26.10.1997

Alfa 156: Construction process


Pomigliano d'Arco
The Alfa 156 is built in Alfa Romeo's factory at Pomigliano d'Arco near Naples, where we find the press shop and the sheet metal working, painting and assembly lines, as well as the test track. Engines are made in the Pratola Serra (Avellino) and Arese (Milan) plants.
Originally built in 1972, the Pomigliano complex was recently given a comprehensive overhaul and is now equipped with the most sophisticated technologies available. It occupies a total area of over 2,200,000 square metres (618,000 under cover). With quality and reliability in mind, production at Pomigliano is very highly automated. In all, the factory employs 400 robots, 5 Mac measuring stations, 6 computerised optoelectronic shape recording systems and 258 computerised process management and diagnosis machines. It takes 5 mainframe computers to run the whole system.
The Pomigliano plant employs over 7,600 people organised along integrated factory lines. All Alfa 156 employees have been trained in the classroom and in the plant for a total of 150,000 hours.

The press shop and sheet metal working
The Pomigliano plant produces every single body frame and 'skin' component, which means 24 separate parts in various shapes and sizes.
Once pressed, the various pieces are sent off to the body shop where highly automated machines apply some 3,200 welding spots in assembling them into a bodyshell. The parts subject to most stress are reinforced with additional continuous welding or brazing (the latter adds extra ingredients to the solder). Each of these welding operations is checked with the aid of gauges and optoelectronic instruments.
The most important phase is handled by 'Robogate', a huge and complex work station on which 36 welding and 3 handling robots automatically assemble the main parts of the car. The geometric accuracy of the bodyshell assembly is monitored by the Mac, a sophisticated computerised measuring machine with an automatic cycle that checks measurements at 150 points on the body to an accuracy of no more than one hundredth of a millimetre. Any divergence from the ideal measurement is signalled by the computer and instantly corrected.

The paint shop
After assembly the bodyshells are sent off to the paint shop. Alfa Romeo's Pomigliano and Fiat's Melfi paint shops are two of the most advanced in Europe and both are absolutely environment-friendly. For example, all machining vapours are processed in an after-burner that subjects them to a heat of 800ºC, out of which only clean air and water emerge.
The paint is applied in three controlled-atmosphere air-conditioned cells where the paint is sprayed on by 32 robots while another 28 of them open and close doors, bonnets and tailgates.
However the most important paint-shop innovation is the 'objective' paint quality analysis system. This is done by a sophisticated electronic wave scanner that uses a laser beam to measure the light refraction of the paint. The scanner skims the newly painted surface, measuring the paint's spread and luminance in real time. The paint values thus recorded have to match the highly specific parameters imposed by the designers, which are of a far higher standard than anything offered by the best of Alfa Romeo's rivals. This is the first time paintwork has been subjected to such sophisticated analysis and to objective (i.e. no human factor involved) numerical quantification.

Assembly
A whole new assembly line was built in Pomigliano for the Alfa 156, creating an airy, colourful environment. Here, every detail was created with the utmost care. The work stations for example, were created with the advice of their users who had the final say on the positioning of tools. The result is an ideal working environment that does much to guarantee a finished product of the utmost quality and reliability.
Particular care has also been taken over the choice of components packaging and transportation. Inside this protective packaging, the pedal boxes, exhaust pipes, windscreen wipers, heaters etc are well protected from any possible damage caused during transport or handling.
The wheels are attached to the bodyshells before underbody parts are installed so that no uncomfortable contortions are demanded of the assembly workers. Pipes and cables are clustered inside protective sheaths that also facilitate assembly.
Once completed on line, the car is put through a gruelling track test cycle: 25 km at various speeds on different road surfaces that show the test driver whether all working parts are in perfect running order. After that a significant number of cars from each batch are driven out through the factory gates for a 180 km road test.
The Alfa 156's engines and all the bulky outsourced parts (seats, facias, cables etc) arrive at the Pomigliano plant only when they are needed on the assembly line, on a 'just-in-time' basis.

Pratola Serra and Arese
Pratola Serra, a few miles outside Avellino, houses one of the most up-to-date engine factories in Europe. Off this plant's highly automated production lines roll engines with 4 or 5 cylinders, 8, 12 or 16-valves per cylinder and cylinder capacities of 1370-2446 cm3. Covering nearly 300,000 sq.m., the factory, which has called for an investment of more than 2,000 billion lire since 1993, employs some 1,450 people, all highly educated and very young; average age is 28.
The Alfa 156 offers a choice of three petrol and two diesel engines, all produced at Pratola Serra. In detail that means the 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 versions of the Twin Spark 16-valve petrol engine and the 1.9 and 2.4 versions of Alfa's new Unijet direct injection diesel engine.
The 2.5 six-cylinder 24-valve petrol engine is built in Arese using a process that combines leading-edge technology with a craftsman's attention to detail.

The sports car versions
The history of Alfa Romeo sports saloons from the 1900 to the Alfa 155 includes a huge number of racing successes. From the start, the Alfa 156 range will include two racing versions. One is designed to compete in Group N, a category limited to strictly standard production models. The second will compete in the Italian Super Touring Car Championship. Two very different cars where performance is concerned, although both exploit the excellent design of the standard saloon.
Powered by the 2-litre Twin Spark 16-valve engine, the Group N Alfa 156 offers customers who intend to compete in the Italian Touring Car Championship, all the standard safety features installed right in the plant, so that the car is practically ready to take to the track, and needs little more than careful fine tuning of the engine and set-up.
Alfa Romeo is proposing a competitive car, capable of victory in class N5 (aspirated engines up to 2000 cm3), which is not expensive. Preparing the bodyshells directly in the plant also saves time and manpower to remove all the permitted elements from the car, such as the seats, upholstery and anti-noise band.
For the same price as the road version, the racing version is delivered with the following equipment:
- grid-type roll-over bar;
- five-point safety harness;
- racing seat;
- fire extinguisher;
- suspension with specific springs and dampers;
- self-locking differential;
- bar linking the suspension struts;
- special brake pads;
- bonnet fasteners, battery cut-out switch and all the other equipment required for races;
- aerodynamic elements (spoilers and sideskirts) available as options on the standard car.
The Alfa 156 Super Touring version features a refined, sophisticated engineering in line with the regulations, which allow more changes greater freedom of action on the engines, the transmission and aerodynamics. It is powered by a 2.0 litre Twin Spark 16-valve engine. The cylinder case and head were borrowed from the standard engine, while the pistons, con rods and other components were built specifically for racing. This has boosted the engine power to over 300 bhp. Lubrication is by dry oil sump, and the six-speed gearbox is of the sequential type. The differential is self-locking.
In spite of the many changes, the Alfa 156 Super Tourer still closely resembles the standard model. In addition to the original layout of the mechanical organs, regulations require that the suspension layout is also maintained, only allowing the addition of specific parts designed for racing. It is also prohibited to replace bodyshell elements or bodywork panels, in order to retain the features of the standard production model.


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