Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Visit to the Ducati Museum and Factory

As the museum is small, it focuses only on racing bikes and doesn’t include street machines. You can read between the lines and understand how important racing is in Ducati heritage--it’s everything.

Most of the machines admitted into the museum are those that have won at least one race.

It was really amazing to see the 888 and 916 side-by-side to see what kind of revolutionary jump was made in design by just one year.  See how much slimmer the bodywork is?  The undertail exhaust and the single-sided swingarm?

Another thing to notice from the museum is how dominant and important WSBK has been to Ducati corse. Troy Bayliss (superman) was featured prominently.

My favorite bike from the museum was one that I hadn’t seen before: the supermono. It was a contemporary of the 888 and was built for a specific racing series featuring single-cylinder machines. It is super rare (only 65 were built) and sports a single cylinder 500 cc engine. The bike also had several other technologies like carbon fiber body work, subframe, gas tank, etc.

Finally, near the end you get to the GP bikes.  One of the most interesting bits of trivia is that the new bikes aren't really red, they're more orange, like the superleggera.  It turns out that this orange color called rosso corsa and is intended to ensure that Ducati bikes look red on HDTV broadcasts, rather than the brown color that a true red has in HD.  It's hard to see in the photo above, but was apparent in person.

On to the factory. They don’t allow photos in here so this is what you get from memory.

Ducati machines the camshafts and crankshafts in-house, and everything else on the bike comes from another supplier. The engines are assembled on-site in Borgo Panigale for every Ducati around the world. There are, however, two other motorcycle assembly facilities: Brazil and Thailand. Bikes assembled in Brazil are sold only in Brazil.  Those assembled in Thailand are sold throughout Southeast Asia.  Our guide said that these are both seen as growth markets that have high import tariffs so it makes sense to put a factory there in order to avoid excessive taxation (Thailand has up to 300% tax).  Every other Ducati sold around the world is made in Borgo Panigale.

There are two machines that start engine assembly, but other than that the engines and motorcycles are assembled by hand. It takes two different engineers 90 minutes to build a regular motor, and 120 minutes to build a super bike (899/1198) motor. After assembly, every motor gets dry tested before it’s built into a bike. Dry testing looks for excess friction and fluid pressure leaks; once a motor passes the dry testing, it joins the other parts for its particular destiny in a supermarket.  All of the assembly lines are fed just-in-time from these supermarkets depending on what they are building.  

There is dedicated assembly line for most models, although some are shared. They were building mostly hypers and diavels on the day when I was there.  It takes two half-days to build a complete bike, split up so that tasks don't become to repetitive. 

Every motorcycle and every engine have a build sheet where the technicians sign off on the tasks that they have performed.  If there's a problem with one of the QC steps, the technician is informed so that they can learn from their mistakes. This process has dropped errors from 5% to 1%.  Speaking of people there are 500 that work on site. Three hundred of those work in motorcycle or engine assembly, with 30% females. There are about 100 that work in the racing devision (separate area on the factory floor, with tight access control). There are 100 more that work in offices.

After assembly, each bike is tested: ABS, DTC, basic dyno performance, braking, acceleration, etc.   After testing it goes to emission tuning based on the destination country. The final check is aesthetics, making sure that the bike is visually perfect. Some farings are added at the time of shipping, and a few final assembly bits (mirrors, seats, etc) are added when they arrive at the dealership.

There’s a little store in the museum where you finish the tour, but if you’re looking for a souvenir or a piece of apparel, the factory store is just a bit away from the factory. They were giving out 5 Euro coupons to everyone who went to the museum.  There was quite a bit of apparel, and some of it was even discounted!

All in all, it was a really fantastic visit that fostered new respect for not only my SF848, but also for the superbikes. It’s clear that through the entire process that they are in a league of their own.

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