Ducati’s new Panigale V4 is a premium product so those who undertake its expense have a right to expect excellence. Yet nearly 90 percent of what goes into a Ducati is supplied by outside contractors; Italy is rich in small hole-in-the-wall manufacturers doing specialized manufacturing.
The problem of making it all come together is that of scheduling and the assurance of quality. Think of NASA, employing thousands of contractors yet bringing their work together in the form of successful human flight to the moon and back.
The V4 engine assembly line has 32 stations and completion takes three hours. At full capacity, the output is 100 engines per day. The motorcycle line delivers 90 complete machines.
I watched a coordinate-measuring machine dimensioning a completed crankshaft. After this inspection, each crank receives a code indicating which of several selective-fit main and con-rod bearing shells is required on each of its journals. Each and every camshaft is also inspected in this way. Checking and being sure.
No one is wielding torque wrenches on this line. All bolts of a critical nature are tensioned by machines.
Companies applying to become Ducati suppliers must pass through a process of 100 percent inspection for a time, then 50 percent inspection. Anytime a defect is found, its supplier must return to novice status and requalify.
Parts arrive at their stations in build boxes, molded polymer trays into which each part of the group fits. Lighting is bright and the mood calm.
Crankshaft main- and rod-bearing shells lie in see-through cabinets awaiting their arranged marriages with the previously measured journals during engine assembly. Case sealant is “written” into place by a computer-guided stylus in just the right amount to seal without the incontinence of excess.
Lots of people are at work here because only very high production can afford highly automated assembly.
Completed engines go to a pressure-test station, following which they are trundled off by little guided electric vehicles to a motoring dyno where they are spun for several minutes at first 1,500, then 2,500 rpm for function checks.
Motorcycle assembly takes two hours, eating what appears to be chaos—subassemblies with dangling wiring and cables—and spitting forth grace, in the form of modern super-performance motorcycles.