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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fiat Bravo: In Depth

The Piedimonte S. Germano plant

The plant in Piedimonte S. Germano (Frosinone), where the Bravo is built, is a centre of excellence among the world automotive production plants. In 1972, Fiat chose the site to install a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. Since its early years, the plant has played an important role: it was here that the Robot-gate system was introduced for the first time, before going on to become the benchmark for automation in car manufacturing plants all over the world. Here Fiat decided to invest to support the Bravo in technological and qualitative terms, by developing an innovative manufacturing model for the new car, based on a balanced mix of advanced automation and human intervention to control the quality that underpins the technology of the new model. Today the Piedimonte S. Germano plant is on the cutting edge of the world car manufacturing facilities. There are no other plants in Europe that can boast a similar technological or organisational level, in terms of the manufacturing process and techniques.

The plant is in central Italy, and it is also in a central position with respect to the other Fiat Auto manufacturing facilities. It stands in an area of 2,033,072 square metres. The facilities include a press shop, a panelling area, painting and assembly, and much of the site is occupied by Fiat Auto suppliers, which are thus fully integrated in the manufacturing process and ready to intervene directly in the various stages. About 3500 Fiat Auto employees currently work in the plant, with an average age of 45 years. Working hours are organised in two daily eight-hour shifts, five days a week. Since it opened in 1972, the plant has turned out numerous important Fiat models (in 2004 it celebrated car no. 6,000,000 manufactured there), and production today includes the Bravo, the Croma and the Stilo Multi Wagon. Annual capacity is of over 250,000 cars, with a daily capacity of about 1000 cars.

The plant has evolved constantly, and the manufacturing has evolved from conventional systems to the robot-gate, the high-automation plant and now the new manufacturing model, known as the 'integrated modular plant' which represents the most advanced structure in world car production.

In 2001, the manufacturing process at the plant was completely re-designed, for an investment of almost Euro 400 million, and this required over one thousand days of training for personnel at the plant. The transformation that took place was based on the interaction of several factors:

  • complete re-engineering of the manufacturing process;
  • re-design of the line from the viewpoint of greater ergonomics;
  • a new organisation of activities on the line;
  • the digital ETU (Elementary Technology Unit), developed thanks to widespread computerisation throughout the manufacturing process.

These four elements of change played a decisive role in improving the capacity of the manufacturing process, which translates into greater precision and better product quality.

The re-engineering of the manufacturing process and innovation for quality

The re-engineering of manufacturing optimised the quality and efficiency of work on the assembly line. It focused on the panelling and assembly areas in particular, although the reorganisation regarded the whole process, and every single stage in the process was made more efficient. A great deal of attention was dedicated to quality checks: along the whole process, each Bravo undergoes over 200 checks, most of which are electronic.

  1. Panelling. This is an area of crucial importance for the quality of every car, where advanced automation is decisive to determine the quality of the product. The technological level is evident from the figures: 437 spot welding robots, 18 continuous seam welding robots, 916 welding calipers, a total of 280 actions. With the start of manufacture of the Bravo, several new innovations were introduced in this area, including 2 new side tacking and finishing lines, 6 new robotised islands to produce mobile parts (front and rear side doors, bonnets), and five quality areas and three training areas were set up. We should also point out that in 2004 about 100 new welding and handling robots from the NH4, H4, M1, S2 and X1-500 family were introduced, to join the existing number. They are fitted with electric motors and electric welding calipers which give a hotter, cleaner and therefore better spot weld. The panelling shop also includes two second generation opto-electronic laser checking stations, for the chassis and for the bodyshell. Both adopt the 'single tool' system and work on-line. The double check guarantees the perfect geometry of the car skeleton: the check on the chassis, which precedes that on the bodyshell, is important as it guarantees the quality of a part which will incorporate the engineering, so that the precision of the shapes and measurements is essential to ensure excellent agility, driveability and roadholding.

To this we must add the innovation of the 'single tool' system, which is a Fiat Auto exclusive, and verifies the geometries of the chassis and bodyshell separate from the carrier that transports them, so that a possible error in the geometry of the support will not influence the laser measurement. This solution is a real element of excellence for the manufacturing system of the new model, because it minimises the possibility of an error in the laser reading. The 'Open gate' system has replaced the earlier 'Robot-gate', guaranteeing more precise preparation and assembly of the sides, and more precise welding, because the mechanical arms of the robots have more freedom of movement inside the bodyshell. The 'Open gate' systems are specific for each Fiat model.

The sealing of the spot welds is verified by a system of ultrasound sensors; the sensor tests the weld and on the basis of the amplitude of the response spectrum, may or may not certify the quality of the weld. And finally, new equipment included two new laser welding stations (side doors), two robots to measure the doorway and to bore the starting points for assembly of the vehicle front, plus a robotised station to perform on-line measurements of the panelled bodyshell (opto-electronic system).

  1. Assembly. The innovation introduced in the manufacturing process of the Fiat Bravo was also significant at the assembly stage. First of all, the bodyshell conveyor system was re-engineered, and self-propelled units were introduced in the assembly process, eliminating the unpleasant background noise and achieving optimal comfort in the working environment. Control units were introduced in the bodywork shop, with new generation electro-air lifting, which improves the coupling of the mechanical parts to the bodyshell.

And finally, on the new model, the glue is prepared and spread on the windows by a latest generation robotised system. And to prevent order-picking mistakes, the windows are chosen on a computer using a multifunction display. The actual bonding on the bodyshell is entrusted to the tactile sensitivity of a worker who guarantees the correct position of the glass at any point of the process.

  1. Painting. The paint shop was overhauled to introduce the 9 special colours for the Bravo. A new Painting building was also constructed, linked by a tunnel to the existing plant, which will employ water-based paints that respect the new legislative constraints. And finally, two new lines were built to use water-based enamel, as well as a touch-up circuit and a control unit for the paints.

The range (Italian market)

The new model comes in a very comprehensive range, where everyone will find the Fiat Bravo he is looking for. Different solutions are available on different markets, but they are all excellent value for money and reflect the many ways of interpreting and using the car. Below is the complete range of the standard and optional equipment available on the Italian market, in addition to which customers can choose from the many items in the Lineaccessori range, which enhance the new model practicality and versatility, as they meet the functional and emotional requirements of each customer.

The proposals of Fiat Auto Financial Services

The launch of the new Bravo is an opportunity for Fiat Auto Financial Services, the company created by a 50-50 joint venture between Fiat Auto and Crdit Agricole that specialises in financial services to the Fiat Auto network and customers, to introduce a new approach to financial products applied to vehicle sales.

Different solutions have been defined to finance the purchase of a Bravo on the various European markets, and they interpret the concept of an acceptable, substantial car perfectly. Here are a few examples:

  • the 'freedom' purchasing formula in Italy with Sava, allows the customer to choose the best rate to match his personal monthly budget, and to use it to purchase any version, outfit or engine variant of the Bravo; in addition to the simplicity of this formula which is unique among carmakers, the formula also includes an extra 5-year warranty on the car, offered by Sava and Fiat;

  • the German 'satisfaction or your money back' purchasing formula, which includes a 4-year warranty in the loan; it also allows customers to return the car after a three-month period, only paying a cost per kilometre. This financial product is evidently based on the awareness on the part of Fiat and Fiat Bank, that the Bravo, with its contents and quality, will meet the expectations and requirements of German customers;

  • the all-inclusive 'Fiat for everyone' package offered in France by Fiat Crdit, which includes maintenance, a complete insurance policy and roadside assistance in the monthly rate. The concept of a loan that includes useful services customised to the motorist requirements, is also adopted in Spain, by Fiat Financiera, where, in addition to the above services included in the rate is an innovative policy that insures the driver licence against partial/total endorsement or possible withdrawal/suspension.

The many formulae proposed for the Fiat Bravo also include long-term rental, with very competitive rates that have been made possible by the extremely low running costs (ordinary and extraordinary maintenance) of the latest Fiat model.

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Related entries:

Fiat Bravo Revealed
Fiat Bravo Now With A 1.6 Turbo Diesel Option
Fiat Presents "New" Stilo in Brazil


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