Lamborghini Morning Future
Inspiring Best Practice 14 February Feb 2018 0833 14 February 2018

In the heart of the new Lamborghini factory, a temple of Smart Manufacturing

Say goodbye to the assembly line, as we usher in the age of islands, sensors and robots - not to replace humans, but to help them work better. Report from Sant'Agata Bolognese, home to the factory of the historic Italian manufacturer, now owned by Audi, that produces the Urus SUV.

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A yellow livery (the company’s iconic colour), the name of a bull (Aventador), 740-horsepower, and 350 kilos in weight. A Lamborghini speed machine, displayed in full view in the car park of the establishment of Sant'Agata Bolognese (Bologna). Next to it, the other creations of the automaker: Huracàn and Urus. Names that, for car lovers worldwide, symbolise speed, luxury and attention to detail. Like the leather, cut, sewn and glued by hand by first-rate, in-house artisans. In short, veritable jewels, Made in Italy. Creations with a far-reaching appeal, ever since the brand was established in 1963 by Ferruccio Lamborghini (who had started out manufacturing tractors). Audi was not immune to this appeal, and in 1998 bought the automaker from Bologna for 100 billion lire. This change of ownership marked the start of a process of transformation that, in time, has turned Lamborghini into a model of Industry 4.0. Or of Smart Manufacturing, as they say around here. This revolution was further aided by an industrial policy at the national level, involving €80m of public investments and €1bn of private funds allocated over the next ten years. This made it possible to keep producing the Urus in Italy (instead of in the Audi factory in Slovakia, as initially intended), thus ensuring the ongoing technological development of the site.

An 80,000 square meter area dominated by the inscription “Since We Made It Possible”. A site that instantly has a surprise in store for us: there is no sign of production in sight. There are white metal frames, from which everything hangs, suspended. Everything drops down from above, from the enormous yellow “pincers” that raise the car frames, to the large tanks from which fluids are injected into the models. On the ground, there are neither tracks nor rollers. In their place, automated guided vehicles move the cars from one station to the next, like miniature helpers. They do this with pinpoint precision, through a triple GPS, laser and electromagnetic guidance system. This innovation is not an end in itself, but underlies a shift of paradigm: a change from sequential assembly to modular assembly. This change centres on the concept of “flexibility”, and makes it possible to intervene at each workstation with extreme ease whenever steps need to be added or eliminated. This flexibility has an impact on the final product, the car. Every model may be customised at will, from the padding and upholstery of the seats to the colour of the bodywork and the choice of extras. After all, even in industry 4.0, “the customer is king”.

At full capacity, the Urus factory will employ 350 workers. Training is both hands-on and conducted in a special room equipped with virtual reality headsets.

A Manufacturing Execution System (MES) monitors the entire production process. This software tracks, registers and monitors every single movement, operation and process. It also controls the robots engaged in assembly work shoulder to shoulder with human operators (and thus defined cobots, or collaborative robots). While not many, there are at least three different types: one that applies silicone on the windscreen, before this is installed and adjusted by workers - an operation that is still preferably entrusted to humans; one that moves on tracks and screws the rear part of the bodywork to the frame using a ground-breaking system for Europe; and one that takes tyres from a shelf and positions them to be mounted onto the car, thus protecting the workers from their weight. Sophisticated yet seemingly simple solutions that make use of sensors to track every movement and facilitate assembly by recognising the right part for the right space. Through the widespread use of sensors, it has been possible to go from the twenty screwers once required in some workstations, to just one wireless one. The system recognise bushes and screws, and only allows compatible couplings.

At full capacity, the Urus factory will employ 350 workers (for now, production is limited to cars at the development stage). New recruits embark on a training programme of at least three months for the more basic workstations and six months for the more complex ones. Training is both hands-on and conducted in a special room equipped with virtual reality headsets. This same technology has also drastically reduced the time to construct the plant. The factory was built on former agricultural land in just 12 months. This is because every space had been designed and visualised beforehand in 3D using virtual reality headsets. This made it possible to reduce permit waiting times to just nine months, compared to the 2 or 3 years minimum normally required.

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