BIRTH OF A HIGH-END REAR LAMP

REPORTAGE: A journey through the Automotive Lighting plant in Tolmezzo, from the production lines to a meeting with the figures involved in the creation of the rear lamp produced for the Porsche Cayenne. Start05 tells the story of a key product in technological innovation characterised with important elements of sustainability.

Tolmezzo, the sunlight illuminates the light-blue gates of the Automotive Lighting plant: Start is here to discover all of the steps that led to the creation of the rear lamp for the Porsche Cayenne, which won at the “Volkswagen Group Awards 2018”. The Tolmezzo plant sits harmoniously in the midst of a crown of green and rocky peaks. Right from the moment it was designed, the plant has always been characterised by innovation and continuity with the surrounding area, with a large community of more than one thousand workers, and therefore a lot of families. We pass through warehouse areas. Everything is in order and is spotlessly clean. Blue t-shirts and white shirts move swiftly between the offices and the production lines. There is the sound of fork-lift trucks, large articulated trucks, and the silence and image of those “blocks” that make up the plant, where a constant flow rolls with meticulous precision, every day producing, imagining and designing.

Hospitality and a meeting: an atmosphere of teamwork

But let’s take this one step at a time. In a room belonging to the team led by Stefano Marchesin – in the Research and Development (R&D) department – we find ourselves with five of the specialists who have created a rear lamp which is revolutionary in terms of the requirements set out by the customer and for the innovative design of the product. Marchesin, the R&D Manager of Automotive Lighting Italy, tells us how the concept of the Porsche rear lamp was the result of ongoing study of market trends by the entire team. “We started as far back as 2013 to analyse what the future trends could be, involving the entire Market Research, Innovation and Product Planning team – he tells us. Through the visions of the concept cars produced by the various car manufacturers, we imagined that one of the trends would have been a rear lamp that extended right across the back of the vehicle”. This prediction was soon proved to be accurate. The project began in August 2014. The call for tender organised by Porsche gave six months’ time to come up with a project. Magneti Marelli’s team spirit proved to be victorious. Production began in the summer of 2017, and to date there are already more than 70 thousand vehicles on the road. A small miracle, even in terms of production time, which called for radical changes to take place, even in terms of the structure of part of the plant.

Design and sustainability, innovation as a guide

The rear lamp is made up of three distinct parts (see the image on page 13): T1, the part which is divided into two on the left and right sides of the car, T2, which is the longer, narrower part which runs right across the boot, and lastly T3, which forms part of the bumper. “Design is undoubtedly a guiding element in client requests in the development of new rear lamps – explains Fabio Lupieri, Project Engineer in R&D. Another element is sustainability, because the customer request is for a reduction in the weight of the product, as well as the use of new plastic blends. These are two factors that often lead to designs which change the way of producing components, with further positive consequences for the entire process”.

«The key element is to work in a harmonious manner, bringing together skills and finding solutions required by the product, the process and the customer.»
Andrea Cavicchia – Plant Manager

In the case of the Porsche Cayenne, there were various challenges in the research and development stage: a central component which was longer than usual, with a problem to be resolved in terms of heat dissipation; the positioning of the LEDs; the creation of the moulds and presses; the internal logistics and all the relative transportation, as well as understanding what the effects of all of this would have been on those having to handle the product on the line. “As Project Manager – explained Mauro Franceschinis – I was responsible for the comprehensive management of the project, in terms of timing, cost and quality. Porsche is an extremely demanding customer, and this led us to form a multi-functional team. As well as R&D – mechanical, electronic and optical designers – we involved areas for validation, industrialisation and quality. On a management level, besides rather challenging timing requirements, we managed the multiple style changes requested by the customer which impacted both on product design and on the 2 assembly lines. We restructured a large area of the plant with innovative LED lighting in order to have improved visibility for the visual control of the product and satisfy the aesthetic requirements of the client, as well as to provide each worker with support which could be useful both in terms of safety and to reduce the fatigue caused by the weight and dimensions of the out of standard T2 rear lamp part.”

Da Vinci’s law and new solutions

Try and try again, as Leonardo da Vinci said. This ever-relevant principle was more than useful in the story of the Porsche Cayenne rear lamp. One example concerned the five patents that Magneti Marelli registered thanks to the innovations in the field of optics that emerged from solutions regarding the product and the requests of the customer. As Marco Svettini, the Optical R&D Engineer, explains: “The five patents were the result of solutions to a problem: how to introduce to the American market a technical solution which guaranteed a high level of evenness in lighting without the use of materials which are not permitted in the USA. After various unsuccessful attempts, I had a brainwave. I understood that a solution which used diacaustics, an important method of illumination related to refraction, could be an ideal alternative in the creation of an equivalent product for the USA market. We constructed a theoretical model, we tested it, and the customer financed a mould for the creation of the prototype. Everything worked perfectly and so as well as finding a solution to the problem, we put this technology into mass production through a main patent which in turn LED to another four”.

THE INNOVATION IN THE PRODUCTION LINE

SPECIAL MACHINES TO GUARANTEE QUALITY:

in order to monitor cleanliness and reduce dust in accordance with parameters that are superior to those achieved up until now.

REUSABLE INTERNAL PACKAGING:

with zero impact, providing increased protection of the items.

MOULDS:

larger machinery with more complex moulds.

ECOLOGICALLY EFFICIENT MACHINERY WITH LOW ENERGY CONSUMPTION:

these have allowed a reduction in energy consumption.

ENERGY SAVING:

the introduction of LED lighting on the lines and in the final quality testing station, in order to save energy and be able to better see defects regarding aesthetics.

ERGONOMIC STUDIES FOR THE WORKERS:

ergonomic studies carried out in order to safeguard workers’ health, particularly in the assembly stages.

TRANSPORTATION CARTS:

the size of the rear lamp led to a study to create carts capable of moving the semi-finished items, which will also be used for future generations of strip lighting.

On the table is a display of the models for the rear lamp, either in section or dismantlable, allowing for the details to be seen. Gabriele Gentilini, Electronic Project Leader, explains another challenge won with regards to the electronics of the product: “One example was the handling of the dissipation of power which is managed by the volume of electronics in the rear lamp, where there is very limited space. This led to various hours of laboratory testing followed by the fine tuning of the electronics. Another aspect – he adds – was undoubtedly the managing of the 38 main components of the rear lamp, according to whether the model was American or European. The circuit boards are mounted on 14 different panels, something which has never been seen before”.

A plant within the plant: UPS25, UPS26

Andrea Cavicchia is the Plant Manager. He speaks calmly, and you can sense his pride for the way the rear lamp was put into production. The complexity of this product with a totally innovative design led to the creation of two dedicated lines for manufacturing. A product which included the creation of 36 moulds with extremely high-quality standards, above all in terms of the level of cleanliness necessary in order to eliminate the dust which could seriously threaten the quality of the rear lamp. Given the particular nature of the central section (1.4 m in length) which goes way beyond any standard, special customised carts were designed and constructed with a concept that may also prove to be useful in the future. Furthermore, an innovative laser welding system was used to guarantee better results in fixing and therefore in safety. Large presses were needed which use low energy-consuming eco-drive systems, and thus produce less noise, less heat-loss, significant savings in water and oil use spread further over time. “One of the most important aspects of this site – he tells us – is having all the necessary skills right here, from research to moulding, from design to the operative aspect. The key element is to work in a harmonious manner, bringing together skills and finding solutions required by the product, the process and the customer”.

PLANT INFORMATION

COUNTRY: Tolmezzo, Italia

BUSINESS LINE: Automotive Lighting

THE PLANT IN NUMBERS

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 949
BLUE COLLAR: 640
WHITE COLLAR: 309
INJURIES FREQUENCY RATE: 0,14
INDEX OF WASTE RECOVERED/GENERATED: 100%

Safety and impact

There is an element in everything we are seeing which is treated in such a natural manner that it almost goes unnoticed, and that is a level of attention for safety which has clearly become part of the personnel’s behaviour. There are messages echoed by monitors located in various areas of the plant which invite the staff to respect all of the basic rules. The figures presented by the Plant Manager Andrea Cavicchia are the result of a level of attention which focuses on impact. The data regarding water consumption is impressive: by 2019 it will reach zero, because everything will be recycled thanks to investments made on the cooling systems. Over the last few years, energy consumption has been reduced by 20%, while CO2 emissions are down by 17%.

The tour of the plant

We come to a door, we wipe our safety footwear on a mat of metal brushes, and a monitor tells us we can proceed. Respect for all the safety regulations is a recurring factor during our visit, from the canteen to the assembly line. We go in. The light inside is white and all LED, the signs on the floor show us the way to go, and they also guide the automated carts which transport materials between the various areas. We follow the production process in reverse, from the finished rear lamp to its origins. Finally we see the new carts, designed to hold pieces of one metre forty in length, and the component assembly benches. The workers are aided by instruments which have again been studied and designed in the plant in order to avoid stress and fatigue when moving pieces of significant weight. The height of the bench and the supports on which the individual pieces are rested in order for the various components to be added in each phase are all adjustable and easy to handle. Gestures are repeated with accuracy. The slightest imprecision and the item is discarded. A press opens and closes its metal mouth and the worker lifts a part of the rear lamp with surprising delicacy and agility and moves it to the cart. It is fixed into place and once the door has closed, it is all moved off to the next step. The two parts of the mould slowly move together and then, as the press applies full pressure, the plastic is injected in.

The pride of Tolmezzo

Returning towards the door from where we entered, we take another look at a large photograph printed on a plastic sheet. It shows an important moment, when Porsche, represented by its Director Quality Purchased Parts, came to thank all the workers who participated in production. A group photo. It was a sunny day that 26 October 2017. At the centre the plant management and the guest of honour are surrounded by the workers in their blue t-shirts, work clothes and safety footwear. It is a photograph that everyone remembers because for this product of excellence an important representative of the customer came in person to thank each and every one of the people who had taken part in the project. Today, the rear lamp of the Porsche Cayenne shines in the TV adverts and photographs shown all around the world. It is no coincidence that it is a car which is often presented from behind, right where there is a shining example of the excellence born right here, under the stark peaks and green trees of Tolmezzo.

Shown on the left is the prize for the “Launch of the year” category presented to Automotive Lighting for the creation of the Porsche Cayenne rear lamp. The award was presented during the annual prize ceremony held at “Kraftwerk Berlin” in May of 2018. The award acknowledges the know-how, technological capacity and effort made by the entire team responsible for the development and manufacture of the product, and the fact that the results were achieved while respecting the challenging deadlines that had been set.