Adamanda's Ducati Factory Visit, August 1996

In early winter 1996 we ordered a 748. By late summer we were still waiting for it when we visited the Ducati factory in Bologna.

How We Got In

It wasn't very easy in '96. I got a phone number from our dealer in London, and called the factory. I was told that they used to do factory visits but, unfortunately, the bloke who arranged them before no longer worked there, and maybe there'd be some more visits in a few months.

We went to Bologna anyway intending to have a look at the Ducati factory (along with the nearby Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ferrari factories).

Instead of calling the factory myself, we persuaded the receptionist at the hotel to call for us, thinking we'd have a better chance if the negotiations could be done in Italian.

Ten minutes of Italian later, the very excited receptionist came off the phone and said that an extra-ordinary visit was happening that day, and we could tag along with the group. We should ask for Engineer Zaché and our visit was authorised by Eng. Uccelli. We were "not a little lucky", he said, we were "very, very, very lucky".

We assumed that there was some owners' club with an arranged-months-in-advance visit, so we did feel pretty lucky to be able to tag along. We hoped they'd be some kind of English-compatible group.

Where It Is

The factory is at 3, Via Antichi Cavalieri Ducati, Bologna. It's just on the western outskirts of the town, on the road to the Autostrada. There's a Ducati factory further into town, but that's a sister company that makes electrical components.

At the Factory

We walked around the perimeter of the factory outside the fence, but apart from some tantalising glimpses inside open doors, didn't see much. It's just a building, with "Ducati" written on the side in low, wide letters.

Walking back to the car, a red bike popped out of one of the open doors. A 916SP with a Dainese-clad rider rode alongside the building and out of sight behind it. A minute later we saw him pull up at the traffic lights ahead of us. When they changed he crossed the junction with a huge wheelie.

In The Factory

At 1.50pm we went into the gatehouse and in our best Italian announced that we'd come to see Eng. Zaché. The guard got his extension and then gave me the phone. Eng. Zaché spoke good English and asked us to wait at the bar until the rest of the group assembled.

We were shown in to the works canteen just inside the gate and directed to the bar at the end. I started to soak up the atmosphere ...

I also started to feel a bit of a prat for wearing my "Ducati Superbike" t-shirt as we stood in full tourist regalia (t-shirt, shorts, camera) at the bar with the mechanics in their Ducati and Cagiva overalls.

The bar is adorned with postcards from around the world (presumably from employees' holidays) and sports trophies, I guess from the works football teams. What set this works canteen apart from most others is the photographs of World Superbike champions standing exactly where I was.

Around 2.15 an Austrian couple turned up, and ten minutes later an Australian man with two kids. At 2.30 Eng. Zaché arrived to say there were a couple of others supposed to be coming and we'd just give them another couple of minutes. They hadn't turned up by 2.45 so we set off without them.

The Tour

Sorry the pics aren't great quality - it's partly because they're from scans of prints, and partly because they're all flash photos and I'm rubbish with flash.)

As we walked into the site, Eng. Zaché explained a little about the history of the company and the site. I asked about the bike we'd seen on the road and he said that only the R&D machines are ridden on the road (there's a small internal road for other use), so I guess it was a 955SP or a new engine in a 916 chassis ... and then we entered the engine-making room.

It was a big open-plan hangar with a mix of older machining tools and some modern CNCs. Eng. Zaché was very knowledgeable and had apparently written the CNC program for cutting the camshafts as his thesis at university. He worked at Ducati before university and returned afterwards, working in engineering, external relations, internationalisation and now quality assurance. The factory works an 8-hour day but a couple of machines work double-shifts. They have been gradually modernising their machinery but now everything is working at full capacity to produce 150 units per day. To achieve the 300 per day they want, they'll have to totally re-do everything. Ducati cranks

One end of the room worked aluminium (crankcases and cylinder heads) and the other iron (cranks, camshafts and valve guides). Only five engine components are made by Ducati, the rest are bought from contractors. The two sections were further divided (where necessary) between 2-valve and 4-valve machining. The machines at the end of the line "bored out" the cylinder head castings which are made to the smallest capacity of that design, i.e. the 4-valvers start as 748 and are bored to 916, 944, 955, 996 ...
916 heads

We saw working at all stages from the rough castings to the finished objects, and we were free to take photos. My first photo was of a big basket of 4-valve cylinder heads, and the second was a trolley of completed engines labelled "955 S.P.".


916 engines

Next was the engine assembly hall. This was again quartered, into 2-valve and 4-valve lines, and initial and final assembly.
916 engines

Initial assembly is performed one-operation-per-person, but final assembly is one-engine-per-person. The final assembly line for all the 4-valve Ducati engines in the world consists of 2 thirty-foot benches.
916 engine detail

I asked if engine variants were mixed on the line and was told no, they just work on a single type at once, stopping and starting the line to switch types.

(See the document wallet accompanying each engine on the line)


916 tanks

Next we went through to a small engine cold-test area where the engines are oiled-up and turned without spark-plugs to see if they're vaguely OK. The rest of the hall was a stash of parts, with racks of tanks, mudguards, side panels and the like.


748SP forks

Then through to two further assembly lines where the major chassis and engine components met up. Clearly a run of 748SPs was just beginning, as engines, yellow bodywork, frames, crates of Termignonis, and Ohlins fork assemblies waited.

(This picture represented about 18 months' allocation of 748SPs for the UK!)

The room was very quiet because a lot of staff were still on holiday: The factory slows down from mid-July to mid-September for national holidays, stopping totally for one week in August but virtually stopped for most of the month. Other businesses (such as Dainese) close for August.
Termignonis

By the end of this hall, the bikes were complete but for the fairings, which waited in another hall and are added after the rolling-road tests.
916 assembly

The line had clearly just changed from 916s to 748SP as the last of the 916s was going down the line, followed by the first 748SP.
748SP assembly

This must be one of the most satisfying lines to work on, as components came in one end and motorcycles go out the other. Frame, engine, wheels, swingarm, shock, chain, exhaust system, fuel system, electrics - everything is assembled on this fifty-foot line.


UK 748s

UK 748s UK 748s 916s & Monster

Next we saw a couple of empty halls which will be fitted out with new machinery as part of the production doubling, and then to the final testing where bikes are run on a rolling road. We saw a 900 Monster being run gently up and down the gears while switches, brakes and suspension were checked out by the "rider".

The End

And that was the end of our tour. It took about 30 minutes altogether, and I took about as many pictures! (this was in the olden days before digital cameras, so that seemed like a big deal at the time) Eng. Zaché said that the factory don't normally do tours but they make an effort to show enthusiasts around if they can get a few together.

The Australian guy said he just happened to be in Bologna and his mate at home had a 900SS and he'd just come to the factory to make his mate jealous! He'd just phoned the day before and "laid it on really thick" about how far he'd come, and how much he wanted to visit, and how much he loved Ducatis ...

We were thrilled to get to see inside the factory and fascinated by what we saw and heard. Seeing "our 748" nearly complete was a wonderful bonus. 916s

From Bologna we went to Florence, but really, how can Michelangelo's David compete with a hall full of 916s?

Epilogue

Time passed ... September came and went; October came and went.

Ten months to the day since we put our deposit down, we sadly gave up on the 748.

On 2nd November 1996 we became the proud owners of a '97 Kawasaki ZX-6R, and on 23rd we bought a '94 ZXR750L2. It took us slightly over the price of the 748 but when we looked at those two bikes in the garage it's hard to imagine that a 748 could be worth swapping them for.

Post-Epilogue

Our 748 arrived at Frontiers on the same day we collected our ZXR750!

Arranging Your Own Visits

I get a lot of email from people asking how to arrange their own factory visits. Ducati have the info on their website, though it's quite hard to find.
Today (June '08) it's at http://www.ducati.com/company/trovaci/byplane.jhtml - but let me know if you try that and it doesn't work.