The Italian Junkyard

Thoughts, ideas, criticism about cars. Interesting news and facts from the world of the automobile. Events in Italy and Modena. What you can find elsewhere, filtered through the eyes of a discerning enthusiast. Design, style, everything on the chopping block. Nobody is safe anymore.

Monday, June 14, 2010

16.1 How to build your Italian Gran Turismo: Maserati Factory Visit

One of the downturns of studying automotive engineering is that the last thing you’ll probably see at university is something car related. We may study a bunch of stuff and all, but it’s mostly something a bit too theoretical and up in the air, or too much into the technical side of it to be exciting from an enthusiast’s point of view. Well, it’s university after all. Regardless, you may remember I was after a project requiring to design a new car (as in its bodywork and a few other things) based on the Maserati MC12. Nothing really technical, it’s just bodywork design the old school way, with technical parameters to comply with and so on. The project is actually finished, waiting for the exam in the next few days, but we’ll talk about that in another post.

This time we are going to talk about a collateral event connected to that subject. Our teacher is a bit of a gearhead. No wait, let me say that again. He is a Tifoso, period. That kind of person who can come at university dressed up as if he was Fernando Alonso during an interview right after the Italian (or Spanish) GP. More often, he wears Maserati’s stuff, as that’s apparently his main “love” at the moment. That gave us the chance to enjoy a complete visit at Maserati’s factory, from the showroom to the factory in its main compartments. All for free. Good stuff, I can assure you.

Before you hit the jump and enjoy the reportage and pictures, I have to admit the pictures themselves are not so great. I don’t consider myself as a master in photography, but it will be pretty evident how this time the shots were taken in a hurry, too many excited kids in just one room, plus for some reason the camera was set to shoot in JPEG, not in RAW. Too bad, sorry about that.

Now as you may expect we weren’t allowed to take shots of anything except the showroom, and while I’m used to that from other visits at other companies, many of my “colleagues” had a different opinion on the subject and kept shooting via their damn iPhones and other gizmos. Not that they have shot ground breaking secrets or something, but if someone gives you such an opportunity and ask you just one thing, I can’t see why not to comply with that. Unless you’re doing that on purpose so that next year it won’t happen again. After all you can still find pictures of the assembly line on the internet, and you won’t be able to share yours on the damn (more than the iPhones) Facebook. Or perhaps they did that, regardless of the possible “consequences”. Whatever, end of the rant.

Talking about the showroom, it’s a nice one, with a complex structure in the middle of the room, emulating Indianapolis’ race track where Maserati won quite back in the days. The structure itself is also used as a booth for up to two cars, and it’s auto balanced thanks to differentiated density of its inner parts. Even if that looks cool, the downturn is that the whole room is quite dark, and the lights are not efficiently positioned.
Other than that it’s quite nice, especially the corner where there are samples of the colors available for your car, sheets of leather, pieces of the wood trim, different materials, everything. If that’s a bit too expensive, you can still buy the merchandise stuff, definitely cheaper.

A nice addition to the cars usually showcased there was this pearl white Maserati MC12 Versione Corse, with an exquisite red alcantara finished interior. It’s the second time I see this version of the MC12, the first time it was the first model in dark blue with yellow headlights, and I have to say darker colors suit it much better. Regardless, it’s quite a car, you can say it’s stupidly fast even without driving it. That assuming we are up to the task to control a 750 bhp track-only beast, a car which took the racing MC12 GT1 car, winner of five FIA GT championships in a row, and brought it to the next level, with unrestricted engine, aerodynamics and everything that could be tuned to achieve the top performance.

Talking about the factory itself, it’s of course a different experience than walking into the three-rooms only Pagani factory, it’s rather something more similar to Lamborghini. The assembly line is quite similar, the car proceeds on an automated line, while parts are manually assembled on it trough the help of various machines. There aren’t actual robots, just mechanically aided operations, so to assist the worker, not to substitute him. Lamborghini still had a completely manual line for the Murcielago, but that line was put on halt, for good, a couple of months ago, and it’s now being substituted by a modern automated line for the new V12 powered car.
At Maserati, there are two lines, which could both build all possible models, the Quattroporte sedan, the GranTurismo coupe and the GranCabrio open top variant. Mainly because the latter GranCabrio has just been unveiled and released on the market and the demand is quite high, this car is built on one of the lines, while the other two are built on the remaining one.

Each station has a 30 minutes time frame to be completed, but workers can spend up to 5 minutes relaxing even outside of the building. So basically each station has actually a working time from 25 to 30 minutes, and workers can decided when and how to spend those 5 minutes they are given. If that’s sounds like a waste of time or an extremely good news for workers, I think truth is once again right in the middle. We all know that whatever we are doing it, we are not doing it every single second of our time, being studying, working or even just relaxing. So while in another company workers may be allowed to take it a more “easier”, at Maserati they are supposed to work “harder” for the actual working time, and then they are free to completely chill for 5 minutes. Eventually, it may even come out that this solutions helps the company improving its productivity and quality while also making workers happier. Don’t know, just and educated guess.
As in many other companies, workers change their roles every 6 months (iirc), so that they are forced to focus on new tasks to face, and are capable to recognize if something is not working even if it’s not directly related to what they are doing.
The factory itself is roomier than at Lamborghini, I’d dare to say it’s also more silent. It is also much larger, but that’s pretty obvious as Maserati build quite more cars. Among which, the limited edition Alfa Romeo 8C Spider, as the Competizione coupe run has already being built.

Again contrarily to Lamborghini, more parts are assembled in house, especially the drivetrains while the engine are shipped already assembled from Ferrari’s factory. That’s the same with the chassis, which is built in Turin, then painted in Maranello.
Once the assembly is over, the car is moved to a new building on its own wheels and horsepowers, where it is tested and checked in many details. Even at the end of this process, there is still one last thing to do, drive it! 40 kilometers of Modena’s twisty roads are put on each car by two drivers, so that they can crosscheck their opinions.
OK, now you can bring your Maserati at your home!

All Pictures Copyright: Damiano Garro

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