is necessary to also know how to do it right the first time, to never take anything for granted and to remember that the quality of the finished product is the result of the quality of its parts, in addition to the precision of assembly and fittings.

This is what led Fiat to strongly focus on personnel training and to make several important components inside the plant, which were previously outsourced to suppliers.

The insourcing of components in the first place concerning the pressing of various sheet metal parts, which is done in a department where ten drawing and three cutting lines using 377 moulds turn the sheets into complex parts (side panels, doors, roofs, floors, etc.) that make up most of the panels of the new Panda.

By following the same principle of in-house production of components essential for product quality, the plant has been equipped with an internal Plastic Pressing Unit, the largest Fiat has. There, starting from the melted polypropylene granules injected into the moulds at high pressure, more than a hundred parts are made using 35 ultra-modern presses. These include the bumpers (which are also painted in a brand new plant), the central console of the new Panda and the dashboard. This latter is particularly produced by a single machine fitted with a triple-injection system that first forms the external black part and then the middle one in one of the four colours available.

The high process quality and repetitivity of the processing result guaranteed by the new Sheet-metal Working lines has already been discussed. The painting process is just as important. It is performed on a highly automated system that uses water-based paints. Euro 15 million have been invested over the past few months in the Painting department for new body transport systems and to eliminate the awkward manual internal sealing operations (between sheets) now performed by robots.

The results achieved by the process are still checked by the Metrological Unit Quality Center specialists who measure and analyse the pieces and entire car by samples or on request (if there are problems) to guarantee both the aesthetic and functional quality of the product.

As regards equipment, their gem is the "meisterbock", a sort of "Meccano" on which the various body panels are placed and where an 18-metre-long measurement machine checks 2000 points on the body using electronic probes to guarantee that all of the piece couplings, clearances, profiles, geometric dimensions and relevant tolerances correspond to the design.

The Assembly Master stands next to the "meisterbock" in the Metrological room. This is where the tests on the body-part and part-part couplings with which the New Panda is "clad" at Assembly are carried out.

The center is also equipped with an innovative photometric scanning system used extensively for the new Panda. It quickly and very accurately assesses any dimensional problems that may arise. By comparing the photograph of the piece in question with that of the master of reference, the program immediately shows the points of any deviations from the perfect piece and their value on the computer with areas of different colours (as high relief and low relief of the sheet). This is just another small revolution if we think to the traditional controls from which a map of points that had to then be interpreted and processed by the specialists emerged, with totally different time frames and precision.

The new Panda naturally undergoes all of the necessary functional verifications. The hemi anechoic room test checks static noise (that generated by the movement of the windows, the opening and closing of the doors, the sliding of the seats on the guides, etc.), the water tightness test checked under a nine-position trellis where the car takes on various angles, and the dynamic test on the track (asphalt, dirt, wet, etc.) which all of the new Pandas built in Pomigliano undergo.

There are also checks in which man must make assessments without the help of sophisticated equipment. These are aesthetic checks called ICP (Initial Customer Perception) and functional checks called TOC (Test from the customer's perspective), in which the tester simulates the customer in his first approach with his new car at both the dealer's showroom and during the first few months of use.

People

From the technological, automation and production flexibility viewpoint, the Pomigliano site today is Fiat's most advanced plant. But that is not enough. It is also the one where the people who work there have embraced the principle of "we are what we do" with the greatest impetus, convinced as they are that exactitude, perseverance and determination in doing a good job the first time and every day is the only way to win this new important challenge.

The truth is that the "turning point" for Pomigliano is far removed from that "extraordinary industrial relaunch plan" that in 2008 led to a two-month production shut-down and a total investment of Euro 110 million earmarked for modernising the plants and supplying a million hours of training.

Already back then the people working at the plant accepted to take the risk and face up to a huge reorganisation and revision of the work methods that had created the conditions for assigning the new Panda to the plant located in the Campania region of Italy. These were the pre-conditions on which the actual conditions for being able to produce the model with the quality standards and performance tenacity desired for the new car have been built over the past year.

While the Sheet-metal Working department started off from scratch, in 12 months the Painting department - previously modernised in 2008 - adopted the improvements that had become available over recent years, the Plastic Pressing Department was formed and the Assembly department was totally redesigned, with the World Class Manufacturing standards applied in all the departments. This is how a new way of running a factory was adopted. The people were involved from the workstation and operation sequence design stage and organisation was reformed.

As mentioned, what all of these activities had in common were the World Class Manufacturing principles and methods, the new way of working that all Fiat plants have embraced in order to achieve zero accidents, zero defects, zero stocks and zero breakdowns. To do this, the people were gathered in a single simulation area called Work Place Integration, where the assembly lines were virtually reconstructed. They were broken down into stations and operation sequences until the people assigned to that department found the best solutions for each activity. It was only then that the final line started to be physically built.

The offices were located right in the middle of the lines, in large glassed-in areas, so they would be close to the product and to those who build it.

All of the assembly stations were redefined by defining an ideal area where the maximum movement of every worker is about 60 cm. The materials are in fact all within reach, and it is unnecessary to bend down or raise their arms because when needed, it is the car that rises up or turns on hooks to offer the right side at the right height with every operation. In technical jargon this means that the people work in the "golden zone".

To ensure maximum product quality, new verification methods have sprung up like double-checking, names a second check carried out by another worker downstream of the more critical operations. In this way the worker who got an operation wrong immediately notices the error, solves the problem himself and improves his skills by way of a self-learning system.

A new organisation has also been launched, again to help prevent problems. The workers are divided into groups (teams) of six people (before they were 12) who work well together also on the human level. Each group is guided by a team leader whose duty is to guarantee quality supervision of the process. A supervisor coordinates seven or eight team leaders and manages the quality, costs of his sector and is responsible for integration with the various functions that make an impact on the production process.

Environment

One of the pillars of World Class Manufacturing is Environment, which regards applying environmental-friendly methods and tools. To make the new Panda all of the processes have been designed and built according to principles that permit achieving the strictest environmental parameters.

Let's take Painting as an example. Not only are all the paints water-based, but the pastel colours have a special formulation that enables better utilisation of the electrostatic spraying sumps, in this way reducing waste and the liquids to be disposed of.

A number of highly advanced energy saving systems has been applied in Sheet-metal Working and Assembly. LED lamps, for example, reduce energy consumption by 90% and devices fitted with photocells switch off the lights in the areas where there are no people after a few minutes.

Lastly, disposable packing materials have been drastically reduced and replaced with other reusable materials so that recycling has gone up to 95%.

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