The Fiat 500X is built at one of the most modern automotive production facilities in the world. Located in Melfi Italy, Fiat has invested more than 1.2 billion dollars to guarantee that every Fiat 500X that leaves the factory is of the highest quality. Fiat has recently opened up the factory for a virtual tour via Google Maps. Visitors can explore how the stamping, body-in-white, painting and assembly shops work and see what goes into making the new Fiat 500X crossover.
The Melfi plant has consistently been a top production facility for Fiat, being the first factory in Italy to be awarded the WCM (World Class Manufacturing) Silver Level. World Class Manufacturing is a comprehensive program that aims at eliminating waste, perfecting the production system and improving quality. The key to these goals is fully engaging employees in eliminating waste and empowering them to take ownership of the process. Employees are encouraged to come up with ideas and solutions, many of which are implemented. For example, in the Toluca factory in Mexico there were approximately 25,000 suggestions made by employees of which 78 percent were implemented.
Located near San Nicola, 18 kilometers from Melfi, the plant covers 1.9 million square meters and has a workforce of nearly 8,000. Over the past twenty years the factory has produced many noteworthy Fiats including the 1995 Car of the Year Fiat Punto (1995), Grande Punto (2005) and Punto Evo (2009) and various Lancia models, the Ypsilon (1995), and new Ypsilon (2003). Currently, the Fiat 500X, Fiat Grande Punto and Jeep Renegade are being produced.
It takes five presses and two shearing machines; 860 robots in the body-in-white shop; fifty-four robots in the paint shop; 278 automatic screwing stations; and near four thousand workers to assemble the Fiat 500X.
The factory turns out 500 units of the 500X per day, running three shifts, 24 hours a day. Nearly 5,000 components are used to make the various versions of the 500X, which consists of four chassis types, twelve paint colors, five interiors, eight engines and 188 optional equipment packages.
Lean production and modular assembly techniques are employed in manufacturing the Fiat 500X. Lean production means there is little waste, and bureaucracy is cut to a minimum allowing greater flexibility in factory operation. Modularity reduces the number of components to be assembled and aids in simplification in the production process.
Here is a look at the various assembly steps in making a Fiat 500X with the help of FCA Press:
The stamping shop is the area where the production of a new Fiat 500X begins. Huge presses transform gigantic coils of metal into the first 35 parts which form the supporting structure of the car. The entire job is performed in surprising silence by six robots operating with surgical precision.
'Stamping' indicates a number of different complex industrial production processes which share the use of stamping dies.
Firstly, the metal parts are shaped by the pressure in presses. The resulting parts may have a variable section (this process is known as 'forging') or thin section (which is called 'stamping'). Panels are processed in this way.
The stamping shop at Melfi has a state-of-the-art metrology room where two robots examine every millimeter of each finished part and a light tunnel for reviewing shapes and highlighting the smallest details.
The body-in-white area follows the stamping shop and is where the various metal parts are joined together. The body-in-white shop at Melfi is the reign of 860 'smart' robots used to make the body. The car starts taking shape under the careful eye of many computers.
Many joining methods are used on the 500X: welding, bonding and screwing. All are carefully monitored to certify perfect compliance of the entire production.
A range of welding technologies are used. Like traditional spot welding, MIG/MAG gas metal arc welding, laser welding. For cosmetic and parts that are seen, capacitive discharge welding and innovative laser brazing guarantees extremely high surface seam quality and allows implementation of sophisticated styling solutions.
Cameras and sensors guide robots and reciprocal positioning is accurate to one tenth of a millimeter. At the end of the production process, four robots measure the most important points of the body to ensure impeccable products from all points of view.
FCA has revolutionized the entire static inspection and measuring process by implementing specific solutions for making perfect cars. In addition to improving product quality by using increasingly more accurate equipment, being fast and efficient is the key: it takes only sixty minutes to measure a body in the metrology room. Here, one randomly picked Fiat 500X body are checked in a painstaking quality control process to guarantee that the body is geometrically and dimensionally perfect. There is no room for error: the measurements must comply to standards with imperceptible tolerances.
Two instruments used in the metrology room are the master jig and the assembly master: they simulate assembly and coupling of all chassis and body parts.
In particular, the master jig is used to achieve the maximum level of precision. It is a modular aluminum skeleton which replicates the body-in-white tools on which the various panel parts of the body are placed. The electronic sensors of a measuring machine check that all parts mate accurately and that flushes, gaps and geometric dimensions comply with design requirements to the tenths of the millimeter.
After the master jig, the assembly master is used to test check that all the interior and exterior trim components conform to the design.
At this point, the body is immersed in large tanks to confer the corrosion protection which will characterize the car for all its life by means of electrochemical processes.
Very accurate inspection systems and robotized cells seal all panel joints to prevent the introduction of air and water into the passenger compartment of the future car.
Paint is then applied to the body in a perfectly clean environment in which imperfections are banned and the environment is protected in a ballet of color. Here, 54 robots carry out this very delicate job under the supervision of seven human operators. Nearly 3.5 kilograms of paint are used for each car and the entire job takes less than 90 seconds in total.
In the meanwhile in a separate area, plastic material is heated to high temperature and injected in massive molds for making the bumpers, dashboard and fuel tank of the car. The painted body reaches the assembly shop where it meets its engine (this step is known as 'marriage') and where the car is gradually completed by fitting the wheels, the brakes, the seats, the dashboard, the steering wheel, the lights, the electrical system and the onboard technologies. At last, the car is made.
This step of the process is assisted by no fewer than 15 robots, 24 handling systems, 278 automatic screwing stations and approximately 1000 workers exclusively dedicated to assembly on each shift.
Each component must be procured and delivered punctually in the specific containers to each assembly operator. These very complicated logistics are carried out methodically using the organization and support of a state-of-the-art computer network which connects the factory, suppliers and logistics in real time.
The new assembly shop is the heart of the plant. It has recently been upgraded to implement new technology but more important to foster a new working mentality and a new organization in general. The Melfi plant has collected and applied the techniques and best practices of all the other FCA plants.
Finally,each Fiat 500X is driven 5 kilometers on a test track where an expert driver gives final approval.
World Class Manufacturing
In 2009 the Melfi Plant won the World Class Manufacturing Silver Level, which rewards the implementation of production cycle organization methods according to the best international standards in all areas, including safety, environmental-friendliness, maintenance, logistics and quality control. Today, after the recent reorganization and investment of over one billion Euros, it has its eyes set on the maximum WCM recognition, the gold medal.
Quality is the sum of many factors: good design of auto models and workstations, cohesion, involvement of all suppliers and workers on all levels. For the first time, the team building actions implemented at the plant is providing excellent results by means of extensive workforce training and involvement in work cycle design.
All this is put in practice according to World Class Manufacturing principles. For example, each assembly station is provided with eight unavoidable fail-safe systems: the line stops if a component is not fitted correctly. Automation goes hand in hand with responsibility: each operation carried out at the plant is recorded on computerized systems and the entire production process can be traced at any time, even after years, by means of constant monitoring.
This reduces the error margin and means that imperfect cars simply cannot leave the factory.
Product excellence and customer satisfaction are the primary objectives of everyone working at Melfi. To reach these goals over one million hours of training have been organized, new team leaders have been appointed and the most advanced technologies have been implemented to achieve the maximum levels of efficiency and quality.
More About the Fiat 500X
View More Images and Discuss on the Fiat 500X USA Forum
Manufacturing the North American Fiat 500
Inside the Fiat 500 factory...
Images and Press Release courtesy of FCA