Factory Visit — Iveco, Suzzara

Date: Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Once used to produce agricultural machinery, Iveco's Suzzara factory, not far from Verona in northern Italy, is one of two European plants that assemble the new Daily. The other is at Valladolid in Spain and between them they currently produce around 94,000 vehicles annually.

 

Suzzara is responsible for the lion's share of this volume and is able to churn out as many as 282 a day, compared with the Spanish site's daily capacity of up to 162. Some 90 per cent of the Italian factory's output is delivered on time and it's now chasing a target of 95 per cent.

Unlike Valladolid, Suzzara and its approximately 2,000 workers produce the entire Daily range.

That includes all the different sizes of van, chassis cabs and chassis double cabs, chassis cowls, minibuses, Combis and Dailys fitted with the Agile automated manual transmission; and they all go down the same line. The total includes Dailys constructed for Irisbus, Iveco's bus and coach division.

Certificated to quality standard ISO 9001 and environmental standard ISO 14001, the factory is also responsible for building vehicles for big-name fleet operators who may require them to be modified in some way.

During What Van?'s visit 59 of the latest Daily vans were being constructed for the Royal Mail. They were all 35S12s with 15m3 cargo bodies.

Assembly Line

Purely an assembly plant, and operating on two shifts, the 350,000m2 main part of the Suzzara complex — 120,000m2 of which is covered — relies on a constant inflow of key components. Most of them are produced elsewhere within the Iveco empire and many of them are made in Italy.

Engines arrive from the SOFIM plant — part of the Fiat group — in Foggia, while rear axles and gearboxes come in from production lines operated by Fiat Powertrain Technologies in Turin. Iveco is of course owned by Fiat.

The chassis frames are made by Iveco at its Brescia factory; initially they go down the line at Suzzara upside down because that way it's easier to fit all the necessary components. Most of the pressings are sourced from Brescia too — Suzzara does not have its own press shop — with some funnelled in from Turin.

Several independent suppliers have also set up house not far from the assembly line, including Isringhausen and Plastal. They deliver seats and complete dashboards — the latest Daily's dashboard is of much better quality and much better designed than the one fitted to its predecessor — among other components direct to the line on a just-in-time basis.

At Suzzara the workforce is divided into groups 30-to-36-strong, and they are in turn split into three 10-to-12-strong teams, each with its own expert technician. Each group and team is responsible for a particular part of the build cycle and that includes the quality of the work carried out.

Quality Control   

Quality is monitored continually throughout the production process with regular inspections supplemented by random checks. Once it's complete the entire vehicle undergoes a thorough quality check before it leaves the factory.

Around 50 per cent of the welding is executed manually but robots are used for some tasks. Two of them tackle the tricky internal welding of the side panels, for instance, before they are dispatched to an overhead storage area ready to be united to the floorpan.

The robots know about the jobs they'll be expected to tackle 15 days in advance thanks to forward programming.

A few years back Iveco invested heavily in Suzzara. Money was spent on improving virtually all aspects of the factory and as a consequence the requirement to spend more to get the latest Daily into production has been relatively modest.

Anti-Corrosion

Much of the cash that has been poured into the site has been dedicated to improving build quality. Conscious of the problems that have bedevilled Daily in the past, considerable stress is placed on protecting it against corrosion. Some 60 per cent of the vehicle is galvanised nowadays.

Prior to painting each Daily is washed and degreased, and the cleansing process involves cleaning the body with rollers equipped with, of all things, emu feathers. They act like very large dusters.

To help repel rust the vehicle is fully immersed in a 300m3 cataphoresis tank able to take two vehicles at a time. Each one stays in for 25 minutes.

Its stay is all the more effective because it receives a positive charge prior to entry, while the corrosion-beating content of the tank is negatively charged. An air-spraying system eliminates bubbles to ensure that every nook and cranny of the vehicle's structure receives adequate coverage.

When it emerges dripping from its bath and fully-coated, it's dried in an oven and everywhere that needs sealing is sealed with pvc. At the same time it receives an underfloor pvc coating to help deaden noise.

After that it heads towards the paint plant. Using an environmentally friendly water-based paint system, the plant was installed by Eisenmann, the same people who supply paint plants to Mercedes-Benz. Around 80 per cent of the processes are automated compared with some 50 per cent of the welding.

Paint by Numbers

Although 70 per cent of the vehicles built are ordered in white, the paint shop can nonetheless cope with over 400 colours, including metallics. It boasts robots capable of mimicking the action of a human being's arm and hand in order to spray right inside the load area; a much healthier bet than having to equip somebody with a suit, a mask and breathing apparatus.

After being sprayed, each Daily is baked in an oven for 30 minutes at 180°C.

The entire paint process, including seven hours of painstaking preparation, takes 15 hours and the final article emerges from the shop with a protective coating over its bare metal 80 microns thick. That includes 40 microns of paint.

All Dailys are carefully examined before they leave the shop. If any blemishes or scratches are found the body is carefully masked up, the defective area is resprayed and the vehicle is popped into an oven for further cooking. Then it's checked again.

The 15 hours referred to earlier is the lion's share of the time it takes to put together a Daily. The process takes 27 hours in total, including six hours of welding and six hours spent assembling the vehicle.

Further on in the assembly process, one of the most fascinating episodes is the way the windscreen is installed. A robot picks it up bodily and carefully places it in the window aperture; a better approach than having two workers wrestling it into position with the risk of damage. Most other assembly tasks are carried out manually.

VERDICT

A few years back you'd climb into a Daily, start off down the road and wonder which bit would drop off first. That's no longer the case. It was clear from our visit to Suzzara that quality is the number one priority, with particular stress laid on minimising corrosion. That's good news for customers; and good news for second-hand values too.

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