Ferrari textile shop
Ferrari textile shop. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Laurance Yap

Maranello, Italy – Walk through the Ferrari factory towards the end of the working day – its hours are like regular office hours, Monday through Friday – and it can seem almost like you’re in Willy Wonka’s candy factory. On the line where they make V8-engined F430s, young workers in full Ferrari-red regalia circle around their work stations, smiles on their faces, and a tune whistling from their lips.

Most of the people working on the factory floor are in their 20s and 30s, as a whole chunk of older workers – hired in the sixties – retired recently, all at the same time. So as if building Ferraris wasn’t enough, the whole place buzzes with a lot more energy than your typical car factory. Workers have decorated their stations with Ferrari stickers, Schumacher posters, and other automotive memorabilia; they’re free to wear what they want, but they’re all wearing something red.

Each F430 stops at one of over 30 stations for half an hour, from which it goes from a painted shell (prepared in a state-of-the art robotized facility a few buildings away) to a fully-formed car. All of the installations are performed by hand. Fully-tested engine/gearbox combinations come from next door; convertible top mechanisms bolt in; customized seats and dashboards are inserted and finished. (V12 cars like the 612 Scaglietti and the 599 GTB Fiorano go down a similar line next to the V8 cars; for them, each station takes 58 minutes to complete.)

F430s rolling off the line
F430s rolling down the line. Click image to enlarge

If you were to count up all of the possible colour and trim choices, all of the factory-installed options, not to mention the choices between 430 coupe or spider; 612 four-seater, or 599 two-seat GT, there are about four million ways to build a Ferrari. In the
upholstery department, hides in twelve different colours are cut with a computerized machine that

F430s rolling down the line
F430s rolling off the line. Click image to enlarge

minimizes waste, and then are stitched together by hand. A car’s entire interior – from its steering wheel rim to its dashboard and door trim
pieces – travels on one trolley, with a specification sheet indicating the colour of the leather, its style (stretched taut or gathered more loosely), the kind and colour of stitching, and the presence of any customized trim pieces, like carbon-fibre or aluminum inserts.

Inspection area
Inspection area. Click image to enlarge

Ferrari’s production process is, indeed, a curious combination of old-world craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology. Come up on the front entrance, and it looks like nothing much has changed since the factory was built after the Second World War: many of the original offices are still being used and the colour scheme is the same as it once was. But the further

Engine shop
Engine shop. Click image to enlarge

back you go, you find newer, more modern buildings that house brand-new equipment and use up-to-date techniques. The wind tunnel, for instance, was designed by famous Italian architect Renzo Piano; the adjacent building, where the road car development office is housed, features a second floor whose area is almost entirely covered by a reflecting pool, save for a couple of conference rooms.

The paint shop is so automated it’s almost eerie: body shells work their way around inside it, first through a 360-degree anti-corrosion dip, then through various primer and paint processes before being baked. From the outside, there are no people visible anywhere in the shop as the candy-coloured bodies work their way through, and the robots move around them.

V12 final assembly
V12 final assembly. Click image to enlarge

It’s the engine shop across the street, however, that’s probably the most impressive. Spanning the area of several football fields, its staff numbers less than 100, and about 50 engines are produced each day. The entire building is
bathed in natural light, and plant gardens are scattered across the shop floor, encircling the various meeting areas. Here, robots do the majority of the work, with very little human intervention, increasing not only productivity but precision as well.

The best example is the set of machines that sets valve seats into engines. The seats are fed out of a hopper into a small tray that feeds a robot which drops the seats into a vat of super-cooled liquid, which shrinks its size by a

V12 final inspection
V12 final inspection. Click image to enlarge

tiny (but measurable) eight microns. Another robot grabs a section of engine and heats it up with a metal plate. Once the engine pieces are moved over to another station, the slightly-shrunken valve seats are inserted into the slightly-expanded engine blocks, and the whole combination is then soaked in cold water to fuse the pieces together.

It’s the combination of high technology – modern processes and equipment as well as the

Ferrari suspension
Ferrari suspension. Click image to enlarge

attraction of the technology in the cars themselves – and an old-fashioned family feeling that has consistently landed Ferrari on various lists of the best places to work in Europe. When the working day draws to a close, the floors of the old factory are a teeming mass of red-suited people, loud and boisterous and all of them in seemingly no rush to leave.

For them, passion for the cars is what inspired the desire to work at Ferrari, but it’s the work environment itself that has kept them there.

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Laurance Yap is a Toronto-based automotive writer.

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